Our latest Mere Fidelity podcast went online earlier today. Within it Matt, Derek, and I discuss the issue of curiosity, taking an essay by John Webster as our starting point.
In the show I reference this, from St. Bernard:
Food that is badly cooked and indigestible induces physical disorders and damages the body instead of nourishing it. In the same way if a glut of knowledge stuffed into the memory, that stomach of the mind, has not been cooked on the fi re of love, and transfused and digested by certain skills of the soul, its habits and actions – since, as life and conduct bear witness, the mind is rendered good through its knowledge of good – will not that knowledge be rendered sinful?
There is a folly of opinion, which finds satisfaction, as the proverb says, not in understanding but in expressing one’s mind (Prov. 18:2). Unlike the inconsiderate folly, this has exposed itself to the dialectic of social interrogation. But driven by a dread of having nothing to contribute to the social exchange, it allows society’s exchanges to direct it, rather than the realities that they should be communicating. ‘Where we are now’ becomes the sole measure of truth—always ‘we,’ never ‘I,’ for the voice is that of the immanent collective, not of a formed judgment.
Here is the ‘simple’ of the Proverbs, who ‘believes everything’ (14:15), and here is the ‘scoffer,’ who ‘does not like to be reproved’ (15:12), the suggestible and the counter-suggestible, one echoing the current views and the other reacting against them, both wholly creatures of them, forming no judgment and offering no dialogical resistance. Opinion gains no coherence, and so has no prospect of growth. It is neither accumulative nor critical but reactive, a series of discontinued beginnings.
A self too weak to interrogate or argue with the successive new reports of reality that reach it makes no contribution to communications by reporting its own experience or questioning others’ reports. The mind is lively enough—images of the world and its doings and constantly formed and re-formed—but it is no more than a screen onto which public reflections are projected….The passions aroused by the news have a purely representative character, like those aroused by tragedy on the stage. Sharpening our arrows of opinion and firing them off at actors they will never reach, pronouncing judgments that involve us in no actual responsibility, we go through the motions of playing a part in the great communicative drama and so work off surplus active impulses before turning to the tasks that actually lie before us. We may, perhaps, feel more resolute about those tasks as a result of the exercise, but this is not the result of anything we have learned.
Take a listen and leave any thoughts in the comments!
[As an expression of my disagreement with Matt’s opinions on cat videos, here’s a link to a livestream video of kittens.]