European Diary

Curiosity as a Social Force

“Curious Barbara’s got her nose in a sling,” goes the Russian admonition against prurience, more puzzling, if anything, than the equivalent English adage concerning the killing, in similarly umbrageous circumstances, of the cat.  Why should Barbara meet with such a fate?  Just how did it happen that curiosity brought about the death of Fluffy?  As a child, one wonders about these things.  In middle age, one wonders about them all over again.

Recently, a sentence in the Spectator caught my attention.  Explaining why a certain subversive initiative of the European Commission was a new trap for Britain, the author of the article invoked “a document that seems to have been designed to deceive” the British electorate.  Nothing strange here, one is tempted to say.  Why else would anybody bother coming up with a treaty, unless he wanted to get the better of someone else?  It is the rest of the sentence, however, that struck me as significant.  The authors of the treaty, wrote Fraser Nelson, would seem “to take the British people for fools.”

Let me back myself into yet another china-shop display.  The central existential question of all time, and hence the main thrust of all our anxiety, is “What happens in our absence?  What is, when our back is turned?  What was or will be, if we neither were nor will be able to...

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