When talking seriously became rude

With us, the democratic assumption work more gently. It easily prevails by sheer force of numbers. Whatever is alarmingly different or superior is leveled off like the froth on the glass of beer. Go to the friendliest social dinner, and the conversation will run exclusively on current events and common experiences — so much so that after dinner the men and the women form separate groups and talk business in one, domesticity in the other. The correct mixture of passion and detachment about beliefs, which makes of conviviality something more than eating and drinking together, is less and less attainable. To speak of religion — which once furnished a common background of moral feeling and literary allusion — is widely considered the most pretentious bad manners. Even politics has lost its intellectual content and has become undiscussable except with hand grenades. The effort to avoid misunderstandings and offense reduces the pleasure to zero. One feels as if one were walking on eggs inside one’s brain. In short, talking seriously is as rude as making private allusions which only the members of the family understand.

Jacques Barzun, Begin Here, pp. 211-12

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