“One is a lonely number.” My Navajo ‘mother’ used to tell me this long ago while I was collecting anthropological data on the Navajo Indian Reservation, sent by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This slogan was speeding through my head recently as I participated in the taping of an afternoon TV talk show. As I waited for my cue, I watched various guests reveal some very private things about their lives. Well, private until the bank of TV cameras broadcast their deepest secrets to several million people. I was not among them. My job was to talk about the anthropology of human monogamy. But I couldn’t help wondering: Why would anyone tell their deepest (and unattractive) secrets to several million people? This impulse to share one’s private life must stem from our prehistoric past. In fact, I suspect privacy is a very new concept to humanity.
How could our forebears have enjoyed any privacy living in their little hunting and gathering bands? Sure, couples undoubtedly wandered off to make love in secluded places; nowhere do humans copulate in public regularly. Even where men and women are ‘housebound,’ as the traditional Eskimos were in the Arctic winter, a loving pair waited until their companions were asleep before having sex. Ancestral hunters often hunted alone; some still do. So our forebears had some privacy. But daily life was communal. Our ancestros lived and ate and prayed and talked and danced together. And everybody must have known just about everything about everybody else. But this lack of privacy undoubtedly had payoffs: If all your relatives and friends knew your secrets, these companions would also be inclined to support your causes, feel your pains, and celebrate your joys. Communal living gave people support and comfort. Perhaps this is what these folks on these TV shows also seek: community. Facebook, Twitter, email, reality TV, blogs: these are probably more forms of community-building that we pursue “naturally”—a primordial impulse to share our lives in our mercurial world.
Article originally appeared at PsychologyToday.com
photo by StuBramley