At last a subject that cuts in different ways! The public debate(s) in the US have mineralized into tedium in their left-right oppositionalism. Now along comes the whirling dervish of Privacy to slice and dice the electorate who showed up unprepared with talking points to defend themselves with.

Privacy is a category that sounds so very solid and defined, and yet and yet! You thought you knew what your opinion was on privacy, but surprise! NOBODY knows what they think about it! Or even what it is. Or even if it’s desirable. Okay, libertarians claim to know what they think about it. More is better. But more than what? The internet is crawling with libertarians, but when was the last time you saw one arguing with security at the airport? They do the shoe-kick and sock-shuffle right along with the rest of us cravens, and take their seats with the same ill-considered relief that the guy next to them won’t be igniting his sneakers. (Maybe libertarians don’t fly because of government involvement. Or drive because roads are public property. Or take transit because of subsidies. Maybe that’s why they are all on the internet.)

But the best thing about the privacy debate miasma is the sideways light it throws on Categories in general. There are many differences between liberals and conservatives, but their attitudes about categories themselves is one of the least discussed. People who are conservative by temperament LOVE the idea of categories. A place for everything and everything in its place. Liberals are forever confounding this tidiness, because once you’ve managed to blur the edges of categories, change becomes possible and look out, here come the slippery slopes sliding off in every direction! But here’s the thing. Categories are real enough, but their boundaries are NEVER clear. Think about it for a minute. It’s a hard bit of thinking, and people avoid it. The mind loves its boundaries, and is forever creating them and mending and tending the fences. But speaking of fences, it is Privacy, the category of fences if ever there was one, that is the blurriest and most porous category in contemporary politics. There is something to be learned here.