Having a firm, justifiable opinion about any one thing can be a hard space to occupy. Unless perhaps, you can call yourself an authority. Well then maybe you're entitled to your opinion. And yet. We spend lots and lots and lots of conversations with each other having all kinds of opinions about all kinds of things. Of which. (Maybe all of which, or at least most.) We are not that aforementioned "authority". I don't think people should eat meat. Well, not mammal meat at least. But food-stuff that comes from animals. That's okay. And all of our veggie-foods should be organic too. And locally-grown. And we should try to eat only the foods that are in season and nearby. I am just full. Full full full. Of opinions. Practically every sentence I utter. Has some opinion-based statement in it. And honestly. There's no way around that. Not really. Not if we're going to have any serious or unserious or any-kind of conversation at all. Any kind of dialog. Without opinions. What or how would we talk about?
And yet. What would it take to become an authority on any one topic? How robust would one's knowledge need to be, in order to claim that one "knows" about said topic? And how does one then measure one's own robustness, in order to feel confidence that they are in fact, an authority? And does that robustness fade with time? Or lack of study and concentrated consciousness? And how does one project that authority without mixing it into emotion? Or cultural context? Or personal experience? As Rebecca Solnit writes, "We know less when we erroneously think we know than when we recognize that we don't."(1)
One doesn't. It's not possible. Because there is no such thing as human objectivity. How one measures one's awareness of any topic is a direct reflection of their own subjective opinion. And depending on who's in the room. A conversation can go on like the syncopation of a symphony, or like the pulling of a pail from the well, or like thunder clapping with the electricity of shards of lightning.
What's true (aka "true") is that our measure of objective authority is as varied as the number of individual human consciousness-es that exist on the planet. Sure. We have data, and math, and statistics and "quant" things that can sometimes support our arguments. When in fact we have something to argue for. But. Much like the eternal question of true-morality. How do we decide what to think? And where and how to think it? And from what information and possibly data?
At one point in someone's history. The world was flat. Disease was the mark of the devil. Women and slaves did not have the proper intellect to make any decisions, and so deserved to be the property of men. And stripping periphery countries of their own indigenous resources while simultaneously forcing freely-traded imports upon their communities would be good for their economies. Of these. Which of them sounds most like an opinion?
We live in some fast-changing times. Some technologically-advancing, globally-cultural, informationally-present times. There are more ways to access more thoughts than ever before in human consciousness. With so much content available to us, how are we to wade through so much, and come out of it with any rational, thoughtful, authoritative, anything? Politics, governments, the environment, what we eat and where it comes from, what we believe in and what we don't, technology, education, sexual orientation, art, music, health, and every single thought I've ever thought without ever reading, hearing, or seeing it anywhere else but from where it came.
More people, have more access, to more information than ever before. I believe that this is a beautiful thing. And I believe it has the potential to level us collectively, more than it ever has, at least as far as civilization is concerned. In this scenario. Though there are significantly higher risks for conflicting ideas, conflicting data, and conflicting information. At least those ideas are happening and flowing everywhere. More cooks in the kitchen means there's less chance for the cook to poison the party. For too long, any information at all, was bound up in the hands of the willfully powerful at the tipity top. They were able to control the message. And all too often that message was purposely tailored to meet their very personal, very subjective, very individual needs. In 1611, the completed revision of the King James Bible was released to the public. This was already nearly two-hundred years after Gutenburg improved the moveable-type printing press, which continued to change the landscape of books entering the home. So after centuries of slowly climbing literacy, and some lucky folks owning at least one book, King James knew what he could do by editing and controlling the message of that one wildly held, most important tome, the one preached at mass on Sundays and the same one on the bedside table.
It's often hard to navigate conversations that leave us feeling convinced of our convictions, but with little amo to return back to our potentially disagreeing dialog-mate. It's in these conversations that I often feel the most powerless. Which feeds my hunger and curiosity to pull out of our information-rich environment, more information. So I can be. More informed. But I also often wonder, how little that little bit of information I'm able to pull out, really is. And if that little bit, that I'll likely misrepresent in some succeeding conversation, is actually the very thing that makes our information-rich-consciousness-es so dangerous. How often I read one book, on any one subject and feel somehow, informed so much, that I can speak intelligently and draw on that resource for fuel in my writing or my dialog. Much like I have done above in citing King James, the flat earth, and free-trade. In reality. I know very little about the history and landscape of any of these topics. And yet, here I am, sending this all-too-familiar academically-minded message, that I have done my research.
Ultimately. There is no answer. It's all good. And it's all bad too. Objectivity is not possible. And quite honestly. Being an authority on any one topic, isn't really possible either. At least not in the sense that we can confirm or deny the absolute truth or fact of anything we claim. Science will be the first to tell us that literally everything found or alleged in it's discipline, is and should be questioned just as soon as it's discovered. Maybe we could all stand for a little more of this in our lives. Not too much—trust me, I know the too-much side, and questioning literally everything, can and will make anyone bat-shit crazy, your partners included. But a good healthy mix of questions and openness couldn't hurt anyone. Especially not in the space of a conversation. We're a species obsessed with causes and answers. Our very language is based on words able to be defined. Control makes us feel secure. And security makes us feel safe. And safety means we don't have to tuck our tails and run from everything that makes a weird noise or looks at us funny. Balance is important. Empathy is important. Love is very important. If we could all come to each other with some part openness, some part compassion, some part thought and idea, and some part a willingness to be changed our selves, maybe we could learn better ways to cooperate and really use what little information might actually be helpful to us.
1. Rebecca Solnit. Wolf's Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable. From the collection, Men Explain Things To Me. Haymarket Books. Chicago, Illinois. 2009. pg 88.