On Gossip

A broken clock is right twice a day, as they say. It is with this adage in mind that I note, so as not to be remiss, that Pope Francis (aka Francis the Talking Marxist) finally met God’s hour hand for a passing moment. Specifically, during his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square in early September, Francis strayed from his usual themes of moral relativism, anti-free-market moralizing, and politically correct moral absolutism, to express one view actually related to, and consistent with, Church doctrine, namely a condemnation of gossip.

From Reuters:

“Please, brothers and sisters, let’s make an effort not to gossip. Gossiping is a worse plague than COVID,” the pope said during his weekly address from a window above St. Peter’s Square.

“The devil is the great gossip. He is always saying bad things about others because he is the liar who tries to split the Church,” Francis added in the off-the-cuff comments.

The pope has regularly warned of the risks of gossiping and has also railed against Internet trolls.

“If something goes wrong, offer silence and prayer for the brother or sister who make [sic] a mistake, but never gossip,” he said on Sunday.

As is typical of Francis when he is speaking God’s truth, rather than cribbing from the International Socialist Handbook, the sentiments here are expressed in awkward and garbled terms. Nevertheless, the essential message is right. Gossip is the devil’s conversation topic, having its very provenance in the corrupt heart of the eternal worm. 

To gossip is to seek to harm another, and to harm him as a coward seeks to harm, namely from behind. Gossip is the weakling’s attack, the small man’s attempt to drag a bigger man down to his own low condition through pretenses of knowledge, ridicule, and exposure. Even at its least overtly vicious, it manifests exactly the moral tenor that Nietzsche ascribed (perhaps unfairly) to Balzac: the egalitarian urge of the man who pretends to know everyone else’s mind and business as a means of artificially elevating his own.

Gossip, traditionally regarded by all religious or educated people as the sin of coarse and amoral men and women — rats, advantage-seeking Iagos, low-minded attention-seekers — has, like most traditional sins, been reassessed in late modernity as a desirable and valuable tool of progressive morality and its intrinsically totalitarian political impulses. Progressives are natural gossips, for they are modernity’s definitive small men and cowards, forever seeking to diminish others in a desperate lunge at emotional and material self-aggrandizement. As moral and metaphysical collectivists, they are ideally calibrated to find solace and strength in the spiritual gang rape and mob lynching that is gossip. And as souls devoured by power lust, there is no means too low, no instrument too blunt, to be exploited for political influence and advantage. Hence the progressives’ essential and universal compulsion to institutionalize public shaming and popular ostracism — which are nothing but politicized gossip — as their preferred means of subduing the masses and thereby manipulating both community morals and private behavior. Today’s “cancel culture” is nothing but the newest mask for the old Soviet and Maoist techniques of community spying and public condemnation used to beat every man into becoming his own intellectual censor and moral self-hater, a submissive slave to the collective, i.e., the state.

This progressive revaluation and institutionalization of gossip, however, must not be used by (real or declared) non-progressives as a means of excusing their own “innocent” bouts of telling tales and sharing “news” about the lives and behavior of others, whether this compulsion is engaged in for pleasure or for points. Gossip — talking about human matters not within our proper sphere of personal concern, and not for the sake of genuinely helping the person under discussion — is always, in the end, a power game, regardless of its proximate goal, and regardless of whether it is engaged in privately or publicly. And this means it always falls within the arena of temptation; specifically, it is a symptom of weakness seeking to ameliorate its own shame through the emotional balm of hurting others. In that sense, it is quite proper for Pope Francis to describe the devil himself as “the great gossip,” i.e., the standard-bearer of the activity.

One popular expression, variously and apocryphally attributed, plainly captures the spiritual meaning of gossip in the clearest and truest terms, namely in terms of the human order of rank: “Great men talk about ideas; ordinary men talk about events; small men talk about other people.”

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