17. Thoughts and Opinions

Our time speaks much about the value of free expression. ‘Opinion’ is understood as something self-valued and sacred; ‘diversity of opinion’ has become the ultimate cultural boon… It is time to examine this sacred opinion and determine, if possible, its true value.

There are two kinds of ‘opinions’. On the one hand, it is what one’s expressed attitude towards any issue is called. On the other hand, all sorts of (as it is now fashionable to say) ‘self-expression’ in creative work is also an opinion. Both opinions are now supposed to be welcomed, no matter how wild they are.

Let’s talk about opinion as the fruit of the encounter with novelty, with any new question.

This attitude may be thoughtful and reasonably expressed, but in reality it rarely is. As a rule (we are not talking about reasoned judgements) a person accidentally encounters something new for him and hastily inscribes this new thing into his picture of the world — or removes it from it as irrelevant. He does both not under the influence of thought, but by the power of feeling. The ‘diversity’ of these feelings when an accidental person meets new thoughts and phenomena is declared sacred. The development of a certain inner attitude towards things is natural and necessary. The question is whether it has a universally binding value.

An unprepared person prefers not to solve important, big questions, of course (not all questions have a solution at all), but at least to touch them — only by feeling. Rejection or denial is a natural response to the new and incomprehensible. To think about it, you need to suppress this natural response, get out of the state of rest and make an effort. Thinking when encountering the new is not ‘natural’ in any way. It would be natural to be frightened or indignant and then forget.

If the mind does awaken from its encounter with the unknown, it has two paths. Either to ask: ‘What does this mean to me? Does it correspond to my experience?’ Or compare the new statement with the list of available truths, and failing to find one, discard it. Unfortunately, education more often gives a person a list of ready-made truths than the desire to ask questions. Even more unfortunately, education fosters not scepticism towards available ‘truths’, but blind rejection of everything that is not included in them.

The first path is the path of thought. The second is the way of (unfounded) ‘opinions’. In a certain age opinions are more charming than thoughts. They inflame feeling; they make the solitary part of a certain ‘we’; as a rule, they accuse, i. e., they place the individual on a level above those around him (according to the usual fallacy of sight, the accuser is always morally superior to the accused)…

‘Opinions’ are not a sign of maturity, quite the opposite. The mind most prone to opinions is the mind of the uneducated and ignorant. For many, ‘having an opinion’ is the same as ‘stating disagreement’. Agreeing is taken as a sign of having no opinions, if not outright cowardice. But approving of things, or at least recognising the status quo as a lesser evil, may be based on understanding rather than a desire to fit in.

The milieu of schoolchildren, students, and members of political circles is saturated with ‘opinions’, but contains not a single thought. A thought (we inevitably come to this) is something qualitatively different from an opinion. What is their difference?

Thought is based on immersion in the subject. Opinion is a sign of agreement or disagreement, by which one knows his fellows; a mark by which members of a future pack find each other, while thought is a sign of loneliness. Opinion is hurriedly shouted — thought is carried inside. Opinion seeks sharpness of expression, thought seeks clarity. Opinion leads to other people, thought leads to solitude.

As for the creative opinion, whose arbitrariness supposedly cannot be restricted…

The common place has become the assumption that ‘everything that comes out of a person is good, just don’t prevent him from expressing himself’. This assumption is false. Not everything that comes out of a person is good, or at least necessary.

The desire to ‘express oneself’ is rarely justified. Not everything deserves ‘expression’, but only what is unique in substance or in the way of expression (form). Creativity is not a way of ‘expressing oneself’. In creative labour, the highest orderliness, concentration of inner life manifests itself. The personality creates not because it is ‘overwhelmed by feelings’ and not in order to express the first thoughts that come to mind (we will not speak now about the creativity of children and madmen, although it is closest to the modern ideal of ‘disorderly self-expression’).

On the contrary: a creative person (in the field of thought and word) is a person who is silent, who keeps his opinion to himself in order to think the thought through to the end. Only an opinion unspoken in time becomes a thought. A society that encourages all ‘opinion’ runs the risk of having no thought at all.

Worse: by removing every obstacle between the desire to speak, speech and the listener, we devalue the word. There is no value of judgements ‘in general’ for which it is worth multiplying them without end. What is valuable is either what is true and new, or what is aptly expressed. The word unrestricted by anything on the way from desire to utterance is fornication. The death of all the arts that have the word as their instrument is the first consequence of the unrestricted freedom of expression.

Why does this happen? It is not only the strict inner judgement with which the creator judges his creations and which is cancelled by ‘self-expression’. It is also about the rarely considered social side of creativity. In any mental activity, as long as it has meaning, has not become dead, has not become an empty end in itself, there is the beginning of a competition. There is creative power, there are rules for its application, there are judges and evaluators.

The beginning of competition is leaving culture before our eyes, because competition presupposes both strict rules and limitation of the number of participants. The rules are cancelled by ‘self-expression’ and the number of participants becomes unlimited: although the printing press dies, it is replaced by other means of disseminating thoughts. Competition is destroyed in spite of loud words about democracy, although what could be more democratic than competition?

And what is more curious: the ‘liberation movement’ of the last centuries was above all concerned with eliminating the competition of values (i. e. ‘democracy’). The liberators knew that their values would never gain general support.  The first step on this path was to abandon the generally accepted rules of valuation. In literature, say, judge a writer not by his thought and style but by his ‘courage and honesty’. Also good is ‘diversity’ (the latest vogue) as a measure of merit. The key is to confuse the rules and call in inexperienced or just plain unfit evaluators.

Liberation, taken as a philosophy and an independent goal, has always been hostile to the beginnings of competition and free choice. The ‘liberated’ writers were not asked whether to break the Russian spelling; the ‘liberated’ people were not asked what they thought about the destruction of temples. Coercion and the whip are the first means of the liberators.

However, we have wandered away from our subject.

Let us summarise what has been said: if we use the same word (for example, ‘art’) to call something with clear rules and with a limited number of participants and evaluators, and something that does not meet such a definition, then it is necessary to invent another name for one of these subjects. It is possible not to invent another name, but then we will be confused and compare things that are not comparable to each other.

So, we have come to division. The need to shout out, to ’declare disagreement’, to establish oneself through association with similar people is the need for ‘opinions’. It is a social need that divides and binds people. The ‘shouting out’ has no universal binding value… It is only by misunderstanding that this need is mixed (more and more) with another need: the need for solitary thought, which does not unite, on the contrary — it leads away into the wilderness, and which is valued by society the more, the more this society, by its nature, is further from the crowd. The individual seeks depth and originality; the crowd seeks signs of kinship and repulsion, to attack and flee together…

Depth of thought and the notorious ‘diversity of opinion’ are opposed to each other. Deeply thought-out, whole views of life are never plentiful; most people prefer to adopt one or another deeply developed view rather than develop it on their own, and that is natural. ‘Diversity’ is possible only for opinions that are unfounded, ill-considered, not arising from a deep understanding of their subject, in short, for opinions that are superficial. It is good for first-graders, not for a mature society.

Let us nurture thoughts and refrain from opinions.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

Back to Twilight Time

Views: 39