Tag Archives: privacy

Thoreau’s idea for a big house (Walden 159)

After working on his own little house, Thoreau is thinking about houses in general. He imagines a big house, “A house whose inside is as open and manifest as a bird’s nest, and you cannot go in at the front door and out at the back without seeing some of its inhabitants; where to be a guest is to be presented with the freedom of the house, and not to be carefully excluded from seven eighths of it, shut up in a particular cell, and told to make yourself at home there — in solitary confinement. Nowadays the host does not admit you to his hearth, but has got the mason to build one for yourself somewhere in his alley, and hospitality is the art of keeping you at the greatest distance. There is as much secrecy about the cooking as if he had a design to poison you.”

I was surprised when I first read this. I thought he wanted solitude — but now he wants a house with no privacy?! Sometimes I think he is just whining, that he’s a contrarian for its own sake. But we could also see this as part of his habit of questioning everything. He wants to take nothing for granted. Why do we divide houses into rooms like we do? Is this a good idea? I think it is, but maybe it’s worthwhile to ask why we think so. I would point out, and I think Henry would appreciate this — considering that he spent much of his life living in the family home — that separate rooms create quiet spaces for reading and writing. Continue reading


Curious people question authority

Does curiosity have political consequences? (Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a partisan rant.) To put it another way, what happens when curiosity becomes what we might call ‘skilled curiosity’ — meaning, the tendency to ask questions such as “Why is that?” and “How do you know?” plus the knowledge of how to gather information, test hypotheses, weigh evidence, and detect BS. Here’s a concise explanation: Continue reading