We Don’t Want to Know

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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There are any number of reasons not to snoop. One violates another person’s privacy. One communicates suspicion and distrust. One presumes too much. But the biggest, best, most important reason is this: You don’t want to know what you are going to find out. And you will find out something that you don’t want to know.

People are complicated. People are contradictory. People like all kinds of weird things. People can be quite gross. And all of this is true of almost everyone, in a perfectly harmless way. [I’m not talking about the one poor soul in ten million who is unfortunate enough to live with a serial killer who buries corpses under the house.] People pick their noses and dig around in their crotches and eat disgusting concoctions and enjoy weird kinks and the like. Most are aware of these things about themselves and indulge their grosser, more off-putting predilections in private. That is, we seek privacy, precisely so as not to display our less- or un-appealing selves to our friends and loved ones, and it is done out of kindness and consideration. So, why would anyone want to snoop around and find out about it?     

My interest on this occasion, however, isn’t snooping but rather, sharing. For the same reason one shouldn’t snoop, one also shouldn’t share: There are things that people just don’t want to know about you. And this is especially true of people whom you’ve never met and who have no interest in getting to know you.

The worst in this regard are the public kinksters, by which I mean people who think it’s a good idea to display their sexual fetishes in public, regardless of who else might be there. [“Pup-Play” enthusiasts who parade their human “pups” up and down public streets is just one stomach-churning example of this sort of thing.] [1] Most common, however, and much lower on the inappropriateness-ladder, are those who like to exhibit their mental illnesses and disabilities or myriad “identities,” whether descriptively or via “emoticons” and “emojis.” This is how you wind up in a situation where people you don’t know think it’s essential, nevertheless, to tell you [and everyone else] that they are queer; autistic; transgender; neuro-divergent; pansexual; asexual; bipolar; borderline; furry; vegan; “intersex”; an “ally” to all the aforementioned; etc. So, you may not know so-and-so from Adam; have no idea how old so-and-so is or what so-and-so does for a living or whether so-and-so is American or French or whatever. But you will know that they “use” ‘quin/querk’ pronouns and like to dress up in a skunk costume and do a Number Two on a dinner plate.

I understand that we’ve incentivized this sort of “identify-and-overshare, ” which is why there’s so much of it, but the cost should never be far from one’s mind. As I said on another occasion, “Brandishing your failures and weaknesses and disorders will do nothing but invite contempt from others, though they may lie to you about it,” and it is beyond foolish to think that just because there is an official line promoting tolerance and acceptance, people actually practice it; that once you’ve megaphoned all of your disorders and problems and told everyone the gross, weird things you like and do, down to the last queasy detail, people will still want to engage with you. [2] They won’t, and they shouldn’t. Because, the truth is that this kind of sharing represents the worst in public manners; the sort in which a person imposes him or herself on unwilling others. Almost like a discursive version of flashing or indecent exposure, where rather than pull your dick out in front of a bunch of people, you give them a lurid, graphic account of the things you like to do with it instead.

Don’t tell us about yourself. Please. We don’t want to know.

Notes

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/26/style/pup-play.html

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7010681/Ruff-Inside-kinky-world-pup-play-San-Francisco-men-act-like-young-dogs.html

[2] https://theelectricagora.com/2022/04/20/twenty-five-things-young-people-used-to-understand/

15 comments

  1. I venture to say this is going to boil down to the sensibilities of the eye of the beholder.

    Whether passively or by intention, people are walking broadcasting billboards. Overweight, rotten teeth, MAGA hats, religious pendants, pink hair, piercings, tee shirts, tattoos; you get the picture. Any of these optical cues can relay more than you want to know or mull over in your fertile imagination.

    Does it really matter that people have a desire or drive to identify themselves? In a crowded world is it better to be Procrustean and blend with the herd so as not to “offend” another or, express one’s individuality and ruffle a few feathers?

    Of course, letting the world know you indulge in cosplay as a skunk pinching loaves on a glass table (for another’s viewing pleasure), appears more as an attempt to seek attention or to shock, but this is surely of a rare nature, beyond anyone’s pale and rarely encountered.

    Isn’t it better to know certain details about another upfront than to find out at a later more complicated time? You don’t want to date someone and one day open the wrong door to find a Pepe le Pew skin hanging in the closet.

    It’s usually the real sociopaths that keep the low profile and blend in so as not to attract attention. The first mandate of evil is concealment. Ask any pedophile.

    1. So, your view is “Share and Snoop.” We just aren’t going to agree on that, I’m afraid.

      And I made it very clear I was talking about the overwhelming majority of normal people, not the one in ten million who lives with a serial killer.

      1. “Not rare on social media.” Perhaps if you had stipulated that up front it would have afforded a more relevant perception to your concern. Social media, for what it is and what it represents, is hardly the venue to expect “normal” behavior in many pedestrian interpersonal communications vis a vis the usual face to face or voice to voice interchange of the recent past that you and I grew up in. The sexual/gender phenomena, where young people are influenced and confused or vying for acceptance is of course a prime example of what you speak. I get that and could care less that these birds of a feather like to flock together. The fact that we have to live with the overflow in society is however a reason for concern.

        Is it a new frontier fad or as Kanthelpmyself augurs , a sickening society ready to implode? I think it’s more of a social hiccup that we will work through like we have during other troubling eras in the past that seem to spell doom for the older cohort. Still, I think Kanthelpmyhself makes a supremely perspicacious delve into the attainment and need for self identity in a world of a digital Naked Sun.

        [Dan, keep wearing your headbanger tees. I like what is says about you.:)]

  2. Dan:

    Thanks–another acute essay.

