This image appeared in my mind just before sleep yesterday: the over-eating, obese man who – after having finished an enormous meal – is goaded by John Cleese, in a Monty Python sketch, to have just one more thin mint (wafer thin!). He first resists temptation, then submits; after all, why not? But this mere morsel of food is too much: the man blows up like a balloon, and explodes.
That’s how I feel about opinions. Just have another one, a tiny one!
The sanest moment of my day appears to be the half hour or so in the morning with my coffee and a Steiner lecture (one a day, usually, or 10 pages if it’s a book). From there on, it’s going downhill. The relief that this habit – begun a while ago, a year perhaps – confers has to do (I believe) with my resolve to simply read. When I no longer wrote about these things, I had no reason to think specific thoughts. I wasn’t going anywhere with it, and no necessity of forming opinions intruded on my experience.
It just was. Nothing was demanded, nothing expected.
(Not that I don’t have thoughts when I read, of course I do. But they come as they come, if they come.)
With the possible exception of dog walks or reading a novel, if I can focus, it seems like the rest of the time is spent in a torrent of opinions. The feeling is one of over-dosing on opinions, possibly for years. I can’t pin down the point in time when it became too much. I don’t want to dismiss opinions, after all we can’t – shouldn’t – avoid having them, but that’s also the problem: it’s hard to detox, as it were. There’s no clean break, no complete escape. No real breathing space.
I think I remember a time, a long time ago – but perhaps I was only fantasizing my friends, my company –, when there was a chance of having more in common than opinions, a chance of interaction beyond liking or disliking of opinions. Again, that may partly be because I had my friends in my head. But not only that.
Even the Ethereal Kiosk wanted to be more than only that. That’s what I believe. It can’t be denied: all those opinions were haunting us, constantly, even in the best of days. But at night, when the opinions had fallen asleep (they do! I imagine they are like puppies playing; loud, rowdy and rather obnoxious, then suddenly unconscious), there was another kind of community, based on a deeper… something, and champagne and ice-cream, naturally.
Just now a friend text me and asked why the debate is daft (there was something on the radio, apparently). This scourge of having to have an opinion! I don’t have an opinion; I really don’t. Then, every day, there’s the endless outpouring in social media. And, as if the like-button wasn’t enough, there are now several other options. Not that I care about it; I try to ignore it. I try not to be a recipient, but to let things simply flow by. But I’m tired of the constant insistence: react! Think something about this! Have an opinion! A tiny, effortless one! (Sign this! Like this! Dislike that! Take a stand! Stand on your head! Where’s the ground? Gone.)
And in this tireless torrent, one would perhaps assume the content or value of each isolated opinion would have become irrelevant. Far from it! Oops, wrong opinion, no matter how insignificant, and there you are with your pants down. It’s no surprise in a world were one person’s dislike is an affront to someone else whose completely trivial viewpoint in turn is conceived as an attack on the next person who goes on to say some other fool is being silly, perhaps, and that doesn’t go down well, because everybody takes themselves terribly seriously – to the point of throwing themselves off a cliff to show the world just how right they are about some unimportant thing that has dimmed in consciousness. And it goes on and on, every day it starts anew, with everybody playing.
And then you think suddenly, well perhaps I’m alone in this, but I think: what does all this matter to me? It reminds me of this curious notion – I’ve heard people say it – that you’re not alone in the city because you experience people around you, while the matter of fact is you’re doubly alone, surrounded by anonymous faces of crowds moving to here and there, crowds of human mammals who, like the torrent of opinions – by acquaintances or foreigners, half-known and unknown –, are anonymous and make for connection, and there’s nothing below or above, no diving, no flying – just the one option, to be carried along, until the tide turns.
For that reason, the turning tide, constant positioning and repositioning of oneself is paramount. One must, at every moment, manifest one’s viewpoint: this is me, this is what I think. Am I still good enough? Fellowship depends on it. Not on old-fashioned sympathy or antipathy, but this: do we share opinions, think alike? One can’t argue with the logic. It’s a need that isn’t argued with.
But one can still feel weary. And the ground seems not as solid as it should be, but full of rifts and cracks. It reminds me of being a child: when I was perpetually trying to be someone else, because there was no me worth being. At any time you risk revealing yourself as an imitation, a fraud, and being accepted in the world is contingent on keeping the illusion alive. I probably never could, which is a precarious situation to be in; the rifts and cracks widen, you stumble along but know you can fall anytime. The weariness I feel perhaps comes from sensing that all those opinions are like decorations you attach to your clothes: you must pick the right opinions from the never-ending flood and pin them on yourself, make them visible, fashion yourself an identity and create a way to belong. It’s a garment, like all those things I tried to mimic. It conceals something else, possibly an emptiness.
But say that one day I’m entirely out of opinions! I cannot catch them, the slippery bastards. It has happened, in fact. I struggled with it, and I can still conjure up one or two every now and then. And although quite a few appear on their own accord, those are less likely to be opinions anyone is interested in, even if they amuse me. But say I run out of those that work, in a social context, not just to entertain myself. A catastrophe it would be, and I’d regret not getting myself a small farm, a couple of hens and a life closer to nature, away from the world, much sooner. At least the nature spirits don’t give a damn about my opinions. Or so they say.