Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit by Joseph Epstein


 Former American Scholar editor and author, Joseph Epstein writes about gossip, that much-excoriated yet apparently unstoppable human activity that knows neither historical nor cultural bounds. Educated fleas may not do it, but all human beings seem to enjoy that conspiratorial atmosphere of intimacy in which two or three people talk about another person who isn’t in the room. Usually, they say things about this person that he would prefer not to have said. They might talk about his misbehavior in any number of realms (sexual, financial, domestic, hygienic, or any other that allows for moral disapprobation) or about his frailties (his hypocrisy, tastelessness, immodesty, neuroses, etc.). Or they might just wish to analyze his character, attempting to get at why has been a life of such extraordinary undeserved success or such unequivocally merited failure.

“gossip, make no mistake, always implies a judgment.”

Gossip may well have spread in the way it has because so few among us are any longer trained in the skill of ascertaining truthful statements. Or have most of us lost our belief in truth itself; found that truth is simply unavailable in contemporary journalism, print or electronic; think truth no longer a precise but a proximate, relative thing, and so, as in the game of horseshoes, close to the truth is good enough?

Like astrology, psychoanalysis, and other pseudoscientific endeavors, gossip promises to provide significant secrets. Sometimes it does, but often it comes up empty.