Mind you, I do hold some opinions. For instance, it is my opinion that we should be kind to one another. (Long-time readers of this blog have heard me quote Philip Larkin numerous times on this point: "We should be careful//Of each other, we should be kind/While there is still time.") I am also of the opinion that it is rude to carry on cell phone conversations in public, particularly while waiting in lines at post offices and banks. I confess that I favor dogs over cats. (Although I have known and loved many wonderful cats.) Further, it is my opinion that those who commit murder in the name of religion (any religion) are evil. So, there you have it: I am not opinionless.
Granted, most of my opinions are in the nature of truisms. (With the exception of my preference for dogs over cats, for which I beg the forbearance of those who prefer cats.) But, as I have noted in the past, I am perfectly content to live my life in accordance with truisms, which are, after all, true.
I traversed a dominion
Whose spokesmen spake out strong
Their purpose and opinion
Through pulpit, press, and song.
I scarce had means to note there
A large-eyed few, and dumb,
Who thought not as those thought there
That stirred the heat and hum.
When, grown a Shade, beholding
That land in lifetime trode,
To learn if its unfolding
Fulfilled its clamoured code,
I saw, in web unbroken,
Its history outwrought
Not as the loud had spoken,
But as the mute had thought.
Thomas Hardy, Poems of the Past and the Present (Macmillan 1901).
Adam Bruce Thomson (1885-1976), "Still Life at a Window" (1944)
I understand the allure of constructing a well-ordered set of opinions. The world can be a chaotic, horrific, and dispiriting place. It can be comforting to believe that one's opinions are correct, and that the implementation of those opinions will lead to a better world.
But this is where problems arise. A great number of people believe that holding the "correct" opinions is de facto evidence of one's personal virtue and morality. More alarmingly, there is a disturbing totalitarian undercurrent in modern opinion-holding: We are right. You are wrong. And you had better adopt the correct opinions. Or else. Anyone who believes that totalitarian tendencies are limited to one side or the other of the political spectrum is deluding themselves.
But I mustn't rant. I wish all opinion holders well, as long as they don't expect me to believe what they believe. In any case, the end result of political opinion-holding amounts to a hill of beans.
Only a placid sea, and
A pier where no boat comes,
But people stand at the end
And spit into the water,
Dimpling it, and watch a dog
That chins and churns back to land.
I had come here to see
Humbug embark, deported,
Protected from the crowd.
But he has not come today.
And anyway there is no boat
To take him. And no one cares.
So Humbug still walks our land
On stilts, is still looked up to.
W. R. Rodgers, Awake! and Other Poems (Secker & Warburg 1941).
Yes, Humbug will for ever walk the lands in which you and I dwell, dear reader. There will never be a dearth of snake oil salesmen, whether of the left, right, or center.
Adam Bruce Thomson, "Melrose Abbey" (1953)
Opinions on political issues are beliefs, not statements of reality. In the wake of the so-called "Age of Enlightenment," belief in utopian political schemes has in large part replaced religious belief. Political believers can be every bit as fervent as religious believers. This is not a criticism of fervency. Everyone is entitled to hold their own opinions. But it is important to recognize the critical role that utopian political beliefs play in the lives of a large number of people.
Most political true believers are not aware that their opinions are the tenets of a religion. Political religions are as rife with controversy as the early Christian church: doctrinal disputations, denunciations, apostasies, and schisms abound. Words are paramount, and are worshipped. The niceties of creedal language are parsed in a fashion that rivals the labors of the Council of Nicaea.
Watch him when he opens
his bulging words -- justice,
fraternity, freedom, internationalism, peace,
peace, peace. Make it your custom
to pay no heed
to his frank look, his visas, his stamps
and signatures. Make it
your duty to spread out their contents
in a clear light.
Nobody with such luggage
has nothing to declare.
Norman MacCaig, in Ewen McCaig, The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).
Adam Bruce Thomson, "St Monance"
Holding opinions is a tiring and tiresome business. Think of the amount of mental, emotional, and psychic energy that people expend on defending their own opinions and attacking those of others.
As for me, I am one of Hardy's "large-eyed few, and dumb." And happily so. I am content to remain mute. There is a great deal to do.
Consider the Grass Growing
Consider the grass growing
As it grew last year and the year before,
Cool about the ankles like summer rivers,
When we walked on a May evening through the meadows
To watch the mare that was going to foal.
Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Poems (edited by Antoinette Quinn) (Penguin 2004).
Adam Bruce Thomson, "Harvesting in Galloway"