Fig Leafs

by rthieme on September 17, 1998

I seldom return to something I’ve written before, but the Islands in the Clickstream column called “Life in a Nudist Colony” is appropriate to the week’s events.

“Behaviors,” I wrote, “that used to be called “back-stage” are brought into our living rooms twenty four hours a day. The internet and satellite and cable television are really one thing, a single medium that fuses news and entertainment.

Anchors  on the “nightly news,” speaking with the pinched tones of those who hold the high moral ground, rush every snippet onto the screen ”

Now the collusion of government and media is out in the open. Against all precedent, Congress plastered the juicy details onto the Internet – “splat!” – and representatives who recently decried the sexual content of the Net shoveled with gusto. The war was on.

But this is a war that takes no prisoners. Today Henry Hyde joined the lengthening parade of the naked, his former political pieties juxtaposed with a picture of a bimbo sitting on his lap.

“Why don’t you guys use what you know about Senator X?” I asked a political operative a few years ago. We had been talking about the stories about our governor and one of our senators.

“We’d kill each other,” he said. “We know too much. Nobody will fire the first shot.”

But somebody did. And because we live in a nudist colony now, in which everybody can see the details of everyone else’s life, we had better find a way to call a truce.

We have to act as if we’re still wearing clothes, even though we’re all naked. Civility – as William James said of wisdom – means knowing what to overlook.  The boundaries between public and private life must be intentional, or they won’t exist.  And leadership – which requires some distance in order to be exercised – will become impossible.

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