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.

I’m Scared of the Mob

mobOne of the problems with observing our modern world is you spend half your life in fear and the other half with no friends.  Technically, I suppose, these are actually two problems, but they come from the same place: having an opinion and voicing it outside the comfy confines of your own head.  It’s a truism in the 21st century, that whenever you say anything about anything, you’re going to piss somebody off.  Most people get all free speech macho about this, but when push comes to shove, everybody knows that our society is unforgiving when it comes to unguarded opinion.  More importantly, when the mob turns against you, we punish it severely.  This is why we will never produce a contemporary Mark Twain or Stephen Leacock – the consequences of unedited thoughts, in today’s world, are just too dangerous.  Far better to be momentarily safe than monumentally sorry, so people with pens tend to stick to the road most travelled.  Unfortunately, that road is crowded with dumb-ass clichés.  Future anthropologists who attempt to piece together our social structure from the mountain of evidence we’re going to leave behind will naturally conclude we had an unholy obsession with lawyers, rednecks and upper middle class men.  They are the nominated villains for most of our commentators, so the record of our times will read like a bad John Grisham novel.   It’s a sorry state, but it beats the hell out of the world according to Suzanne Collins and E. L. James.

There’s no real problem with history recording our time as the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool.  None of us is going to be around to be embarrassed by it anyway.  Nor do we have to worry about future chroniclers calling us cultural cowards.  They won’t be the slightest bit interested in our existence.  After all, you get historical ink from speaking up, not lying down.

The thing that burns my beans is that having set the table for a vigorous and dynamic dialogue, we’re now scared skinny of the food fight it might create.  Just look: we have a mostly educated public with the information of the ages at their fingertips (literally.)  We’ve cracked opened the old boys club and now have instant access to all manner of ideas from everywhere and everybody.  Furthermore, we live in a free society, where (for the most part) the rule of law gives free range to these ideas.  Plus our leaders (such as they are) fear public opinion and follow it relentlessly.  Life is good, right?  Wrong!  The first thing we did with this intellectual banquet was set dietary restrictions.  Not to beat the metaphor to death, we have populated our world with so many sacred cows that, in the land of intellectual plenty, we’re starving to death.

It used to be that the only thing that governed public discourse was civility.  There was decorum in our discussion.  For example, we didn’t call each other names – offensive or not.  Perhaps certain subjects were handled delicately, but there was never any thought that they should be avoided.  In fact, it was a matter of honour to shine light into the darker parts of our society – distasteful or not.

mob1These days, those days are over.  We have more social taboos than a tribe of Borneo headhunters.  A plethora of subjects in our world are no longer open for discussion.  Some of them I can’t even name in these pages without hollering up a verbal lynch mob.  In the past few years, this list has expanded exponentially.  Soon the only subjects anyone will feel comfortable commenting on will be the Kardashians’ breasts and the zombie apocalypse.

People like me, who know enough history to understand what the mob is capable of, are cowards at heart.  It’s one thing to go Vaclav Havel on the powers that be and strike out against censorship and oppression, for history shows us that eventually the pen is mightier than the sword.  However, it’s quite another to stand alone in front of a self-righteous mob of your neighbours and colleagues, demanding to be heard while they’re grabbing the torches and pitchforks.  In these troubled times, I do not fear the endless apparatus of the omnipotent state.  It’s the eagerly offended citizen, who created this mess that scares the crap out of me.

You’re NOT entitled to your opinion!

One of the most enduring myths of our time is “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.”  People tend to believe this because it’s been repeated so many times and it kinda sounds good.  It’s sort of like saying we’re all in this together or some other such egalitarian nonsense.  Unfortunately, regardless of how many times you say it, it’s still a myth.  In fact, it’s an out-and-out lie.  In reality, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion” is just the Happy Face version of the end of the argument when everybody wants to change the subject but nobody knows how.  Essentially, it’s cocktail party code for “You’re a jerk, but I’m tired.”  The problem is that tons of people think it’s actually true.  They believe that everybody’s two-bit opinion (mostly their own) can share the stage with everybody else’s.  They’re the folks we know 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 somebody who wasn’t all that bright, got confused.  He made the mistake of thinking equal rights actually meant “equal.”  This is another myth for another time, but here’s the Twitter version.  Alex Ovechkin is a better 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, equal everything else — but we are not actually equal.  Opinions work the same way.  Seamus Heaney might have an opinion about the “left wing lock” in hockey, but quite frankly, I’d go with Ovechkin on that one.  Heaney is a pretty smart guy but his opinion about hockey is useless.  In any hypothetical conversation with me or Alex Ovechkin, he’s not entitled to an opinion because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  It’s that simple.

All kinds of people think they are entitled to an opinion when they don’t know anything about a situation.  For example, if your toilet is plugged, you don’t call your lawyer and ask her for advice.  She’ll probably tell you to sue American Standard (which isn’t going to do you very much good in the short term.)  In this situation, you want the opinion of a plumber.  Your lawyer, no matter how exceptional she might be at wills, contracts or business law, is not entitled to render an opinion about your plumbing.  In fact, if she did she’d have to sue herself for negligence — on your behalf — and just think how much money that’s going to cost you.  I’m constantly amazed at the number of people out there who offer their opinions on subjects they know nothing about and then proudly defend themselves because they think they’re entitled to them.  And that’s not all.

There’s a misunderstanding these days that if you work or play in an industry, you have some kind of all-purpose, intuitive expertise.  For instance, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard doctors yakking on about our medical system (both for and against.)  Are you kidding me?  That’s like the guy who makes your latte at Starbucks telling you how to run a coffee plantation.  “Hey! Dr. Do Little!  Just exactly when in med school did they teach you construction cost analysis and labour relations?”  If I want my appendix out, I’m going to see a doctor.  If I want to build a hospital, I’m going to go to a construction company.  The plain fact is that — unless you can back your opinion up with cold, hard evidence — you’re not entitled to it.  I don’t care if you’re a doctor, a lawyer or a Knight of the Round Table.

Here’s what I mean.  It is my opinion that penguins are green.  Everybody knows that the only people who can actually say this are allegorical artists and people who have just eaten most of their crayons.  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.  But 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, deserving consideration?

Nobody distinguishes between opinion and informed opinion anymore.  The greatest minds of our time are being lumped in with rock stars and actresses.  I’m not saying celebrities are stupid, but honestly, the ability to cry on cue isn’t the kind of talent we should be looking for to drive our decision-making.  There are a whole pile of people wandering around labouring under the misconception that if Ted down the street 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.  We need to get nasty and tell these folks they’re sucking pond water.  And while we’re at it, we might want to tell some of the Teds of this world to “Sit down and shut up!”

Of course, all this is just my opinion.