If there’s one thing the internet has taught me is that no matter what the subject, no matter how serious, benign or esoteric, people have an opinion about it. And not only do they have an opinion, they are the keepers of the absolute truth, a truth with must be defended to the death.
Humans aren’t born opinionated. We’ve been taught to be like this. We’ve been told all our life that we should respect other people’s opinions. This notion is the epitome of bullshit, and has led to the state of discourse that we find ourselves mired in every day.
The internet and social media have their share of blame. The technological evolution of the past ten years gave everyone with access to a $100 phone and a data plan the ability to broadcast their voice to the world. It gave everyone access to all of the world’s knowledge in their pants – no longer does an argument have to last any longer than it takes to load Wikipedia.
But this false sense of knowledge fed by disembodied facts, this false sense of importance fed by Klout score and Twitter followers has given rise to a world where people view it as their right to have their opinion listened to, regardless of whether they know anything about the subject or not. Understanding is not a prerequisite to opinion. In fact, having an opinion is so easy with the glut of random data that we have access to, not having an opinion on any subject is seen as a weakness.
The most frustrating part in all of this for me is the lack of regard for experts that this culture of opinion has created. It has become commonplace for the uninformed to argue with people who have studied a subject for years and dedicated their lives to it as if their opinion was just as valid. Look at any comment feed on any major newspaper if there’s any doubt in your mind as to whether or not I’m right.
“But Ryan,” you might say, if you know me at all or have read anything I’ve ever written. “You’re an opinionated asshole. Doesn’t this entire post make you a hypocrite?”
Maybe. But though I’m opinionated, there are a few rules I try to follow. First, I try to be knowledgable about anything I have strong opinions about. Second, I try not to have strong opinions on things I don’t know much about. Third, I accept that my opinions, however strong they may be, may be proven wrong, and are subject to change. Finally, I realize that not everyone needs to know my opinions on everything. I’ll give them if they’re asked, but some are better kept to myself.
Here’s the thing. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but not everyone’s opinion has the same value. Accept that fact, and if you find yourself defending a point of view that you fundamentally don’t understand, take a minute, and just stop talking. You’ll seem smarter in the end.