Wednesday 14 January 2015

Too Many Opinions?

What does it mean to be opinionated? Is it possible to have too many opinions? As the chorizo soup dripped from my spoon last night - special offer on "posh" Tesco brand - Paris Lees dumped her take on the Charlie Hebdo massacre on Twitter in a series of tweets (first here). Or rather her take on the takes on Charlie; that our opinion formers were putting their views out for the sake of putting their views out. As she puts it, "old guard commentariat the worst offenders; privileged middle class people who think they've got the answers to every complex global issue."

Mind you, there's more to it than professional pontificators pontificating. The clue is in the 'professional' bit. There are sad folk who mouth off and don't make a single sous, but opinion is a global industry that flogs papers, magazines, books, advertising space on telly, radio, and websites. Comment isn't free. There's a market for it, and like all markets sellers have to compete with each other for attention. Some have managed to carve out niches as racist enfants terribles, like Rod Liddle and Melanie Phillips, and are reliable for bigoted click bait when the traffic figures are looking a touch low. Others don't have that to fall back on. To keep their place in the firmament they roll out something new very regularly under compulsion. Hence why everyone has written on Charlie Hebdo. There's an awful lot of articles written that didn't make the publisher's cut, and sought an outlet. It's why many subsequent pieces have examined the issue from every angle, dredged up old arguments, sought to suppress new ones, etc. It's an ideas arms race. The best written and most cogent, well, if it didn't get picked up this time the email from the Graun or C4 News might come next time.

Here's a case study. Slavoj Žižek is probably Europe's most foremost radical thinker. He's the social theory point man for coffee table communists. To maintain his position a lot rests on his shoulders. As opinion former in chief they've got to drip off him, which helps explain why he churns out books as often as I do blog posts. He could not not comment on last week's murders. And so here is his effort. Nice Nietzsche nods, some sneaky Lacan, a jab at liberalism, a thumb in the eye to the "don't criticise Islamism because reasons" brigade. Yet when all is said and done, strip back the conspicuous displays of cultural capital what are you left with? An argument suggesting the spread of Islamic fundamentalism is because of the left's collapse in the Middle East and its quietude in the West. Socialism or barbarism indeed.

Žižek's argument is right, but unoriginal. Standard Slavoj-speak conceals an insight advanced many times by countless unknown, seldom-read activists. And not a few commentariat stars too. His selling point however isn't the acuity of his insights (indeed, those of my acquaintance versed in his works speak of diminishing theoretical returns) but of the star power he commands and the expected philosophical gymnastics. Such is the political economy of commentary.

Are there too many opinions? Too many people out there not knowing what they're talking about? Undoubtedly. Yet when there are commercial rewards available for the lucky few, how can it be otherwise?


Anonymous said...

frankly, there seems to be 3 reactions on the left to the situation in paris:

1. fuck you
2. fuck them
3. don't hurt me

in as much as very few people on the left at the moment seem to have a concrete notion as to how to move forward, despite the fact that too many people on the right already seem to have a plan of attack in their pocket, then here's a possible scenario: in 2017, nicolas sarkozy wins by a slim margin running on a campaign of law and order, national populism, traditional values, and carla bruni. and the rest, as they say, will be history. well, all i can say is "i fear for the republic."


p.s. the reason why i'm thinking sarkozy rather than le pen is. ..carla bruni! i mean, we are talking electoral politics, right?

Speedy said...

"What is truth," said Pilate, and did not wait for an answer.

Relativism is nothing new. It is perhaps worth reflecting that we have returned to that Pagan age in which any opinion went and as long as you paid your dues to Caesar no further questions would be asked.

Islam is propelled against this society as Judaism once was - the "Chosen People" could not accept Roman rule, no matter how light touch, and ultimately lost their nation as a result of it. Islam has deep, deep roots in Judaism - in effect there is little difference between the two save for one being tribal, the other universal.

