The Ocean of Opinion: A drowning man’s perspective.

 

Advocates, critics, supporters, detractors, experts, amateurs, enthusiasts, purists. Each one a wave unto itself in a sea of ‘’I think’’ and ‘’I know’’. Each has a weapon of choice, twitter, facebook, reddit, forums, freelancing. Even Medium here has given people a voice (myself included, I’m aware, indulge me). This is the age of information, a shiny new era where everyone can access any amount of info with their phone. Honestly it’s fantastic people can fill gaps in their knowledge and share theirs with other people with a relative amount of ease. It has made us more connected as people if it’s used right….. and you’ve heard all this before.

Honestly? Every time someone defends new trends someone will misconstrue it as a call to battle. Their chance to be heard in, what is frankly a very vast world. In the wake of the ever expanding internet you were able to share what you love, meaning that others could express their opinion about what you love.

Perhaps you’re an exception but most people don’t take that well.

William Faulkner famously proclaimed that ‘’You must kill your darlings’’. It’s a great statement , sharp, concise and, like all popular quotes, open to interpretation. Ever since reading it as a teen and admittedly struggling with it’s meaning, people have been leaping into the gap in my understanding to fill it with theirs;

‘’He means it as a plot device….’’

‘’ You can only really look at it one way…’’

‘’He’s referring to objectivity…’’

As you can see it was exceptionally easy for me to reach my own opinion. People are only too happy to proffer their various thoughts on matters, apparently any matter. The most recent that caught my attention being the decision to give Kermit the Frog a new girlfriend in ABC’s rejuvenated Muppets. Reaction ranged from support for Miss Piggy’s percieved emancipation, to feminist condemnation of Denise (Kermit’s new belle) and the shows decision. They’re puppets. Everyone can see that right? I’m not for a second detracting from the fact that this is media reinforcing social norms or negative treatment of women. Then again maybe I am. It’s hard to be sure what I’m supposed to think. There are so many sides to every story these days and so many platforms to take to, that it’s hard to know who to listen to. It’s like battling conflicting currents. You can try and find the right way out but in the end you’ll end up tired and buried.

Which is really the main point here.

Humans will always offer their opinion on whatever is relevant. You can have no real power over that , what you do have power over is what you can think. As the internet grew, the need for critical thinking slowly diminished. The main reason to stay informed and to think for yourself is so that should you be challenged on an issue you have the ability to defend yourself, and to provide you with the faculty to take other points of view on board. The internet has taken away the need to interact in person, there is no one to challenge you to your face. This means that any dolt with a want to be heard can take to the internet to make noise. The result is that quite often the issues that draw most notice are those created by the idiot with the biggest megaphone. Outrage is the currency that the internet runs on.

Using outrage has allowed a rising tide of trigger warnings, censorship and silencing campaigns to slowly soak our culture. Examples of such tides are all over the internet, with multiple sources commenting on the ‘’ cotton wool generation’’ that is being raised and the rise of ‘’no platform ‘’ silencing which is beginning to infect universities. The latest example of the latter comes in the form an attempt by the students of Cardiff University to ban a talk that Germaine Greer (a recognised feminist authority) on the modern women. This attempt was directly related to comments made by Greer about Trans-Women;

“I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock,”‘/“You can beat me over the head with a baseball bat. It still won’t make me change my mind.”

I don’t agree with Germaine Greer. Nor do many people. I have no right to make her shut up nor does anyone have the right to make me listen and agree with her. Some people feel similarly, and naturally the debate inspire a host of opinion pieces, many condemning the no-platforming movement and pointing out it’s adverse effect.

Opinion Pieces, a megaphone by any other name….would be used by idiots to make other people listen. At what point did subjectivity become the cornerstone of news reporting? Around the same time we began to pay other people to think for us. Somewhere along the line we turned to ‘’experts’’ or people who were supposedly better informed than us, who could ‘’help us make up our minds.’’. (I’m aware of the plethora of air quotes in the last few lines, apologies).

We got lazy. We wholesale sold our right to think for ourselves, just so we could reach a conclusion a little quicker. We are no longer expected to analyze the news for ourselves, there’s a pundit to do it for us. It is a mercenary business too. With so many people making a living out of it, any news event is treated like a lifeboat on the Titanic. All aboard. This makes discerning the signal from the noise an impossible task. Your constantly assailed with someone else’s firm belief. This only accounts for the people who are paid to give their opinion for everyone else we turn back to the internet. Surely you can find an honest, independent, unbiased opinion there. Actually it’s more like the sailors who realised that at the edge of the map there was just a bigger ocean, and yes there are monsters.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

He’ll tell you his opinion even quicker. The above was said by Oscar Wilde. The internet is the ultimate mask. It has spawned countless trolls, people who enjoy tearing down other people. They kill their darlings for them. The quote from Faulkner used earlier, came to be an ethos for me when it came to sharing my own opinion. If I wanted to succeed in arguments I could never take anything personally. I would kill my own darlings, so others couldn’t. I can think of no better argument for objectivity.

But what about those who have abandoned it? In favour of the thoughts of another? It’s not difficult to see that they would hardly want to return to the the challenging work of critical thought. The risk of critical thought is that you:

A. prove yourself wrong.
B. Challenge your firm beliefs
C. May have to do more work to fully understand the issue.
D. Continue to do so.

It’s a lot of work just to stay afloat. This leaves our enlightened society with an dilemma. How do we deal with those who are cruel and wrong? Do we debate with them and hope to change their minds or do we try and gag them until they stop? It would seem that many people feel it should be the latter. The rise of no-platforming is begin to reach the shores of all forms of discourse. Rather than face the issues that are bothering them, attempting to change minds and educate with logical debate, many prefer to simply take refuge behind words like ‘’offense’’ and ‘’discomfort’’. Usually in order to successfully silence a person that a group finds irksome they will combine the previous two words with another like ‘’rights’’ or ‘’intolerance’’. This generally brings the entire process of critical thought and debate to a grinding halt. The desired effect, absolutely no progress, or even regression, everyone gets to stay exactly where they are and no one has to think for themselves. Everybody gets to stay still.

That’s not how oceans work. I have been making a clumsy analogy between the ocean and opinions since the start of this essay (thank you for bearing with it), despite it’s clunky nature it’s quite useful. There are an endless amount of opinions out there just like an ocean. There are so many these days that it’s easy to see why people would rather give up than swim. More importantly than this oceans are constantly shifting and changing. I think this is a good way of looking at what opinions should be doing. You cannot choose to allow the way you feel about one issue affect how you few a separate one. That is to say if you take a hard conservative stance on something like water taxes, feeling that it is better to pay more for a healthy supply, this does not mean that a hard conservative stance can be applied to something like healthcare. This kind of madness is what leads to a system that charges over a grand for a broken arm. Each case where you’re opinion is called for must be treated as an opportunity to educate yourself as well as form a better understanding of the world you live in. Yes critical thinking is hard work but so is swimming and it usually saves your life.

I’m going to end this with words from a man who understood the inner-workings of society and civilization far better than I do. He wrote about all of them under the banner of Leviathan, a biblical sea-monster that ruled the ocean. In the work he muses on how much people are willing to sacrifice in order to feel secure. These days it would seem to be an awful lot:

By liberty, is understood, according to the proper signification of the word, the absence of external impediments, may oft take away part of a man’s power to do what he would; but cannot hinder him from using the power left him, according as his judgment, and reason shall dictate to him. — Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651.

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