Entry from February 3, 2010

In today’s Washington Post, Kathleen Parker has the columnist’s bright idea of putting together the near-coincidence of the death of J.D. Salinger and the publication by Andrew Young of The Politician, a tell-all book about the former presidential candidate, John Edwards, and especially his affair with and child by a woman calling herself Rielle Hunter, for which Mr Young was once the fall guy. With such a high concept the column almost writes itself: a man obsessive about his privacy is juxtaposed with a man whose picture future generations will find when they look in the dictionary under “Too Much Information.” He seems not to care, so long as the price is right. As Miss Parker notices, the symbolism of the one’s death’s coinciding with the other’s commercial triumph must also call to mind ideas of what Florence King calls “that nightmare alley of the Western world known as the American mind.”

Yet, regrettable as may be the invasion of Mr and Mrs Edwards’s and Ms Hunter’s privacy, I think I am also to be permitted to regret the invasion of my own by having to listen to news of them, as retailed either by Mr Young or by others who have been emboldened by his example. Not only do I not want to see the alleged “sex tape,” I am actually distressed and dismayed to know that such a thing exists — something which neither I nor anyone else who doesn”t wish to become a Salinger himself can avoid knowing anymore. I have loathed Senator Edwards since I first became aware of his existence and of his reputation as one of the most rapacious of a whole breed that I also loathe, namely that of trial lawyers specializing in medical malpractice claims. I resent having to know anything about his personal life as I resent the fact that I know the name of Rielle Hunter at all — let alone her shortcomings as a houseguest or her love of “American Idol.”

Although I have not read and will not read Mr Young’s book, I know all these things, and more besides. Which raises a question that Miss Parker misses, namely, the question of whether or not prurience and a particularly unlovely form of voyeurism about other people’s private lives is to become compulsory for everyone now? I ask partly because there is a third thing in the news today which suggests that it is. Privacy, in a certain traditional sense is not just moribund but, more and more, people seem to feel we have a duty to kill it. For although they did not say so, that is the meaning of Admiral Mullen’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee yesterday that those who are openly homosexual should be allowed to serve their country without hiding “who they are.” By “who they are” he means — as the gay lobby that has been lobbying for just this view of the matter for years do too — that what was not so long ago regarded as the ultimate private act, is now to be regarded as an act, and for some people the first and only act, of public self-definition. “Who I am” for these people as members of the armed services is no longer to be, in the first place, a matter of their country, their service or their unit, but rather of what they like to do in their most private moments, if there are to be any more private moments.

You can understand why gay people want this and want it badly. The slogan “Silence=death” may be overstated, but is hard to argue with as a merely practical matter. As the movie Milk made the point a year or so ago, the more gay people there are who publicly identify themselves as gay people the safer it will be to be a gay person. This is no trivial consideration if you are a gay person. Hate for and violence against gay people can hardly survive the antiseptic effect of open sunlight and the knowledge that one’s one friends and family include such people. It is certainly a defensible view that we all must give up yet another slice of our privacy — which is as important when it is other people’s privacy as it is when it is our own, since it involves our consent to knowing about them things that we might very well wish not to know — in order that a significant proportion of our family, friends, neighbors and fellow-countrymen may be safer from the hate whose origins lie deep in the secret places of our souls.

Obviously, it is not so easy to stop this process of the gradual lifting of the veil on our privacies when it is only half-way up. Eventually, you get to the point where Rielle Hunter has got to be allowed to take her place alongside John Edwards and Mrs Edwards and Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert and Jon Stewart and Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi of “Jersey Shore” as the public figures who define us as a society. But is there to be no limit? Is any shred of privacy as to “who we are” to remain to us? It seems to me that most people would say yes, and if they say yes to drawing the line somewhere, I would suggest — for reasons that I have outlined here — that we should draw that line at the point where we decide who is and who is not eligible to serve in the armed forces. Unfortunately, the entire tendency of the media culture, merging with the gay sub-culture to the benefit of both, lies with a denial of such limits. And that, I take it, is not unrelated to the testimony given by Admiral Mullen yesterday to hosannahs from the likes of Dana Milbank and Maureen Dowd. The Admiral may not have done what he did to seek their approval, but you can be sure he knew his career would be enhanced by such agreement with his civilian masters just as he knew it would not be enhanced if he had said anything else. I’m sure he believes what he said, but, pace Mr Milbank, a profile in courage the Admiral was not. Nor a reassuring figure either for the defense of his country or the survival of reticence and discretion.


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