Man, I don’t even have an opinion.

Those were the last, fateful words of Marvin, right before Vince Vega accidentally shot him in the face.

Apart from that classic scene from Pulp Fiction, can you recall the last time you heard someone say or write that?

Nowadays, with the ease and instant-ness of social media, sharing an opinion – on any matter, great or small – is absurdly easy. Too easy, some would argue, and I’d have no dispute with such an argument.

Quality is often the first casualty of immediacy. If we rush to get our voice out, can we say we’ve invested the time to flesh out an opinion, to research the particulars of the matter upon which we are opining, or to allow all the relevant facts to emerge? If we commit to an early opinion, do we have the guts to roll it back upon deeper reflection or as new information comes to light?

In my experience, the answers are “no” and “no.” Those who don’t form an opinion until a relatively complete set of facts is known, and those who reserve their opinion until it’s had time to season, appear to be an increasing exception to the general rule of “first out of the gate.” A rule reinforced, unfortunately, by the big news organizations’ competition for eyeballs, and the 24 hour news cycle.

I share, again, one of my favorite quotes on this matter, by the great Harlan Ellison:

Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks.

It’s a pithy indictment of today’s rush-to-opinion culture, written decades before social media became a thing.

Somewhat more coarse, but expressing a similar sentiment, is the perennial classic:

Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got them, and they all stink.

There’s an old comedy trope that discusses the behavior of men in health club locker rooms, a trope born out of a truthful stereotype: Old men will walk around locker rooms, totally naked with their bits dangling free, with complete apathy and indifference, much to the horror of the not-old.

When I was a younger man, I found this behavior utterly inscrutable, and assumed there had to be some underlying motive. But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand apathy, and can understand that apathy can be enough of an explanation.

In fact, I’m increasingly embracing apathy. My growing affinity for apathy has been accelerated by many years of arguing politics on the Internet. Anyone who does so will inevitably end up, from time to time, on the receiving end of personal insults, slurs, attacks, and the like. Folks newer to this “game” might be more likely to take personal offense at such, but over time it becomes more and more obvious that there’s absolutely no reason to grant an iota of validity to a stranger’s insults, and absolutely no reason to allow a stranger a gram of the emotional energy it takes to be offended. Indifference and apathy are mighty weapons. While I can’t say that I’ve reached the old-man-locker-room level of apathy, or that I ever will, for that matter, I do believe that my indifference to strangers’ slings and arrows has grown to a formidable level.

This holds true for others’ opinions, as well as their insults. A string of words, banged onto a keyboard or smartphone screen, carries no strength beyond 1 – the substance of those words, 2 – the logical and factual support provided to those words, and 3 – whatever reputation the writer has developed among those who read those words.

It is the last point that should be our highest priority, if we seek to have our words heard and heeded.

One of the great boons of the Internet is the increased power of reputation. Amazon shoppers routinely rate their purchases, and routinely rely on the product ratings of other purchasers. Countless websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and AngiesList enable consumers to share their experiences, good and bad, and provide huge incentives to businesses and entrepreneurs to perform well. A bad reputation on eBay could be fatal to a budding seller of goods. Reputation, once damaged, is very hard to repair.

Reputation carries weight on social media, as well, and not just for people who make their living sharing opinions. In our circle of friends and discussion-mates, time and interaction establish individual reputations and expectations, and if a particular person becomes known for being a certain way, breaking free of what then becomes a presupposition can be a daunting task.

Social media makes us think our opinions matter more than they do, or are more interesting than they are. When our like-minded friends comment supportively, or hit “like,” such misconceptions get reinforced. We may tell ourselves we don’t care about that reinforcement, but if that’s the case, why rush to opinions? Why not take the time to make your opinion “informed,” and try to gain the respect of people that may not reflexively agree with you? The barrage of opinions we each face every day leaves us a choice between constant reaction that will exhaust us, or increasing apathy to most of the deluge. I know which one’s healthier. So, if you want something more than apathy from me, earn your opinion. I will try to earn mine.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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