You’re NOT Entitled To Your Opinion (2016)

opinionWow!  Through the magic of the Internet, you don’t know it, but I’m not here.  I’m actually far away from any WiFi, in Italy, writing novels (novel — singular.)  However, I’ve reworked a few old pieces to entertain you while I’m gone — mostly so you don’t get bored and forget about me.  This is some of “The Best Of WD: 2011,”  but keep in mind I used to be a lot bitchier back then.  Anyway, enjoy — and when I get back I’ll tell you all about it.  Ciao, for now!

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One of the most enduring myths of our time is “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.”  People tend to believe this ’cause it’s been repeated so many times and, like most egalitarian nonsense, it kinda sounds good.  Unfortunately, it’s a myth.  In fact, it’s an out-and-out lie.  The problem is that tons of people think it’s actually true.  They believe that every two-bit opinion deserves centre stage.  They’re the folks who are constantly traveling on the Stupid Train and then telling the rest of us all about the journey.  This kind of thinking has caused no end of problems in our society.  So, for everybody’s benefit, let’s just take a moment to shoot this myth in the head and bury it in the backyard.

The whole thing started when a bunch of academics who weren’t all that bright, got confused.  They made the mistake of thinking “created” equal actually meant “equal.”  This is another myth for another time, so here’s the Twitter version.  Alex Ovechkin is a better ice hockey player than I am; therefore, we are not equals.  Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney is a better writer than I am; therefore, we are not equals.  (This goes on and on, but you get the idea.)  We have equal rights, equal opportunity, we’re equal before the law etc. etc. etc. — but we are not actually equal.  Opinions work the same way.

For example, it is my opinion that penguins are green.  Everybody knows that the only people who can legitimately make this claim are allegorical artists and people who have just eaten most of their crayons.  However, this is my opinion.  I offer no evidence to support my claim.  I’m not a zoologist.  I don’t live in Antarctica.  I’ve only seen black and white penguins a couple of times.  Regardless, it’s my opinion that penguins are green.  Why — under any circumstances known to me, man or penguin — am I entitled to this opinion?  Just because?  What rational, reasonable (Hell — unreasonable) argument can anybody put forth to support this as a valid opinion?

The problem is nobody distinguishes between opinion and informed opinion anymore.  The greatest minds of our time are being lumped in with rock stars and actors.  I’m not saying celebrities are stupid, but honestly, the ability to cry on cue isn’t the kind of talent we need driving our decision-making process.  There’s a huge misconception that if Hollywood’s flavour of the week comes up with some homemade theory of economic development, it’s just as good as the experts’ at the University of Chicago.  It’s not.  It’s like asking the kid who makes your cappuccino every morning how to run a successful coffee plantation.  He’s probably a nice guy, but nobody but an idiot would take his advice on anything beyond low fat or decaf.  Yet, as a society, we continue to treat Bon Jovi, Sir Bob Geldof, Russell Brand, ad infinitum as if they know what they’re doing.  Welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Of course, all this is just my opinion.

The Modern Myth Parade — Part 3

Despite our agnostic protests to the contrary, we contemporary North Americans are controlled by our mythologies.  Like our ancient Greek ancestors, we honour our gods and believe they rule our lives.  The problem is our myths don’t work.  In fact, they actually have an uncanny ability of getting in the way.  For example, because we believe in a benevolent planet where all reasonable people think and act just like we do, when that literally never happens, we feel our world is chaotic, disjointed, out of step and out of control.  This confuses us, but rather than questioning our myths, we reason that somehow we just haven’t been faithful to them and now the gods are angry.  So, like all primitive peoples, we try harder to please our gods, sacrificing our common sense on the altar of appeasement.  To butcher Shakespeare: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves.”  Thus, when people act in ways contrary to the wishes of our myths, we look for something or someone to blame.

Here’s the deal.  When Eddie, the local villain, breaks into our house and steals the iPod, iPad, iPhone and every other iSomething that isn’t nailed down, we want an explanation.  We want to know why, in a benevolent world, this could happen to us; how Eddie, another reasonable human being, got thrown so far off the tracks?  We wonder why our society has failed us, Eddie and the prescriptions of our mythologies.  When we don’t get any answers, we feel angry and frustrated.

Unfortunately, the answers are exactly what we don’t want to hear.

First of all, we do not live in a benevolent world.  There are people out there who actively want to do us harm.  Open your eyes!  The evidence is all around us.  We can ignore it if we choose, but that doesn’t alter the facts.  Secondly, under normal circumstances, people are not reasonable.  It’s only the constraints of our society that make them so. You don’t have to be Charlie Marlow to understand that the tapestry of our world is woven of very thin yarn which breaks easily and unravels quickly.  Finally, there are people all around us who don’t give a damn about the high-minded expectations we have for ourselves.  They don’t care that we believe we’re good people.  And this brings us to our final and most dangerous myth.

