There was a time, not that long ago, where people could hear or read an opinion they disagreed with and not feel the urge to hurl insults or demand that someone silence the sharer of that nonconforming opinion. There was a time, not that long ago, where Other People’s Opinions (OPO) didn’t bother us all that much. A shrug of a shoulder, a casual “it’s a free country” rejoinder, and on we went with our days.

Today, however, many seem to feel that the failure to challenge a contrary opinion is tantamount to abandoning some sort of duty and loyalty to the tribe. At times, not responding is viewed by others as tacit endorsement. Thus, if you don’t openly and loudly declare that neo-Nazis are assholes, you may justifiably be dubbed a sympathizer.

This, of course, gives rise to “tit-for-tat” responses, and inflates the sense of obligation to play that game and engage in that fallacious logic. We see this in the mushrooming brouhaha over Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem during his workday. People were and continue to be incensed by this deliberate provocation, which is exactly the response that Kaepernick (should have, at least) expected. There was push-back from fans, tut-tutting from suits, and when Kaepernick found himself unemployed, the burgeoning of a conspiracy theory about collusion to punish him for daring to “speak truth to power.”

My personal opinion here is that Kaepernick’s a self-indulgent dumbass for choosing this highly provocative means of “protest,” for many reasons. Chief among these is his doing so during his time and at his place of employment, essentially on his boss’s time and nickel, rather than on his own time and apart from repercussions to his co-workers, his employer, and his industry as a whole. His kneeling at a game pissed off a lot of people, who are taking their anger out on the NFL as a whole. Management’s reaction to his kneeling, real, imagined, or conspiracized, pissed off a lot of people as well, who are taking their anger out on the NFL as a whole. President Trump (unwisely, IMO) waded into the fray, further polarizing an already over-hyped situation (and signaling to Trumpkins that they should be angry at NFL brass), and other players have chosen to either kneel in solidarity or not-kneel (whether out of disagreement or “not my circus, not my monkey detachment, we can’t know). None of this helps the NFL, which means that viewership will decline, dollar flow will diminish, and many people who had absolutely nothing to do with Kaepernick will suffer economic harm. Way to go, Colin.

But, that’s as far as I take my opinion here. Frankly, I don’t put much more than a “he’s a dumbass” degree of energy into this, because, frankly, I don’t care. I’m not interested in signaling my belief by making demands of the sort others are making (fire all kneelers, boycott the NFL for not hiring him, boycott the NFL for not respecting his “right” to kneel sufficiently, etc). This particular OPO, and all the OPOs that ensue, simply don’t matter to me.

Certainly, we can while some time away and entertain ourselves by debating stuff like this, but when we feel pressure to have an opinion one way or the other, or when we devote actual emotional energy to such matters, we’ve lost something vital.

There are times and matters where it’s proper to invest emotional energy, and there are times when, like Marvin in Pulp Fiction we’d be much better served to simply let a kerfuffle sail by. It’s getting harder and harder, however, to do the latter. Social media bombards us with OMG! CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS!! hyperbole over every little thing, and the ease of response (and the astonishing amount of free time we have – thanks, capitalism!) makes it easy to fall into the trap of snapping to an opinion and enshrining it in the annals of history. The Internet is forever, and most of us will default to defending, at all costs and against all comers, that first snap opinion. Heaven forbid we change our minds or withdraw our first judgment, lest someone whose opinion should not matter to us at all scream “flip flopper!” or “hypocrite!” at us.

There is an irony in the impersonal nature of social media (yes, impersonal, we don’t look at each other in the face when we write things about each other) making it more likely and more common for people to attack each other personally. Personal attacks can be very stressful. The first thought is to respond in kind, which of course escalates the situation and leaves the original disagreement in the dust. As an example, just yesterday I commented on the question of whether the few GOP senators who aren’t supporting the latest Obamacare reform bill are doing the right thing or not. Someone who held a position opposite that of mine told me I should “grow up.” An unwarranted personal attack, and one that, years ago, I might have riposted with a personal counterattack. Instead, I told the attacker that his personal attack told me he wasn’t interested in debating the subject, and I abandoned the thread. I can’t be bothered investing real energy in OPO.

Indifference to most things is a healthy way to live. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult mindset to attain, and while I’ve been striving for years towards a greater level of apathy to the irrelevant, I still get caught unawares from time to time, and get quick flashes of visceral response. It doesn’t take much effort, though, to take the Robin Williams-Good Will Hunting path: realize that whoever wrote that which gave me that flash means nothing to me, and forget about it.

In a fair and just world, this would be enough. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common that an expression of indifference is considered equal to support for the “wrong” side of an issue. If you are not with us, you are against us, and we reserve the right to demand that you say the words we want said.

Marvin, you might recall, got shot in the face.

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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