Is privacy necessary?

Milan Kundera, speaking through the voice of his character Tereza in Part Four of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, asserts that “A concentration camp is the complete obliteration of privacy.”

I confess that this line, this definition, struck me so powerfully that it remained the only salient feature of this complex work that I could recall.

In Kundera’s novel, Tereza’s mother invaded and obliterated her privacy by reading her secret diary aloud to friends who had a good laugh at the adolescent Tereza’s expense. Tereza herself calls the concentration camp created for her by her mother as “a given into which we are born and from which we can escape only with the greatest of efforts.”

In a way this is yet another variation of Plato’s cave or Rousseau’s famous declaration that “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains” from The Social Contract.

In our age of universal self-disclosure through the so-called social media of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and our age of universal snooping courtesy of the National Security Agency in the States and other like organisations throughout the world, privacy is well-worth re-examining. And it is well-worth examining in the context of adolescence.

Generally speaking adolescence, that remarkable transition from childhood to ostensible maturity, is routinely characterised by a surge of hormones, erratic mood swings, changes in physical shape, the formation of grand ideals, sexual development and activity, passion, risky behaviours, all of which contribute to the setting of a kind of trajectory for one’s life.

I can hardly add anything to what everyone well knows who has passed through adolescence or who is fretting about it from the parental perspective. But I want to call attention to one feature that has not been celebrated as much as it should: namely, a perceptive clarity, a brilliant insight into the blinding discordance between the world the teenager is moving into, full of the false mythologies and strictures created by adults, and the world they perceive can be devoid of such hypocrisy: a brave new world that somehow never comes into being.

Is it any wonder then that teens move to drugs and drink or acts of lawlessness when they easily discern with all of their youthful clear-sightedness and vigour a discrepancy between what parents and religious leaders preach and what they actually practice? When they wonder how a country can advocate peace while prosecuting endless war? And when a monstrous place like Guantanamo Bay can be created, where unfortunates have been consigned without the right to legal representation, in violation of any semblance of humane law? And where, of course, privacy has been utterly abolished.

And this is the point I’ve been meandering to. Is privacy essential? Does privacy serve any function anymore? The privacy to one’s peculiar, wild, dark and sometimes deranged and beautiful imaginings? The privacy within which one may be most utterly free in thought?

I confess, I think along the lines of Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Act 1, Scene 4) when he says that he is “best when least in company.”

We should have secrets, we should nurture them, we should permit ourselves this sanctuary, we should encourage our children to have their sacred spaces of thought within which there may be true creative liberty, an unparalleled freedom to think beyond bounds. We should understand that it is permissible to harbour any conceivable idea, so long as the distinction between imagination and action is preserved.

Otherwise we are all prisoners indeed.

Dr. Garcia is a poet, novelist and physician who now resides in New Zealand. He may be contacted at

3 Responses to Is privacy necessary?

  1. Privacy is a human right too essential to be compromised by any social contract offered by government. Therefore, give flight to your imaginings. “Nurture them” as Emanuel E Garcia tells us. If you nurture what is private, you will come to treasure it, and you will not be swayed to let go of it.

    Clandestine surveillance is now capable of accessing our personal details. What’s next? I would rather that George Orwell does not come to be thought of as a prophet.

  2. A fine, pointed piece by Dr. Garcia about the importance–nay, the necessity–of privacy for nurturing imagination: “true creative liberty, an unparalleled freedom to think beyond bounds.”

    I especially liked the linking of privacy and adolescence: within that early season of growth, exploration, wonders and doubts, we may become “more” of ourselves, better selves with deeper understanding. Privacy, too quickly disappearing in our go-to, now-now-now world can also allow for nurturing and blossoming.

    I also agree with Ana Kyriou: “I would rather that George Orwell does not come to be thought of as a prophet.” I, too, would “rather”… but I’m afraid it’s too late. Orwell, Huxley, H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Heinlein and others were the prophets of our Age now. Who will prophesy a better world than this one? Is it possible?

    BTW, it would be nice to see–at the excellent INTREPID site and elsewhere–some of the poems that Dr. Garcia nurtures in the privacy of his fertile mind.

  3. Sharing one’s innermost thoughts and feelings is the supportive framework of culture. It can be used to cultivate hierarchy or be used commercially. Professional artists, teachers, therapists, priests and politicians concentrate our attention in their direction leaving us playing the part of the audience, student, patient, a member of the flock or a constituent but as creative beings we only need a supportive culture and we can be all of those things in an egalitarian way. Intentional communities attempt to do this and succeed and fail to achieve it for some people some of the time.