I want to apologize from the get go. I am, by virtue of writing and disseminating this article, contributing to the problem. The problem is only getting worse, and I am hereby guilty of aggravating it further.
The problem is the ubiquity of commentary and critique. So much commentary and critique! Everyone’s a pundit. An expert. Myself included. My opinion somehow matters so much that I need to push it out to as many readers as I can.
I may know little on a given subject, but that will not stop me from asserting myself as an authority and vociferously propounding my perspective. By virtue of being an author, I am somehow suddenly an authority. And authorship is so easy these days, that all of us are now authors.
When, and how the heck, did authorship become authority?
It used to be that people would not be published unless they demonstrated some degree of rigor in their research and some proficiency on a given subject. I think there also once was the assumption of some degree of responsibility to generally accepted virtues of impartiality, and at least some attempt at objectivity.
Rigor, research, and objectivity seem to be nowhere found in the guidelines of the new media. Nowhere, I believe, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram are these items even suggested, let alone required. Worse yet, they hardly seem to be values promulgated in traditional media outlets anymore either.
My understanding is that there also used to be editors and gatekeepers, people who would lend at least a second pair of eyes to what was to be printed. And there was some time between the writing of a piece and its publication. Imagine this: a delay between our emotional outbursts and their expression.
Remember how people used to suggest counting to three before you respond to something? Not anymore. Now we can instantly project our most raw and immediate emotions to all of our “friends” and “followers”, i.e.those strangers who we have surrounded ourselves with because they have the very same biases and opinions that we do.
I have been amazed, in recent days, at the furor that has erupted in response to the conclusion of “Game of Thrones.” For the one or two people who haven’t been keeping up, the blockbuster show just completed its eighth and final season. A cultural marvel, the show has broken all records of viewership. And as the final episodes have screened in recent weeks, there has been an uproar from a segment of the show’s devoted fan base, excoriating the show’s creators for decisions with which the fans do not agree. There has even been a petition circulated that has garnered over a million signatures which is intended to convince HBO to produce an alternate final season to the one that has just been released.
Let’s understand what’s happening here: viewers, unhappy with the outcomes of a show that they have chosen to watch, are convinced that their own vision of someone else’s work is superior to the vision of the ones who created it! Not only are they expressing their dissatisfaction, but they are demanding that it be redone!
What in the entire heck?!!!
Where, and how, in the world did we become convinced that our opinions are so darn valuable? When did each and every one of us become such an expert? Culture, politics, law, psychology — somehow we are all qualified to provide incisive commentary and urge those around us to accept our enlightened view. Of course we know what we’re talking about — we have read a Wikipedia entry about it, or we breezed through a couple articles online. And of course those articles we read are unbiased. And of course we did our due diligence and researched the subject in other outlets that do not hew precisely to the opinions with which we started!
It is no secret that our society is becoming increasingly fractured and divisive. We can blame it on our elected leaders or on those backward “others” on the opposite side of the aisle who are ruining everything because of their demented worldview. We can spew hate at the creators of “Game of Thrones” because, in spite of the fact that they gave us nearly a decade of arguably the greatest tv show ever made, they ended it in a way that defied some of our expectations and desires. We can rail at everyone who does anything different from the way we would do it ourselves.
But I would suggest that the problem is me! It’s my fault. I and all of us who are clogging the highway of ideas with opinion and commentary and judgment and critique.
Of course there are times to stand up and take a stand and defend the things that we passionately believe in. There is plenty of injustice in the world which needs to be countered and corrected. But we should seriously consider counting to (at least) 3 before we hit “post”; asking ourselves whether we are really qualified to assert ourselves as experts on the subjects we promote; exploring contrasting opinions before judging and jumping to conclusions; showing respect and appreciation for things even if they do not conform to our tastes or desires.
What made Jon Snow such a compelling leader on “Game of Thrones” was his awareness that “you know nothing, Jon Snow.” We would all do well to remind ourselves frequently how little we know. This type of humility will enable us to listen more than we exclaim, to appreciate more than we condemn, and to unite more than we divide.