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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Where does privacy fit on the evolutionary timeline?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (25356points) November 9th, 2010

We all require some degree of privacy, even from our loved ones. Some of us require more privacy than others. So, from an evolutionary standpoint, what purpose does this serve?
I know my dog doesn’t hesitate to go to the bathroom right in front of me, or anyone else that’s watching, so why do human beings require so much privacy?

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17 Answers

marinelife's avatar

It is innate within us just as our internal shame is.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s probably a cultural thing, not genetic. There seems to be a trend, what with doing our business in private, so no one else has to smell it or hear it; having sex in private because no one wants to see it and it’s all filled with fluids (I get an icky feeling when I see people making out in public—get a room); and things like requiring more and more cleanliness: shaving all our hair including our genital hair, using all kinds of cleaning products for hair and skin and go knows what else, and then putting on scents and deodorants to prevent those scents from occurring in the time between now and the next shower.

marinelife's avatar

@wundayatta Shaving hair and cleaning and scented products are all very new innovations.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@wundayatta I am inclined to agree, particularly with the shaving and cleanliness rituals. Some degree of privacy seems innate, though, as @marinelife said. Is it just that strongly ingrained in our cultures that it feels that way? It isn’t just that we feel the need to do “private” things in private, most people require some “alone time” to feel content.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

That’s an interesting question. I don’t think it’s evolutionary at all, unless you include cultural difference somewhere in the same line of thought. Does that make sense?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I do think to some degree it is cultural, yes. I agree. Does that mean there are cultures in the world where people do not feel the need for time alone?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie My anthropological skills aren’t quite up to that one. I would guess there have to be some cultures that don’t put as much importance in some private time. Just from thinking over their living arrangements.

syz's avatar

I, too, would tend to think “culture” rather than “evolution”.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

So, if none of it is innate.. where would it have started out culturally? Any ideas?

wundayatta's avatar

@marinelife That’s exactly my point. These things are all new—too new for evolution to have anything to do with it.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Did it start with indoor plumbing?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@wundayatta of course things like showering and using the bathroom in privacy are new, including soaps and perfumes. But somewhere along the line we decided not to tell everyone everything, not to completely expose ourselves in whatever way. We all seem to require some degree of time away from others, time for ourselves. Is that really all cultural?

I’m not arguing, I’m just curious. It does feel innate to need my time alone.

@Adirondackwannabe I would be inclined to think it started somewhere after the birth of language and speech.

wundayatta's avatar

Privacy? That, too, is a relatively recent ideas. There was no such thing as privacy up until we were wealthy enough to build a shelter with two rooms. I don’t know when that was, but I’d say it’s probably somewhere between 60 thousand and 5 thousand years ago. It seems likely to me that it would be cultural.

JilltheTooth's avatar

I think that a lot of the need for “alone” time may have something to with the developing complexity of our environment. Technology has far outpaced physical evolution from before the Industrial Revolution up to the present. As a result, we are bombarded with much more stimuli than our senses are equipped to handle. I think our poor overworked little neurons need time to process all that stuff coming in, so we find ways to step back, and not have to respond.
Fluther, however, stimulates the hell out of my neurons, so sitting here alone really isn’t helping, is it? ;-)

CyanoticWasp's avatar

You’re generalizing too much from a ‘Western’ point of view. In fact, maybe even too much from an ‘American’ point of view.

Over time various cultures (some cultures, anyway) have developed taboos about various things, including sex and nudity, excretory functions, bathing, even viewing laundry that isn’t even being worn at the time (some people really have a ‘thing’ for viewing or not viewing others’ undergarments). Given the tendency to develop these taboos and the resources to accommodate them, including indoor plumbing (and the infrastructure to handle the waste outside the dwelling) and construction costs for additional rooms for various functions, we grow into these tastes.

But that’s all they are, really, just “tastes” and customs.

I’m reminded of one of the opening scenes from All Quiet on the Western Front (worth reading in its own right) where at the start of the book three soldiers who don’t know each other are sharing an open-air latrine with their backs to each other, each pretending that the others don’t even exist. By the end of the book, they are all socializing with—and facing—each other.

YARNLADY's avatar

I doubt it is evolutionary. Many cultures have entire families living in one room and there is no such thing as privacy.

Trillian's avatar

I believe that privacy is contrived for people who live in crowded conditions in various ways. Peole learn to pretend to not hear things, and I believe that functions like elimination and sex are accorded as muh privacy as allowed. That is to say, people avert their gaze or turn attention else where. These functions seem to be universally acknowledged as necessarily privatized. As I understand it, couples try to have sex quietly and if one happens to be awake, one respects that privacy by pretending to be asleep. Certainly no attempt is made at conversation during such times. A culture can contrive to accord privacy to those within the confines of any society. These are honed over generations and what began as a necessity due to space strictures can become culturally ingrained even after those strictures no longer exist. This is something that sets us apart from animals.
To imagine that crowded conditions means no privacy is incorrect.

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