That's by the by, but the point is not so much the range of opinions but the fact of their plurality - Pagan society was packed with all sorts of different philosophical schools too. The only thing that was unacceptable to it was any belief system that insisted upon a monopoly on the truth - it could tolerate the Jews, as they were a tribe, but it loathed the Christians, as they claimed a universal monopoly.

Of course despite their persecution, eventually this persistence paid off and - perhaps not coincidentally - Europe was thrust in to a "dark age" pretty much until the Enlightenment. Would Tacitus have foreseen this triumph? Would we?

Yet we can already see our plurality in retreat by the concession by many outlets over showing the cartoons. This is not to suggest a similar outcome for the West as old Rome - times have indeed changed - but human nature does not.

Gary Elsby said...

I have no opinion on whether there are too many opinions.

BCFG said...

Fair point, there are too many opinions, and where you get too many opinions you get ill informed drivel, see speedy as a classic example. But to be fair to speedy, we are all guilty of commenting on subjects we are only very casually familiar with. And we all form ideas based on our prejudices. There was a very interesting academic paper on the Rotherham abuse scandal for example that if you read it you would be able to instantly see what half witted and dangerous nonsense speedy was spewing.

In all the noise the ill informed opinion speaks louder that the in depth research.

I think the safe bet is to literally dismiss every single opinion.

Is it the freedom of speech irony?

jOHN nEWELL said...

Not an opinion, the solution:

Procedure By Which conservatives Could Control Parliament

If UKIP  is  Lucky,  UKIP could  get,   perhaps,  get   ten to thirty   seats
in  Parliament.  Do  not   forget,   the  public  still regards  UKIP  as   a
one  issue  party.  To gain  control of  Parliament  UKIP  and  (and frie-
nds) should  form a  new  conservative  party  with  a  platform that is 
close to that of the existing Conservative party, omitting, of course, 
policies that are objectionable to conservatives. The purpose would
be to make a bed that would be easy for conservatives to slide into,
including  the eighty  percent  of  the Conservatives who left Conser-
vative  associations. UKIP and the  conservatives  should   then  form
 a  political  association  in  each  parliamentary  district.   UKIP   could
merge with the new party, thus getting rid of the one issue problem. 
Every one who would have worked  to  form  the new,  conservative,
 party   should   be   prevented   from    joining    the    new   party    for
a  period   of time  to  prevent  the  impression  that  UKIP  controls  it.
The two or three conservative parties should hold a primary election
to determine who runs as the Parliamentary candidate, with the losers
to help the winner. The cost of forming new associations can be raised
by local contributors. It is suggested that the  new   conservative   asso-
ciations and the political party be controlled by the lowest level of con-
servatives, such as teachers, small businessmen, solicitors, professionals
etc. If the  above   procedure   can  not  be  completed  in  time  to   get 
candidates   elected   to    Parliament,  the  new  party  must  wait  until
after the  election  and  hold  a  petition  demanding  that  the  elected
MP  resign. Note: an MP  represents   every  person  in  his  district,  not
just members and   supporters of his party. When the petition reaches
fifty percent of those who voted in the prior election, the conservatives
will be morally justified in demanding their MP"s resignation. Then the
new party could run their  candidates  in  the  following by elections. 
To select a candidate, a local  association should  advertise  for applicants
or the position of candidate for  Parliament, then  select   the   best  app-
licant  by using rigorous tests, including, most importantly,  psychological 
evaluation. psychological evaluation is an absolute necessity as the psych-
ological evaluation is the only way to tell who is honest and who is a con-
artist; members of the public  cannot.  Testing  could  be  required  of the 
association  officers,  committee  members and delegates, etc.

The platform, selected by new party associations,  should be some what
 vague in order to facilitate integration  the platforms of the  new  assoc-
iations into one platform. It is suggested that self forming cliques of those
who are   honest  and   trust  worthy  be formed;  then form   self  forming
cliques of those who have   political skills  and  capabilities,  within  the
first described clique.

The corruption in Ukip is a cause for concern. Information about the corr-
uption may bee seen on the following websites:

John Newell

Phil said...

And that is relevant to this blog post how?