No, We Won’t Leave You Alone


In response (I assume) to my nasty post about libertarians a few days ago, Cameron Belt tweets:

leaving people alone, what a radical idea!

This is pretty standard libertarian stuff, and on a personal level I’m sympathetic. I’m not quite a hermit, but I really do like to be left alone most of the time.

But for some reason it got me thinking. I wonder if the people who repeat this bromide understand just how radical an idea it actually is. Humans are, and always have been, social, hierarchical creatures. In every society since civilization began,1 it’s been all but impossible to be left alone. It’s such an unusual thing, in fact, that those who manage to spend a lot of time in solitude are often spoken of with reverence and awe. Spending even a few days in solitude is powerful enough that it’s been a rite of passage in a surprising number of cultures.

But for the other 99.9 percent of us, the norm is to be among, dependent, and answerable to other people. Family members, priests, bosses, governments, neighbors, police, creditors, merchants, and hundreds of others. In any society with more than about two people this is, and always has been, how humans organize themselves. We are gossipy and we are bossy. We are busybodies, we are rulemakers, we are rebels, we are moral scolds, and we are friends. (And enemies.)

So yes: leaving people alone really is a radical idea. Probably unworkable too, but that’s secondary. We are all merely hairless primates and we just aren’t going to mind our own business. Best get used to it.

1Yes, yes, I’m sure there’s an exception somewhere. Spare me.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.