Curiosity is why you and I own curtains but are irritated that other people own them too. The fact that it is such a driving force behind how we interact means that we’ve really been tarring cats with a brush that, for a long time, we’ve been wielding from deep within the blackest depths of our own personal tar bucket.
Our inquisitiveness is a raw, roaring force that surges within us and means that it is necessary to create its antithesis. This, we named privacy. While each of us is happy to excuse our own nosiness as, at its best, concern or, at its worst, moral outrage, we are equally ardent at erecting as many walls and trapdoors round our own private lives as possible, so that other people’s curiosity, or ‘meddling’, can’t get in. Looked at from this point of view, the whole of human society is an ongoing scuffle as each of us pushes fleets of busy noses out of our affairs, while at the same time desperately jostling to find the tiniest of cracks in someone else’s defences, where we can have a good poke of the snout at what’s going on. This unruly and exhaustive nasal jousting also means that, despite the aphorisms, curiosity is very seldom idle.
Privacy acts as a buttress against all this squirming intrusiveness. Of the two forces, curiosity would appear to be the stronger. For one thing, it has existed in a natural form for far longer than the human species has been laying one bipedal foot in front of the other, in order to have a sneaky peak at what animals the tribe round the corner are painting on their cave walls. Its existence probably extends beyond the point, hundreds of thousands years ago, when primitive Mud Skippers wondered just how different the dry bit was from the wet bit and thus began the terrestrial colonisation of Earth. Whenever curiosity started to sniff around, humans certainly welcomed it into our repertoire of motives with alacrity. Once we had it, we wasted very little time in adapting it to better suit our own purposes. It is perhaps because we are so good at it – or are so trapped in its thrall – that we had to create privacy, to at least try to stay some of curiosity’s new, improved avarice.
Certainly, animals seem to have a hold on their sense of curiosity. Their need to have a quick look under that rock there is balanced with a slice or two of caution, in case ‘under that rock’ turns out to be a bit bitey or stingy. On the other hand they seem oblivious to privacy. For a good example of this, think of your dog’s complete ease at defecating in full view of a bus queue of school children. Compare this to your own bashful adventures to a train bathroom; an experience as fraught with anxiety as if one was attempting to play a trombone without waking a room full of sleeping puff adders. It is your sophisticated idea of yourself as a separate and divisible entity, apart from the whole, that fills the trip to a train bathroom with a dreadful obsession with the reliability of the electronic lock and its disposition towards yawning open to reveal your ablutions to a carriage full of commuters.
Doesn’t this all beg a question, though? Why do we need to defend ourselves against curiosity? After all, curiosity is what got us to the moon, meant Britain adopted curry as its national dish, and discovered DNA and exactly what the twisty little bugger was up to. ‘I wonder what it’s like up there?’ curiosity says. ‘What is cardamon, anyhow?’ ‘Why does my youngest look exactly like my friend Graham?’ But you see that’s curiosity’s public face. It’s the collection of good causes curiosity desperately quotes at you, when you catch it browsing through the folder of Downton Abbey erotica that you’ve composed under the pen name EarlCrawleyLoveSponge342.
You see, it is only where we have secrets that suddenly we need privacy to shield them from all that boundless curiosity that’s bouncing round the world, putting its muzzle into every crotch it can find and having a sniff.
After all, what are secrets other than the expressions of your heart’s desires; your true self, naked and raw, blinking in the cruel light? Who wouldn’t want to protect that small, shivering child from the razor-like glare of the world? Even those who, to quote Bob Dylan, have got ‘no secrets to conceal’ cannot free themselves from being pursued by curiosity’s snuffling nose. Reality TV stars, whose stock in trade is that they are open books, and fill the world with the pitiless unceasing yammering of their every thought, are not immune.
One would think that curiosity would lose interest in them fairly quickly, as it already knows that Kayleigh and Jo-Jo have been seeing each other behind Zee-man’s back (as would Zee-man, if he watched the show). But the reverse is true. After all, once these individuals start down the existential path of being nothing more than a series of noisy public exposures, everyone suddenly longs to know more. Even after numerous incidents of scrofulous public nudity and yelling, the priapic snouts of Paparazzi cameras still stalk them from nightclub to Gala dinner to private beach resort. Journalists paw through their rubbish, like tramps with expense accounts. No matter what they reveal, our curiosity is there, begging for more. It’s as if, with every revelation, we think ‘if they are willing to tell us this, what aren’t they saying? ‘ One can only assume that, as a society, we have tacitly agreed that we need these fatuous absurdities to distract curiosity, while everyone else goes about our business in peace. That they serve a similar function to throwing fish heads into the sea to distract sharks.
If that’s how curiosity treats people who really don’t have anything worth hiding, think what it would do with the rest of us! No wonder each of us shoves that secret life away from the world and no matter how pure or noble, we treat the expressions of our own hearts with the same distaste as if they were a cheese sandwich that has been left to fester under a teenager’s bed.
That said, the miserable truth of the matter is that, once revealed, your dark secrets will prove to be as boring and anodyne as your public life. Curiosity isn’t bothered that you bury these pennies as if they were gold, it only cares that you are hoarding them. The Wizard of Oz is an old man behind a curtain. It is the curtain that makes him powerful, once that has been pulled back, he is as tediously human as Dorothy. But while the curtain of privacy hangs over the secret, terrible thing that you do in private – something anomic and perverse, like eating cheese with chocolate, scratching your bum and then sniffing your fingers, or worse, composing poetry – you will hear the terrible tick, tick, tick of curiosity’s claws passing the other side of that draped velvet curtain.
And how horrifying will it be when the fabric is ripped back, the curtain hooks rattling against the rail? Ah, well that would be telling.
(This was written in response to The Daily Post subject Privacy: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/privacy/)