    Some speculations:

    In “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam showed Americans’ withdrawal, over the course of the late 20th century, from groups and activities-–social, fraternal, religious, community, sports—that had formerly characterized American life, and had helped to create socially related forms of personal identity—”social capital.”

    As such associational relationships had helped support the development of personal identity and one’s place in a community, the decline of such relationships may have left individuals with something more like a wilderness regarding the task of individuation. Although the development of personal identity is no less necessary to psychological health and social stability, the social support necessary for the gradual development of such identity is no longer provided. The web of relationships that had formerly guided individuals in personal development vanished.

    Digital media may have aggravated the effects of that loss by promoting a mass conception of individuals as empty integers—equivalent enigmas faced with the burden of differentiation for conducting the lifelong campaign to become “iconic,” or to “go viral,” or otherwise become Big Dog or Queen Bee. It is, however, essential to survival on social media, for example, that one be a “finished product,” because such an entity is more fit for the digital war of all against all than one still undergoing essential internal development.

    Generations born into such a leveled society may thus have an incentive from an early age to seize upon the innumerable labels and signifiers offered by a consumer society, rather than pursue the incremental growth and development that go into character formation. Yet, despite the apparent freedom offered for the fabrication of such derivative personalities, they remain unsatisfying due to their ersatz and “make-do” nature.

    Consequently, the urge remains to extend the construct from a composite of consumer signifiers to more (apparently) essential aspects of personhood—all manner of “share-able,” Oprah-caliber, “Queen-for-a-Day” types of personal misfortune, and, more specifically, physical or mental disabilities (real and imagined) often manifested by extravagant, bizarre, repellant, or lewd personal conduct or habits, as you describe.

    Freddie de Boer has also written a great deal in his substack recently (and from a place of substantial personal knowledge) regarding the terrible consequences of what you aptly describe as “[b]randishing your failures and weaknesses and disorders” as a substitute for a sense of internal meaning and self-possession.

    It seems to bespeak a society that is crumbling inside.

  3. I’m trying and, I guess, failing to see the philosophical point you’re trying to make (if any). Seems like more of a psychological statement about your own preferences, which by the way I share. Haven’t you just publicly stated your own preferences not unlike the others you criticize? Sure our preferences are more ‘traditional’ or ‘conservative’. Have you ever worn a Judas Priest t-shirt? Ultimately who gets to be the final arbiter of what constitutes ‘overshare’?

    1. Who said I was making a philosophical point? I’m describing what I think is a terrible development. And if you can’t distinguish between a rock t shirt, and telling the universe what kinds of weird sex you like, there’s nothing I can do.

      1. It’s OK you don’t ‘have’ to do anything for me. I thought given the nature of your site you might have something more nuanced to say than a 500 word version of “get off my lawn”. Is there a Phil. 207 Philosophy of Discretion class I missed as an undergrad? Why is this a ‘terrible development’? Some of the comments develop the idea more than the original ‘compliant’ – since that’s about all it is. And again with which I largely agree. As stated it reads like Miss Manners with a Phd. And I’ll bet many in the 50s found Elvis as objectionable as we do some of the performative non-sense going on today.

        1. Brian, I do a lot of different kinds of pieces: long; short; philosophical; literary-biographical; etc. I have done a long series of rants under the “Provocations” category.

          This was not intended to do more than it did. And I understand that it was not for you.

  4. This gets tricky when you have a chronic illness or other disability that’s had a heavy impact on the course of your life. If you cosplay as a skunk on weekends, I imagine you rarely need to say much beyond, “Sorry, I’m busy on Saturday.” If your career path stopped dead, you’ve become long-term un- or underemployed, you don’t drive, and you avoid standing up for more than five minutes at a stretch, some explanation would seem to be in order.

    Emphasis on “seem.”

    I was impressed by the gains that gay people made in the 90s by coming out to their families, friends, and acquaintances. It seemed reasonable that I could do the same with my own situation, and I gave it a good go. Well. Don’t do that. Years later, I’m here to testify that this was almost a complete failure and that the correct move is to follow your advice, Daniel.

    When you have a physical disability that you don’t explain — which may be to say a daily life you rarely talk about — and it’s not immediately obvious what your story is, a social lacuna is created. Sooner or later, life being what it is, some jackass will force the issue. That’s when you, a Notably Discreet Individual, get to murmur a few words in the right ear. People are so grateful that you hadn’t made your disability their problem, so fed up with oversharing and noise, that this well-timed murmur is a thousand times more forceful than brandishing could ever be.

    Self-expression is one thing; communication is another. It took me long enough to recognize it, but in some cases, when communication is called for, the best way to help people hear you is to start by shutting your trap for a good long while. It’s also a lot more fun as a way to live.

  5. I will read the previous comments on your article. Personally, I am not seeing much now that convinces me people are guarding their privacy as once was the motivation. Contrary to your assertions, they want to know. And they want others to know what they are doing, in all the lurid detail possible. Seems to me, if I am understanding it right, social media encourages more familiarity than is either desirable or prudent. People, being as human as they are, seek acceptance and approval from their peers—they will also welcome attention from those they know nothing about and might be better off not knowing. Globalization is a necessary adjustment in many areas of human interactions and cooperation. Economy is, must be, a worldwide enterprise. But, one cannot know everyone in the world. Not, do I believe, other things being equal, any of us have a need to make such an impossible effort.

  6. The transition to sharing strikes a chord. 🙂 And it is true, most people don’t want or need to know this stuff.

    Sometimes the compulsion people have to announce weird things about themselves even happens while I’m waiting for take out. I have often thought to order like this “Ill take a chicken burrito with guacamole, but hold the weird.”

    I think this ties in with your last article. A lack of social skills and social awareness go hand in hand.

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