Oh Eleanor, if you could see the depths to which our culture of gossip has sunk, you’d surely be rolling around in that dusty old grave of yours.
I frequently ruminate over your famous quote (and why have our First Ladies been so drab and dull-witted in recent generations?)… I find your wisdom reassuring, maybe comforting, when I hear people yammering and yammering on about, in a word, shit. I’ve never enjoyed small talk. In fact, I rather despise it (as anyone who has read anything I write here can deduce). Small talk is mental filler regurgitated in order to pacify the empty spaces engulfing the dull mind.
Reading about yet more celebrity gossip in the news, I thought of your quote again.
For you see, small talk has its large, collective corollary across society: celebrity gossip.
This piece straddles the line of quasi-legitimate reporting of a non-lascivious matter while simultaneous hinting, not so obliquely, at a gossipy angle one can see if peered at from the gutter. Still, the impression is one of whispering gesticulations made behind the hastily shut door, of cavernous opinions weighing heavily about people and their private affairs while edging into the territory of their castigated public personas. It’s all drivel.
It is small-minded. As you might have pegged it.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
I began to think about this quote, one which has been commonly attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, though not without contrary citations. In any case, I will refer to it as Eleanor Roosevelt’s for the duration of this post.
What are these Ideas, Events and People, and how do they unfurl across the collective conversation of this society? Of course these three dialectic archetypes are not confined to their labels solely, but include many other scattered offshoots of dialogue and human activities that nevertheless can be housed in one of these three categories.
For instance, “small minds discuss people.”
Celebrity gossip is the primary offender of this type of tabloid discussion. Nothing meets the criteria of discussing People more than gossip. Gossip is diabolical and laced with judgmental opinions and condescending aspersions. It accomplishes little other than allowing the speaker, and his listeners, to feel superior in an infantile, immature manner that involves adeptly savaging the reputation of others. This is gossip, but there are many other forms of conversation which fit in category of People even though are not necessarily gossip. They meet the People requirements because they are artificial creations of human civilization which only serve to entertain and distract, never to enlighten or increase the intellectual vibrancy of humanity. In this category, I would put:
- Tech subjects (including computers, phones, drones, etc)
These are one-dimensional conversation maps, which ironically, though concerning the rudimentary elements of life, also serve to distract from the harshness and grandeur of life. We all partake in some of these discussions to varying degrees. In this respect, Eleanor’s quote is fluid and we all engage each of the 3 archetypes at certain points in our periodic existence. It’s the degree to which, and frequency with which, we engage in such dialog that determines our overall level of Great, Average or Small.
“Average minds discuss events.” And since most of us are average, in fact, the very definition of average is that which recurs most frequently across a data set, ie, humanity in this case, these are the items most of us chat about. Ironically, they are not the most lucrative, popular, or scintillating topics. That dubious honor would fall in the simple-minded category. “Events” is a very broad, ambiguous term, but in Eleanor’s context, I believe it includes those complex constructs of human civilization that, while not necessarily requiring great intellectual ardor, involve a degree of higher reasoning and logic structure than talking about, say, who is fooling around with who or who is sexing who behind who’s back. Events are the minutiae of society that are peculiarly human in their layered level of perception and interpretation which a minimal level of intelligence is required to participate. Without resorting to the typical HBD fixation with IQ (I’m not a great fan of IQ as a tool of anything resembling precision), simple-minded subjects only require the lowest level of acuity and reasoning. To discuss People requires the most banal level of intelligence, whereas discussing Events requires an intelligence represented by the highest pinnacle of the Bell Curve’s popularity peak. The concepts involved in discussions of Events require a general level of intelligence that we share with most of our fellow humans. Nothing more, nothing less. In the Events archetype, I would place:
- Politics (the practice thereof…)
- Economics (the practice thereof…)
- Culture (from the broad, macro, sociological perspective)
- Current Events
- Critical review of the arts
- Statistical/sabermetric/sociological examination of Sports
- The Internet (insofar as it is used to examine/discuss/interpret other Events elements)
- Pop science
Which bring us to the great minds and the Ideas category of abstract dialog. Ideas encompasses that range of subjects and intellectual exercise delving into the abstract acrobatic cognitive maneuvering of timeless concepts that derive power from a nebulous force of life that man does not imbue with his ego. The Ideas of the great mind might be best treated as a remote form of wisdom such as a priori knowledge. That vague, inhuman dissemination of unattributed knowledge that stirs despite the intrusive and supercilious posturing of man. The great mind attempts to dissemble such knowledge that abides quite happily without his meddlesome intrusions. One wonders if perhaps the moniker of “great” minds is misleading; a description of “higher” or “elevated” might be more fitting since the great mind that discusses ideas of a transcendent nature, those fixtures of life that circumvent our intuitive logic or conscious formulations, functions on a level of super-consciousness that is not available or accessible to most people who find they are predominantly tied up in the Events or People categories by virtue of their character limitations. The realm of Ideas would include:
- Science, on the theoretical level of postulation and hypothesis
- Advanced mathematics
- Politics, economics, human culture, as intertwined and expressed through collective sociological and physical evolution
- Interpretation of cultural creations using any combination of methods or tools that are of the realm of Ideas
- Questions of dogma and genesis or applicability of religion; nature of life and its origins, and its fate
- Examinations of our spiritual nature
As I’ve assembled these categories, one may get the impression that I am of the opinion these are clearly demarcated categories which do not bleed over, but I don’t believe that is the case. More often than not, people, across the spectrum, tend to bleed into several categories. I would postulate that people can blend into an amorphous brew encompassing multiple categories backwards, but not forwards. In other words, a great mind can discuss People, but a small mind is incapable of discussing Ideas. In fact, a small mind is only capable of discussing People, while an average mind is capable of discussing Events and People, but cannot tackle Ideas. Only the great mind is capable of discussing all three categories. This downward permeability of minds as expressed in Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote is hierarchical and flagrantly elitist, but such is the nature of Man.
Since the archetypes appear soundly delineated, one wonders if perhaps there is a subject of discussion that can be encompassed by all three categories. Is there something that, owing to differing contexts and precision of examination, can be considered a Person, an Event, and an Idea, singularly? I say no. Elements of culture and constructs of humanity, owing to the nature of their elusiveness (or lack thereof), appear to only be capable of appearing at one static point in the continuum of human interest and abstraction. In fact, I would say that the point of this paragraph, which raises the question of whether a Person can be an Event and an Idea simultaneously, is, in itself, distilling the archetypes into a blend that contains traits of all three. To ponder whether an Event can thus be considered a parcel of a more advanced mind, the great one, is to amplify its resting state into a universal tension in which it is upwardly permeable, as well. But this requires conscious intervention on our part; it is not endemic to the nature of these Events, or People, or Ideas, to ever supersede their nature.
We must intercede to make a concept overextend its elemental nature: such is the meddlesome nature of man.