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Monday, 27 February 2017

The Onanistic Solipsism of "Opinion"



I was recently having a conversation about private schooling, and I made the far from original observation that private school life, at least in the kind where I went, was heavily militarised. My friend then asked me what percentage of private school graduates joined the military, to which I replied I did not know. He then asked me what my opinion on that might be. At which point I started swearing.

To be fair, my friend was really just trying to keep the discussion going, but he did touch on a point that's rather a sore one for me, and that is what passes for opinion in today's fraught public discussions. My opinion on an unknown statistic, well outside my area of competence or interest, is worth about as much as my bank account, which is twenty cents overdrawn.

And now we get to the term 'onanistic solipsism', which I must apologise for. It's just that it's difficult to sound intelligent when using the term 'self-deluded wankery', which is what I mean by it. I'd like to put it forward to describe the near-universal syndrome of believing that an opinion based on absolutely nothing at all is worth sharing, listening to, or considering.

Let's take the TPP as a case in point. What I know and understand about the TPP can be written on the head of a pin with a hammer and chisel, and I'm pretty sure that puts me in a very big club. This being the case, I keep my stupid head shut on the subject. I'm almost certain that George Carney, a factory worker from Galesburg, Illinois, is also a paid up member of this club. Why, then, does Mr Carney have an opinion on the trade deal? Or "Steve" from Ingleburn, who has written numerous letters to the editor on the subject. And just so you don't think I'm some elitist picking on the little guy, I also question why we should pay any attention to what some late night television comedian has to say on the matter either.

I'm pretty sure this speaks to a deeper malaise which can be traced back to the numerous corrosive effects of post-modernist theory in multiple areas of society, notably in education. Put simply, generation after generation of people have been taught that how they feel about something is at least as valid as what they know. That the ultimate test for validity lies not in objective confirmation, but in the very fact that their reaction originates within themselves. That's the "Solipsism" bit. Continuing to stridently contribute to a discussion well after it has become apparent that their ignorance on the subject is comparable to the estimated size of the universe - that's the "Onanism".

Don't make the mistake of thinking I rate all opinion as worthless. An informed or expert opinion is definitely worth weighing when considering an issue, and opinions derived from careful (and valid) thought are always worth at least listening to. It's the opinions which are based on absolutely nothing at all which are the target of my animus.

Politics and ethics has been been reduced to what basically amounts to barracking for a sports team, complex issues are drowning in the shrill pronouncements of idiots and conspiracy theorists and, in short, the popularity of onanistic solipsism as a mode of thought can and should be seen as a credible existential threat to our democracy. If we the people continue having absolutely nothing sensible to say, how can we complain when the business of government drifts inexorably into the hands of a smaller and smaller elite?