Deep Thought: Cars and Helicopters

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Deep Thought: Cars and Helicopters

Helicopter on top of a building in Dubois, PA

The other Sunday, I was a bit nonplussed to hear the preacher start off by saying something about 'Life, the Universe, and Everything.' I waited for the inevitable '42', but it didn't come. Instead, he donned a pair of what looked to me like Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses and said he was talking about something called a 'world view'. He went on to make his points about that.

As you can probably guess, I'm not one for moaning that social media and the internet in general are destroying civilisation as we know it. I tend to regard the internet as a gift from heaven because of what it lets me do. But I do believe there's one tendency of social media that we need to be wary of: the way it encourages people to identify themselves by their opinions. Commercial interests want your opinions. They need to know whether you prefer scented or unscented soap, Fords or Chevys, chocolate or vanilla. Because they want to sell you things.

Otherwise, opinions are worthless. They're often based on incomplete information. You might change yours once you know more. Or your circumstances change. Anyway, who cares whether you prefer this music to that music? It's nothing to me. I don't care if you're passionately devoted to Chinese cuisine unless we actually need to book a restaurant. Otherwise, it's a conversational non-starter. 'You like that?' I yawn. 'Uh, that's nice.' Now, if your knowledge of Chinese cooking were in some way relevant to a really interesting story, that would be another matter.

The two things people on the internet tend to waste their time doing are telling everybody else their consumer choices, and repeating questionable information. Put a sock in it, people. Don't share information unless it's asked for, and you've vetted it thoroughly. Otherwise, you're contributing to the problem.

A 'worldview' is pretty much an opinion. It may (or may not, says Vroomfondel) be backed up by actual expertise in the area of the world about which one has a view. For example, a mechanic may have relevant opinions about your car. You may pay attention to those opinions, taking into account that he may (or may not) be trying to sell you an unnecessary upgrade. He may have a boat payment due, as the Magliozzi Brothers used to warn us.

But I don't care how much expertise people claim: there are things they don't know. Those things usually fall under the category of 'Life, the Universe, and Everything', ultimate answer to. And guess what? That's what most people have the most definite opinions on.

We don't know.

If I'm driving down the road to Brookville, there are many moments when I don't know what's very far ahead of me. It's a winding road that goes up and down hill a lot. You can't see over that horizon. But if, as threatened by the road sign, there's actually aerial surveillance – say, a helicopter flying over – the person up in the air can look down and see far more than I can in the car. It's a matter of viewpoint, not point of view. But there is something I can do, which is to drive carefully, stay on my side of the road, and remember that I can't see over that hill.

Let's keep this in mind and talk about something other than endless opinions. We can help one another by sharing knowledge – information, even – but we need to separate it from mere opinions designed to sort us into consumer groups. And under it all, when we say we're looking for meaning, or truth, or whatever, let's keep in mind that it behooves us to be humbler than that. We're in a car, not a helicopter.


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Dmitri Gheorgheni

29.03.21 Front Page

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