The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Opinions are not compulsory

This is a guest post from my good friend, Chris. Enjoy.
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A few days ago, American TV personality Jimmy Kimmel took to the streets to ask average Americans about the Sequester. His thesis was that a large number of Americans would know next to nothing about what the Sequester was and that hilarity would therefore ensue.

For those of us Australians who aren’t clear on this issue, the Sequester is basically a package of 85 billion USD in compulsory spending cuts, equally unpopular with both sides of politics, which President Obama uses as a sort of Damoclean Sword for the purposes of forcing budget compromise.

Mr Kimmel, proceeding on the basis of his thesis, framed the question: “What do you think of Obama pardoning the Sequester and sending it to Portugal?” which, in light of what it actually is, makes no sense whatsoever.

If the much vaunted Human capacity for reason had been in play, all that this question should have produced is bewilderment. What it actually produced was a broad range of strongly stated, strongly held opinions. These included:

  • Portugal already has enough Sequesters.
  • Sending the Sequester to Portugal costs American jobs.
  • An American Sequester belongs in America.
  • South Korea should not be allowed to make a robot terrorist.

This last one arose from a belief that the Sequester is a type of robot terrorist.

Now, it is easy to dismiss this subhuman idiocy as more typically American buffoonery, but to do so would be very wrong. The same tendency to form opinions based on exactly no evidence at all is to be found in all countries and in all walks of life.

In between cheap jokes about paedophile priests we find people who believe that the Vatican Conclave should, for reasons that are not clear, not be taking place. The simple fact of the matter is that the Cardinals are legally required to have one – yes, legally – in order to elect a Head of State. A great many people believe that on Mardi Gras night a certain police officer should either have beaten a certain young man to death or, alternatively, rubbed his bottom gently with jojoba oil, no matter what it was that he had done. I am fairly certain that very few of these active opiners understand the balance of the fundamental principles of the issue at hand, these being: The Role of the Police in Society, Proportionality of Force and The Universal Right to Self Defence.

We roll our eyes and throw up our hands at the woeful, even simian state of public debate in this country and yet, quick as a flash, almost every single one of us is willing to take up figurative arms in fields of combat where we are uncertain as to the combatants, their cause, or even the approximate location of the field.

This, in short, is stupid. If we know nothing about an issue, it follows logically that we are very unlikely to have anything sensible or valuable to say about it. So for what reason do we feel compelled to form an opinion on every twenty second sound bite shoveled into our maws by the media? Why do I spend such an inordinate amount of time listening to drunkards and taxi drivers expatiating on macro-economics, geopolitics and international diplomacy?

Do you know how to tell an intelligent person from an idiot? One good indication is that when confronted with something about which they are wholly ignorant, intelligent people tend to shut the fuck up.

This is not to say that everyone everywhere should stop talking about the issues of the day. It is of vital importance that we do so – it is a fundamental pillar of what remains of the ideals of democracy that political activity and discussion is not just a right, but a responsibility of good citizens everywhere.

But please, please, pretty please, in the name of all that is sacred and profane: If you do not know what you are talking about – DON’T!

If, however, you do feel compelled to take a position on something (and I encourage everyone to do so), spend a little bit of the time you would have spent pretending to know what you are talking about to actually find out something about it.

Most issues are complex enough. It is simply bloody-minded to further confuse them with the quackspeak of the willfully ignorant.