The essayist is allowed to be familiar, with the understanding that familiarity differs crucially from being personal. What has changed in recent years, and not in the essay alone, is the new penchant among writers for the uncomfortably personal, chiefly residing in confession. The great essayists have also been great adepts of tact, with bone knowledge of precisely how much of themselves they should reveal, how much to hold back. They did not foist their sadnesses on their readers, did not feature their weaknesses. In contemporary writing, consummate tact has been replaced by constant confession. Contemporary writers, essayists among them, provide us with accounts of their sexual kinks, their addictions, their longings, the nightmares of their childhoods, their mental illnesses. Balzac called the artist, by which he meant chiefly the writer, a prince among men; today the prince has increasingly become a patient.
— Joseph Epstein, Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits
Recently, the Man with the Chin of Gray and I were joking about our weariness with this sort of thing. I said that “I don’t want to know about it” would probably look pretty sharp translated into Latin, and that I might make that the motto of my family crest. Serendipitously, I happened to read this shortly thereafter in Benedict Beckeld’s Western Self-Contempt: Oikophobia in the Decline of Civilizations:
As the middle class increases its numbers in a civilization’s mature days, knowledge democratizes and theory grows popular. The illusion of reflection and profound thought spreads to all and sundry. With ubiquitous education and at least a smattering of theory for almost everyone, ever larger swathes of society will fall victim to the higher self-placement that tends to go hand in hand with oikophobia. We would therefore do well to turn the in some sense laudable Horatian dictum that Kant quotes in his essay What Is Enlightenment? (1784), namely sapere aude, “dare to know,” which leads to a cohort of busybodies believing that they can steer their societies teleologically by means of superficial knowledge, into an equally laudable nescire aude, “dare not to know,” dare to admit ignorance, dare to be open to doubt and to take yourself somewhat less seriously.
It’s not precisely the same implication, but I think it will suffice for my purposes. Dare to be intellectually humble, yes, but also dare to be intellectually discerning. Learn when to look away for the sake of dignity.