Two Kinds of Rot

Haywain window rot

There are two kinds of rot: the kind shown in this photo of our haywain window and the less obvious kind often mistaken for ‘informed opinion’ or even genuine expertise. Time and money will sort out the former, but what do we do about the latter? We have become so accustomed to the idea of ‘fake news’ and the right of everyone to express their own opinion on any subject under the sun (a right I would dispute when the opinion is knowingly fallacious or malicious) that we have great difficulty recognizing rot for what it is when we hear or read it. That doesn’t let us off the hook, however, because if we fail to challenge it, or even worse, collude with it, we are guilty of a moral cowardice that has consequences for all of us. The store of falsehood in the world goes up, and the store of truth goes down.

During the past week we have seen some outrageous examples of rot circulating online and off — about those involved in the Charlie Gard case, the political situation in Kenya, Brexit, and so on. Most of us can’t claim to have any real inside knowledge of any of these, but we can think before we post something that is potentially damaging or untrue. St Benedict has a great deal to say on the subject of restraint of speech. Like St James, he recognized that we can do great harm if we let our tongues run away with us — and how easy it is to do that. Personally, I don’t like the idea of ending up like our poor haywain window, apparently fit for purpose on the outside but rotten within; so I shall spend part of today thinking about the way in which I express my own opinions, and whether they are sound or not. Who will join me?

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