This short article in the NYT about Rousseau, happiness, and the awareness of being watched gets at a bunch of stuff I've been wondering about over the past couple of years: theater, the pleasures and pains of watching and knowing you're being watched, and the surveillance state. (Which is linked to theater: When a government is secretly watching its citizens all of the time, or has at least convinced its citizens that it's secretly watching them all the time, then all the world really is a stage. Every word and deed becomes a performance, at least in the mind of the citizen—which might please actor-types, but terrifies those of us with stage fright.)
But my favorite part is about how much Rousseau hated the idea of theater:
These passions tore us from our thoughtless and anxiety-free selves. Suddenly, “each one began to look at the others and to want to be looked at himself.” No longer content with mere being, we now had to be seen. Today that means clinging to our iPhones; originally, it meant crowding around the communal fire; in Rousseau’s day, there was the theater.
“You have ruined Geneva,” Rousseau wrote to Voltaire in 1760, after the Enlightenment dramatist sought to introduce a theater there. “I hate you.”
Sometimes, I feel the same way. And now I'm off to see some shows!