COLM O'REGAN: You didn't need opinions back in the day

Colm O’Regan writes about the struggles of forming an opinion in the 21st century. 

It must have been easier years ago. You didn’t need them. Opinions. You worked down the mine or planted spuds on the farm. If you had an opinion about inhaling carcinogenic dust or eating black bread for lunch or being only 7, you kept it to yourself. If you thought that there was an over dependence on one crop you didn’t mention it to your father or both of ye would be done for attacking the other with a sickle or a slean or bill hook or some other gruesome agricultural implement that is now only found at antiques fairs or the odd funeral in the midlands.

Your father, the king, the top-hatted monocled boss or the priest told you what to think.

There was no nuance. You had your one view and you carried it through to the end. You were rarely troubled by self–doubt. You had few facts to challenge whatever you thought. Life wasn’t perfect. You could still die from an infection that started with a slightly itchy hang-nail but still, your mind — although compromised by malnutrition —didn’t race. Legend has it, during the Napoleonic wars, the people of Hartlepool in England hanged a monkey because they thought it was a French spy. Imagine being that clear-cut in your thinking. That convinced of the ‘otherness’ of the French that you would hang something that didn’t even look human.

But now it’s different. There’s no excuse. There are too many bloody facts or background or ‘context’ coming at you left, right and centrist to complicate things. You can’t just go around hanging animals for treason any more.

But which opinion should one have? For me, trying to figure out what to think, with new facts and arguments and counter arguments flowing to and fro so much is like that weird ritual dance at the end of a wedding where everyone crowds around the bride and groom as ‘New York New York’ plays. The chain breaks and reverses so many times. If you jump in the wrong place you’ll end up next to the fella wearing his tie around his head and who broke the mother of the bride’s toe while air-guitaring to AC/DC earlier.

He’s also the fella trying to bring the whole chain down by letting his legs to go from under him. And if you fall it looks like you’re as locked as he is. You have to pick your opinions carefully.

It’s alright for fundamentalists. They ignore facts and others’ opinion anyway. But what about the mealy-mouthed equivocators like me who don’t feel too strongly about anything. Facts are no problem, facts that impress men I’ve just met at wakes. Facts like “you know if you travel from Allihies to Dublin, the half-way point is still in County Cork.” THAT’s the kind of stuff you can just throw out there. But opinions. That’s another matter. I mean like, I have an opinion column. And I do have opinions on things like disposable coffee cups and the correct etiquette for gaining entry to the residents’ bar after a function if you’re not staying there. But other things … that’s going to take a while. (Note to editor, I’ll be grand again next week, just having a bit of a turn).

There’s only one answer. And you’re not going to like it. We’re going to have to read up on things. Spend time on it. Read a few different sources. Possibly even some books. Once you read one side of a story you’re going to have read the other seven before forming an opinion. (I say ‘you’ because I’m hoping you’ll do the work and I can just take your opinion then.)

And the monkey? It may actually have been a boy and the half-way point between Allihies and the centre of Dublin? Marginally in Limerick.

See what I mean? RUINED.


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