No Opinion

At first I thought it was the optimism of hindsight, but I could have sworn that there was a time in my life when we weren’t all expected to have an opinion about everything. It was socially acceptable to say that something was too complex, too far away from my areas of expertise to have a valid opinion on it.

A piece in the Guardian covering reaction to Prince Philip’s death described what I was thinking:

People are far more performative online in accordance with their consciousness of being watched. Twitter [has] turned everyone into the archbishop of Canterbury, somehow feeling that every major news story requires them to issue an official statement. Huge numbers of people now regard themselves as bound to post the sort of formal reactions to Philip’s death that were once the preserve of former presidents of the United States or the queen of Denmark.

I’m not talking about the sort of things you can imagine people saying conversationally to others back when not everything was pixels – “I hadn’t realised his sisters weren’t allowed at the wedding”, or “my mum met him at the WI and said he was lovely”. No, I’m on about this type of stuff: “Hugely sad at the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. He was a modernising influence on the House of Windsor, and his prickly exterior hid passions few understood. My thoughts are with the Queen.” Why thank you, random 41-year-old dude from the internet. But really — this is the sort of pontification one formerly expected only from absurdly pompous people utterly devoid of self-awareness or public standing, such as newspaper columnists.

It’s partly a question of epistemology. Society accepts having looked at a few memes and scanned a NYT editorial as knowledge.

It’s also a question of identity and performance. I would dare call it sacramental to publicly profess your opinion, which just so happens to be the dominant opinion in your group. Supporting {political cause} on Twitter is the 21st Century’s equivalent of putting up religious statue or icon.

Saying that I don’t have a position is itself a statement about the limits of epistemology. That’s my position.

Just before the Basecamp drama broke, Jason Fried published Staying out of it:

On any given day, there are dozens of discussions I could be part of. A deluge of decisions I could weigh in on. An overmuch of opinion on which I could opine.

But I’m choosing to Stay Out of It.

My guess is that having to constantly make public professions of the “right” opinions — and being accused of genocide for staying out it — finally became too much.

When Scientific Orthodoxy Resembles Religious Dogma from Scientific American also builds on the idea that the “right” opinions are the new religious dogma.