If you’re reading this, you found it near or below the “Opinion” banner. It is probably your expectation that the words that follow will form and express this author’s belief, judgment, or attitude on a subject.
That was the intent back in 1583, when Neo-Latin as a language evolved from the ashes of the Renaissance period, and “opinari” evolved into opine, before settling into opinion.
Since that time, most civilized and advanced societies applied the concept of published “opinion” to a higher standard than base gossip or random personal views.
The formal statement of a judge or court, along with detailed and considered reasoning linked to principles of law when determining a case, is an “opinion.”
Frequently, when faced with a critical health issue, patients will seek out a second or third “opinion” on diagnosis or treatment from a qualified medical professional.
Again, the pursuit being for greater insight, judgment or specialized understanding – all born from some measure of advanced training, experience or accrued wisdom.
There was a time when opinions mattered as rules of law, in medicine with life and death hanging in the balance, and living within the fourth estate of journalism – one of the early pillars of democracy itself.
Now, 400-plus years later, we’re entering the Neo-Nonsense period where facts, fiction and opinion all seemingly trade with the same weak, devalued currency. My 800-word column, your 140-character tweets, a bunch of online comments, and a constant stream of radio and television commentary all mean the same thing: very little.
Life has become one giant, amorphous pep rally with every person grasping their own digital megaphone, creating such a wave of noise in the process, that nothing of true value or meaning is taken in – just bursts of emotion amplified out.
The sad irony is that while technology has brought infinite and unlimited knowledge to within the grasp of virtually everyone with a computer or cell phone, we appear to be drifting further and further away from any wisdom that might follow.
This year was a geopolitical tipping point where fact(s) were removed as the universally accepted core ingredients of truth. No longer does it matter what people say or write; raw emotion (anger, fear, hatred, etc.) is the new catalyst for message or meaning.
We have a governor who treats English as a foreign language, truth as his personal kryptonite, and paranoia as his political operating system. Yet, Paul LePage is but a rookie when compared to our president-elect in the dangerous and dysfunctional arena of, “feel my emotion and rage, but don’t hold me accountable to my illogical words or hateful rhetoric.”
I recently got into a contentious argument with a colleague during a radio show when she claimed that a) President Obama himself created divisiveness when he publicly admitted to being “born in Kenya” and, b) it was awful when President Obama admitted that he was a “Muslim.”
This argument became heated to the point that the segment was deleted from the radio show. It was suggested to me that my “are you out of your mind?” response might be misconstrued as a literal medical question as opposed to a figurative declaration.
Truth be told, my colleague wasn’t out of her mind – she’s actually very intelligent. It’s just that her mind is so locked onto a view and allegiance that emotion in support of her partisan views always prevails – despite any inconvenient opposing truths supported by facts or logic.
Later, when I asked her to show me the source material for her absurd comments about President Obama, this educated, professionally trained, experienced media professional took a couple minutes searching Google. What she found was some crazy gibberish on a partisan website with no basis of fact – just some nonsensical ramblings.
The problem isn’t that my radio colleague got her facts wrong regarding President Obama’s birthplace and his faith – we all make mistakes. But if a media professional who has spent the last eight years working professionally in the news business cannot or will not take the time needed to decipher something as simple as the birthplace of the most famous person on the planet, how can she or anyone else be expected to understand and convey more complex issues like climate change, economic policy, international trade, etc.?
She can’t. Neither can most people. To quote the late-1960s band Buffalo Springfield, “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,” and apparently, we’re all wrong.
By my estimation, there are approximately 120 people in Maine who are paid to share their opinions (like me, here) with the public through various newspapers, broadcast outlets, and online blogs – plus hundreds more, not getting paid, through other communication platforms.
Truth be told, there was a time when I felt like my opinion mattered. A time when informed perspective and insight was met with, if not appreciation, at least curiosity – not disdain. For now, that time is passed, and those voices now muted by the reckless, howling megaphones.
For Maine and our country, I hope this too, shall pass.
Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard Saturdays at 11 a.m. on WLOB 1310 AM and 100.5 FM.