Sunday, 23 November 2014

Defending Your Opinion in a Cacophonous World Filled with Them

Can There be Tenable, Objective Opinions among all the Narcissistic, Biased and Allegedly Informed Ones?

by J. Albert Barr


The idea of having an "informed opinion" is one not so readily accepted in our current culture, where everyone seems to think they are an expert in a vast variety of areas, fields, topics and subject matter. And it doesn't matter if they have "official credentials" or not; where they went to post-secondary school, or if they even got through high school. Everyone, seemingly, has an unqualified licence nowadays to express their self-proclaimed relevant opinion[s]; and in, or on, some kind of public arena or platform; and usually in the digital world of cyberspace, of course. And make no mistake about it: everyone is expressing those opinions with fierce velocity and audacity!

Why is this the case more so now than in any other time in recorded history? Because, of course, the aforementioned digital world we are all ubiquitously immersed in on a daily basis, that's why. The Internet has given us an all-encompassing, time-and-space-defying technology to interact with anyone at precisely any time around the world, even if they are asleep in their particular time-zone. One can still message someone via a social network, like Facebook or Twitter, for instance; or text them on their ever-present, hand-held digital device/cell phone, or comment/respond to someone at a particular website, like, say, You Tube or Amazon.com.

The one thing I (as well as everyone else, I'm sure) notice, however, amongst all the online chatter, is the obvious and endless yammering and bickering back and forth; much of it being quite aggressive, petty, immature and denigrating towards someone they usually don't know personally. About ten years ago, there was a study done to determine the most prevalent phobia in our society. That phobia turned out to be: Allodoxaphobia. It means to fear, or have an aversion to, other people's opinions. This vile phobia has reached downright epidemic proportions in our ever-divisive society!

But there has unquestionably been one psychological malady, quite naturally prevalent throughout human history, even before humankind conceived, formed and built what we call "civilization" (a suspicious nomenclature always, ultimately, rife with blatant contradiction, quite frankly) and that's narcissism. Today, especially in the so-called "first worlds", where capitalism is the de facto economic system that wholly rules the lives, inwardly and outwardly, of millions currently residing in, predominately, liberal democratic societies around the world, we are seeing, more and more, tenable evidence of an increasingly narcissistic and self-absorbed populace, commuting to their daily jobs/careers, their favorite social haunts, excessively clean shopping malls, over-corporatized sports arenas and occupying personally-acclimated residences with the pathological delusion that what they have to say, or opine about, is as valid, if not more so, than anybody else's expressions and opinions, no matter how qualified or well-informed those others happen to appear.

Now, as mentioned, narcissism has been around for eons. It's a quite natural psychological and social attribute from within all human beings. Some are more discernibly narcissistic than others, of course, depending on the variables that went into the gradual development of any given human being throughout history, recorded or not. However, there has always been an all encompassing system of belief(s), from without, that has governed the majority of "citizens" living under such a system, which has usually included: a religious tenet, a political persuasion, and a national identity, according to whatever country (i.e. nominally identified body of "claimed land") one arbitrarily happened to be born into. This is where the notions of "national pride and patriotism", "religious devotion and adherence", as well as "political advocacy and partisanship", derive from. And narcissism, both collectively and individually, can be found to be inherent in all these belief systems. It's inescapable and, seemingly, part of the natural order of things in human relations suffused through our collective history, from the Sumerians and Egyptians to the Greeks and Romans, from the Christians and Muslims to the capitalists and communists, from ivy league freshmen and unionized dock workers to soccer hoodlums and Taylor Swift fans - narcissism can be found everywhere. The bigger the collective, the more enabled and rampant the narcissistic streak, in general.

To give an, admittedly, facile illustration of the dynamic of narcissism, and its attending egotism, think of the way people compare themselves as individuals and as a unified group. Now if we break it down from an astronomical perspective to a domestic one we'd have something like this: In the universe, we naturally take for granted that our solar system is the best one because the Earth is part of it. Of the nine planets in our solar system we obviously assume that our planet is the best one; it has clear evidence of thriving life on it, especially us, for example, and no doubt. Of the seven separate continents that make up the 30% of dry land on Earth the assumption is that whoever comes from one of these continents, they are sure it's the best continent compared to the other six. And you can take it from here, I'm sure, down to the countries and cities and its ends and sides, down to the neighborhoods, streets, houses/apartments, and straight into the family unit itself, finally resting on the special, singular person, him or her self.

