248 Insolence is more to be extinguished than a conflagration.*
So said Heraclitus: the wisest man to live in Ephesus until Saint John moved there. Saint Basil recommends we begin our studies learning from the noble pagans, particularly in terms of virtue. Says the Saint: “Since the life to come is to be attained through virtue, chief attention must be paid to those passages in which virtue is praised. . . .”
Insolence, the Greek is “hubris” is a violent disregard of moral limits. Tell the insolent man he is wrong and he will attack. There is no dialog possible with an insolent man. Heraclitus says such a person is more dangerous that a conflagration.
Heraclitus postulated that the most important of the elements was fire. In Heraclitus’ cosmology, fire enabled constant change within the plan of the Divine Logos. Fire as an element either was the soul or the element the soul used to interact with the cosmos and being “fiery” was generally a sign of health.** After all, corpses are cold!
You can, however, have too much of a good thing. Burning up for Heraclitus is an excess of a good element: a mortal man with a spark of the divine, claiming divinity. He is insolent.He is consumed and may consume all those around him in his reckless and violent pride.
When a human demands the knowledge that he cannot have (it is unknowable), should not have (eg. another person does not consent to our knowing), or even contain (we have limited capacity), the result is not good. We burn- having ignored the lesson of the fairy tales.
The desire to know is such a good thing generally, we forget that some things should not be known.
The easiest example of morally forbidden knowledge is knowledge that is private. Another person is entitled to his or her thoughts and to share those thoughts only with consent. One reason torture cannot be licit is that it breaks this fundamental right to consent. When we demand a person tell us what he or she does not wish to tell us, this is very morally questionable.
Spying on people can only be done with great care. The default in a private conversation is that it is private. Moral people are very hesitant to demand such “data.” Insolent bosses, managers, and politicians pry, snoop, and prod for things they have no right to know.
Countries like the United States have rightly built many safeguards against spying. Since a conversation is sharing information between two parties, it does not have the same inviolate nature as a thought (that is between a person and his God). However, the presumption of privacy in many conversations, between spouses, is very high. This is why (in general) a spouse cannot be forced to testify against a spouse. Beware the state given to an insolent desire to intrude more than a conflagration.
A desire to know what should not be known can become like a fire in our bones, distracting us from searching for goodness, truth, and beauty.
Some things are none of my business! God save me from insolence.
*Heraclitus, Presocratic Philosophers Kirk, Raven, Schofield (editors).
**We cannot be sure what Heraclitus meant all the time as much of his work is lost and what we have is aphoristic.