Veneration, devotion, schools and celebrity culture

If what we wonder at is a man’s prudence, diligence, or something else of that kind, because we consider him as far surpassing us in this, then the wonder is called veneration. (pp. 97 P52, Schol.)

Spinoza points out that veneration and consternation are closely related, as are wonder and disdain, the imaginations that these affects are derived from. I think this is important in the educational context. In an atmosphere where consternation is “stoked up” by the structures of the school system (e.g. exam consternation), veneration will also be generated in my view. Veneration is a species of superstition in my view. For example, I have noticed that certain teachers are “venerated” by students who admire the teacher’s diligence, or their imagined diligence. This sort of veneration can become “devotion” if students feel persistent joy which is focused upon the idea of the teacher (i.e. love). I know many people may doubt that schools are places where devotion and veneration happens towards teachers, but I would say that it does happen: in an atmosphere where there is consternation, fear and hate etc., students do “latch” upon specific “heroes” who induce the affects of veneration and devotion in them. I think teachers should be wary of presenting themselves as objects worthy of veneration and devotion, and should point out their “fallibility”: instead teachers should strive for the affects of nobility and tenacity, and not expect veneration and devotion.

Outside the context of school, I think it’s important to note how powerful the affects of veneration and devotion are. We live in a culture which nurtures these passions. Many young people, searching for refuge from the “sad” affects, hero-worship certain celebrities, believing them worthy of veneration and devotion. I don’t think they particularly wonder at the celebrity’s “diligence” – unless it’s a sports person – but they often wonder at their “prudence” in that they judge a particular celebrity to be particularly prudent in their general style of dress, their life-style, their general being etc.. The rest of us may not think the celebrity is “prudent” at all – possibly the opposite – but the “venerator” and the “devotee” does. The student brings these affects of veneration and devotion into school with them, and possibly disdains other people because they are not associated with their object of veneration/devotion.

I believe many inadequate ideas can follow from these affects. For example, students often want to imitate their objects of veneration, thinking or, even at times, behaving according to their idea of how these venerated objects behave. Many students are aware that they shouldn’t directly imitate a celebrity, but some, because of a variety of other factors, do not. Thus, they may use the anti-social language that a celebrity uses partly because of imitation; Spinoza argues that “affects” breed other affects. However, his theory of the affects is complex, and a Spinozist would not make a direct link between, say, a violent film and a person’s violent behaviour after seeing the film. A Spinozist would attempt to gain an adequate idea of the multitude of causes and effects that produced such behaviour. As I have argued, the affects of veneration and devotion are produced by cultures which create “opposite seeming” passions such as consternation. But as we have seen, both wonder and disdain are closely related.

Journey into Joy

Reflections: when have you felt veneration and devotion in the Spinozist sense? How has this affected your life and your views of other people?

Do you think Spinoza’s conception of wonder is the same curiosity? I would argue not, because I think curiosity is linked to a joy in acquiring knowledge.