Not that there isn't more humble, less egocentrically-minded peoples on Earth; you're likely to find them in "third world countries", where a genuine sense of unity and utilitarianism can be discerned; maybe not so much within their respective governments, but certainly among the general population/villages, to be sure. No, the most wide-spreading examples of increasingly unbridled narcissism are conspicuously found in "first world countries", particularly those living under the capitalist economic system.

With Western communism ending at the end of the 80s, and Francis Fukuyama's declaration in his controversial 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, that liberal democracy and capitalism won the "ideology wars", and that it could, ultimately, not be improved upon, allegedly, the ensuing years have simply exacerbated the "me-me" attitude so flagrantly put on display during the Reagan years. This was, of course, with shameless apotheosis and droll bravado, given full legitimacy by Oliver Stone's unforgettable Wall Street character, Gordon Gecko, in 1987. The tragic irony, however, was that Gecko became a hero (however fictional he was, of course) to so many young, up and coming business graduates, despite the late 80s stock market crash. The other fictional hero to come from the 80s and inspire a generation of "gangstas" in the 1990s was, of course, Tony Montana - an untethered egomaniac like Gordon Gecko, only more directly violent, where Gecko's violence and merciless viciousness was consigned to numbers and a simple phone call. These, albeit charismatic, characters were meant to represent, analogously, as a "cautionary tale", what not to become; what we all should not strive to be. But, again, with perhaps suspicious irony, we all love a great villain: Hannibal Lector, Patrick Bateman, Tommy DeVito, Keyser Soze, or Heath Ledger's The Joker. Part of the reason why we love these characters so much is that they have done (within the convenient boundaries of fiction, of course) what most of us secretly would like to do, sans any social constrictions and laws. Perhaps I'm being overtly cynical, but I'm willing to bet dimes to dollars that it's the unvarnished truth, if the lid was able to be thoroughly opened and revealed before all to see.

Now, in the limitless anonymity of the digital world that is cyberspace and the Internet, we now straddle the virtual world and the so-called real everyday world. Some of us even spend more time in the virtual world. This cyber-habitation is becoming more "home-like" for us with every passing day on the Gregorian calendar. Ubiquitous advertising, coupled with the apparent "dumbing down of culture", while ads incessantly pump up our respective egos to sustain our effectiveness as consumers, and therefore slaves to the capitalist system and its antiseptic, banal, homogenized ideology. It, in turn, also, surreptitiously, exploits our superegos, that is, our sense of guilt and complicity, as well as our sense of perpetual inadequacy, in order to keep this precarious (and it is precarious!) system running. As "system players", we feel entitled as constant consumers, with ever-modifying identities and senses-of-self, to be the center of attention (which is the apotheosis of our world view, individually speaking), the bastion of intelligence, and the minister of culture; our opinions, on an individual basis, rife with personal bias, are above reproach, whatever limits our respective frames-of-reference and cultivation project to be, vis a vis whoever we happen to be interfacing with online, or in person.

In a frantic, increasingly artificial world, where histories and stories and identities are getting rewritten, rebooted and retconned, unchecked egotism is running rampant and wild. Even while attempting to correct someone who may be lacking education, or knowledge, or information, or even intelligence, you are more than likely going to have to contend with someone defensively and resolutely unwilling to back down from an argument or debate filled with glaring holes and unsubstantiated claims, particularly, if you confront someone online, who's at a safe and anonymous distance and place somewhere around the globe, or even possibly on the same street you live on. The digital age, and late capitalism, has unleashed a tsunami of narcissism, the likes of which has never been attained, culturally speaking, before in our recorded history. The only way to combat it (and as long as you, yourself, have achieved a reasonable level of integrity to truth and conscientiousness), is to keep informed, keep reading and learning, and stay fortified in your necessary humility, while maintaining confidence, compassion, empathy, understanding, and patience. And don't be afraid to admit falsehoods and inaccuracies within your own dispositions and stances. As the cliche goes: "Nobody's perfect". Damn, even that very cliche can, and has been, exploited to gain leverage on a point of view, and usually a selfish one at that. Paradoxically, we are all winners and losers, simultaneously, it would seem, depending on the situation, in the "wrestling ring of social interaction". You just got to fight on, I guess...,unfortunately, and out of necessity. That's my opinion anyway, and I can assure you that I'm not afraid of yours. I welcome it.


2 comments:

  1. They hate us cuz they ain't us....
    Just kidding Jim, great food for thought and a very relevant topic - well done

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOL -Thanks for the kind words, stranger. :-)

    ReplyDelete