On Opinions

We are living in a time that deafens with the volume of public opinion and yet feels curiously devoid of truly original thought. You can't load a browser window without coming across an op-ed or hot take on the week's events, and yet (is it just me?) it's rare to find one that really makes you think. We’ve never had more exposure to the inner workings of other people’s minds; never had more opportunity to express the contents of our own; never been more incentivised - financially, culturally, insidiously - to engage with both.

Lately I’ve been experiencing a sensation of opinion fatigue (like decision fatigue, except, well, you know) that has left me tired of other people’s opinions, and increasingly tired even of my own. This malaise feels like a subgenre of the sharing fatigue I wrote about the other week, albeit with slightly more troublesome implications for my work. I've written more this year than ever before, and perhaps the very act of doing so has led me to realise how malleable my ideas about things can be. To reconsider the merit of blasting said ideas out into the ether, half-formed and at will.

I’m not the first writer to question the value of my own opinion. It's somewhat of an occupational hazard. Agonising over how best to articulate your thoughts is not dissimilar to saying the same word, over and over: It all ends up sounding like gibberish in the end. And yet you must find ways to continue to believe in the contents of your own nebulous trains of thought, or else risk complete career crisis. In 2009, Zadie Smith published a collection of essays based on this precise dilemma, confessing in the foreword to ‘Changing My Mind’ that: “Ideological inconsistency is, for me, practically an article of faith.”

And, as psychological traits go, intellectual hyper-flexibility is probably not the worse affliction for a modern age. The world is changing quickly and our minds have to find a way to keep up, after all. It’s the broadcasting of this accelerated thought process that feels exhausting and frequently pointless to me. Why are we all so desperate to braindump on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis? What’s the point of all this commentary in the end?

Perhaps our compulsive opinion-sharing can be viewed as a defense against an unsettling awareness that our thoughts are no longer solely our own. We know, even if we are unable to precisely quantify, that much of our aesthetic and intellectual groupthink is shaped by algorithms, social media, and our curated newscycles. And so we assert our autonomy - our humanity - by compulsively telling the world what we think. 

"I think, therefore I am" wrote Descartes in 1637: a famous statement intended to provide a 'foundation for knowledge in the face of radical doubt'. In this sense, our own 'age of opinion' is really the latest iteration of the centuries-long existential crisis that has plagued the Western world – just with slightly more sophisticated tech.