How about the morality of it all? Wolf replied for all spymasters when he wrote, “As long as there is espionage, there will be Romeos seducing unsuspecting [targets] with access to secrets.” Yet he maintains: “I was running an intelligence service, not a lonely-hearts club.”
Why should everything be about “me”? Are my fixations of significance to the Republic? Do my particular needs by definition speak to broader concerns? What on earth does it mean to say that “the personal is political”? If everything is “political,” then nothing is. I am reminded of Gertrude Stein’s Oxford lecture on contemporary literature. “What about the woman question?” someone asked. Stein’s reply should be emblazoned on every college notice board from Boston to Berkeley: “Not everything can be about everything.”
Our successors—liberated from old-style constraints—have imposed new restrictions upon themselves. Since the 1970s, Americans assiduously avoid anything that might smack of harassment, even at the risk of forgoing promising friendships and the joys of flirtation. Like men of an earlier decade—though for very different reasons—they are preternaturally wary of missteps. I find this depressing. The Puritans had a sound theological basis for restricting their desires and those of others. But today’s conformists have no such story to tell.
Researchers confirmed what others have already established: The less time people spend alone, the greater their sense of well-being. But the point, and the important finding, is the relationship between well-being and substantive conversation over small talk. They found that people who have more deep conversations than chit-chat are happier. The happiest people spent less time alone and more time talking, but they also had more than twice as many substantive conversations and one-third as much small talk as the unhappiest people.