During my latest recovery from my last bout with Killer Khemo, I have spent a great deal of time watching C-SPAN. And, I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand where the various callers and guests get their opinions.
I have also spent many years tracking the effects of the late 1970's educational revolution that focused on building self-esteem as one of the primary jobs of teachers and educators. (A revolution which I fought vigorously at the time, and continue to oppose today.)
I think we are seeing the fruits of this intersection, writ large.
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion" has become the dominant mantra of civic life, and no one stops to question the wisdom of this notion that opinion is a replacement for knowledge.
How did we get here? And, what are we going to do about it?
The concept of self-esteem was raised just as the cutting edge of civil rights, and changing demographics, made the growth of minorities, and the changing composition of the population of the United States inevitable for those who understand cultural dynamics.
One way which was offered to ease the transition from the dominance of a white, European population was to invest heavily in raising the value of different world views as valid, and having a place in the American life.
Various phrases were trotted out to encourage a smooth transition. Melting Pot was one of the first, but that implied a blending that might diminish the flavor and contrast of immigrants, and the cultural differences they brought. Another was Salad Bowl. This maintained the notion of distinct, identifiable components of culture which, when taken together, produced a beautiful and varied serving of multicultural differences, contained within one vessel.
But how to achieve this goal?
Psychologists have long fretted over the popularization of complex ideas, generated in complex research projects, being appropriated, and frequently misunderstood, by educators and politicians. There has never been much we could do about it. Once an idea entered the popular vernacular it would take on an energy of it own and often become so divorced from original intent as to be unidentifiable. Such a concept was Self-Esteem.
We all think we know what it means. We think it means feeling good about yourself. We think it means asserting your own opinions, and not doubting their value. We think it means that the experiences you have (or think you have) are the basis for all of your social and political judgments.
A careful reading of the above citation, and a bit of thought, reveals that it was never intended that the individual place their experiences and knowledge above the value of truth, fact, or reality.
As Robert Frost noted:
"The latest creed that has to be believed
And entered in our childish catechism
Is that the All's a concept self-conceived,
Which is no more than good old Pantheism."
This Pantheon is now composed of over 300 million individuals trained in self-esteem to think that every thought, every feeling, every belief, is useful, or valuable, or important. We have dismantled the fabric of society, creating in its place a galaxy of single bodies, each revolving around the self.
In the classroom, just showing up became the goal. Just turning in something was rewarded as an accomplishment. In the work place, self enrichment was seen as a rational reaction to insuring the elevation of the newly aggrandized individual. In politics, protecting ones own view of the universe was elevated above seeking communal solutions. After all, a culture steeped in self-esteem had no reason to consider the needs, feelings, or beliefs of others. It was the self that dominated all planning and thought.
As the shackles of the dominate culture fell away, it has not been replaced with a richer and more vibrant social dynamic. It has been replaced with a narrow, limited, self-serving refusal to examine, consider, or search for truth, reality or a wider view of one's place in the world.
So, we have stupid people who profoundly misunderstand what the world is all about, espousing stupid ideas, in a vastly expanded technological wonderland, to anyone who gets in the way. Not that they lack the brains, or energy, to understand reality, but that they have been carefully trained to think that reality doesn't matter.
The only thing that matters is that they hold opinions. That they have "values". That they are seen as significant. That the world pay attention to them, not for what they know but simply because they exist.
For those who see a glimmer of this false standard, needing and wanting some conformation of their fragile knowledge base, there are a host of various "groups" which will offer support. Religious organizations, Tea Parties, talk radio, social activities, all provide a refuge from the barrage of the self-esteem of others. But, they neither address the problem of a declining knowledge of reality, challenge the role of self in the universe, or enhance the value of seeking truth over patting yourself on the back for your ability to think you see a pattern in the most limited information.
To address the question posed in the title, each of us must begin to first question the value of our personal opinions. Where did they come from? How were they formed? Are they based in a limited view of reality? Are they promoted because we value our own sense of self beyond the truth?
Then, we have to begin the long process of raising these questions with others. In the classroom. In the office. In the church. In the political parties.
If we do not seriously begin to eliminate the idea that anyone has a right to their own opinion, based on the simple fact of existence, we will preside over the total destruction of civil society, all in the name of creating self- esteem.