We believe that our mythology itself makes us morally superior.  Now, before you relax and think, “Finally!  I knew it.  We’re all racist jerks!” think again.  I’m not talking about racism.  Actually, racism, in North America, is just a silly little word game we play with each other when the media gets bored.  Compared to the tribes of Europe, Asia and Africa, we can take the Pepsi Challenge on racism any time –and come off looking good.  No, our belief in our moral superiority has nothing to do with anyone else.  It rests solely on the mistaken idea that our society has transcended its savage past.  We believe so thoroughly in our inner goodness that any storm cloud in our Neverneverland world is cause for alarm.  And that is precisely why we refuse to question our mythologies.

The truth is that if we do not live in a benevolent world where everybody is reasonable, then we are not the good people we think we are.  We’re just techno-Visigoths, struggling to survive, and nobody wants to be a barbarian.  Thus, when bad things happen, we think we haven’t been compassionate enough, or empathic enough, or reasonable enough.  We go back to our false gods, pray for forgiveness and redouble our efforts to appease them. Thus, the dysfunctional cycle begins again.

It boils down to this.  Either we quit sacrificing the way of life that got us here to a bunch of mythologies– and try to solve the reality of our problems, face-to-face– or our mythologies are going to kill our society dead as disco.  It’s that simple.

The Modern Myth Parade — Part II

The ancient Greeks were intimately connected to their mythology.  They believed the stories about guys like Theseus and Hercules were true.  They used these tales as metaphysical building blocks to construct the rest of their society.  From what we know, it worked out pretty well.  Here in 21st century North America, we also believe in our mythologies, and even though they don’t take human form (like the Greek’s did) we worship them, all the same, sacrifice common sense to their appeasement and tremble when we think they’re angry.  The problem is our myths are just as fictional as Zeus and his pals ever were, but in our enlightened age we forget to remember that.

We’ve already seen (here) that, despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary, we truly believe we live in a benevolent world where everyone acts in a reasonable manner.  We’ve also seen that we get angry and frustrated when these enduring myths are proven wrong, again and again.  Well, hold onto something heavy, because this next bit’s going to blow you away.

We believe that everybody across time and space thinks the same way we do!  People are people, and we’re all basically the same.  We find it impossible to believe that there are people in this world who do not share our values.  And (and here’s the good part!) every time we do see these people (frankly,  there are more of them than there are of us) we’re not only shocked, but we think that something’s gone completely haywire – some evil force has created a nefarious wrong that needs to be righted.  Here’s a perfect example.  Ask any group of your assorted friends their opinion on female circumcision.  I’m no Kreskin, but I’ll bet dollars to dead donkeys that few, if anybody, west of Quoddy Head, Maine is going to give that little cultural item a thumbs up.  Not only that, but if you persist, you’re going to get a spit storm of education on female oppression.  The prevailing wisdom is a bunch of nogoodnik men are keeping women in the dark ages for some wicked purpose known only to themselves.  Here’s a news flash: female circumcision is an accepted — accepted — practice across vast portions of our planet.  We don’t agree with it because it cuts across the grain of our cultural values, but literally millions of people (including a hell of a lot of women) think it’s normal.  But let’s not stop there.  There’s also ultrasound gender selection.  For the culturally naive, this is where parents find out the sex of their unborn child and kill it if it’s a girl – brutal, but true — and obviously not practiced by the primitive tribes of the Amazon.  I could go on for days.  There’s the quaint culinary custom of cutting off a shark’s fin for soup or whacking off a rhino’s horn for medicinal purposes only.  In some parts of this world, baksheesh is considered a privilege, for god’s sake; it’s practically tax deductable.  These are all perfectly normal ways of doing things, all over the world.  And there are tons more like them.  The problem is we just don’t believe it.

In actual fact, despite great wads of evidence, we regard cultural customs we don’t agree with as nothing more than primitive practices, operating on the nutbar fringes of other societies.  We think that the everyday-walking around men and women of other cultures believe this also and that they are only one western enlightenment away from purging themselves of these reprehensible acts.  Our myth of inherent cultural equality tells us this.  Therefore, since the gods can’t be crazy, there must be evil forces abroad in the world: ruthless dictators, religious zealots or heartless capitalists whose sole purpose is to hoodwink their people into doing things that are obviously contrary to their nature because they are contrary to our nature.  We simply can’t allow other people to think differently than we do — because that would anger our gods.

Friday: The Final Myth and Why Our Mythology Doesn’t Work