Public opinion, meet wisdom.

Public Opinion is a creature of habit. A long-limbed, colossally influential organism exercising daily reach in all life. She lives, breathes, digests what’s offered before her and as she grows, she grows on you. In the lazy humdrum of the passing days, she is reposed on the couch of heedlessness because apathy is a stupefying disease and her immunity is low. Then at certain magical moments, when the conditions are just right, she unfolds her blinding, blossomed form that embodies the very core of what is perspicacious, potent and wakeful in the world. It is during these moments that she incites revolution - of ideas and thoughts - and lifts us up. And pushes us forward.

She is the oppressor at one morrow and the defender of the oppressed at another. And wherever she rests in this spectrum at any given point, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

In democracy she is the known voice of the people. This is where she, it’s supposed, is the self-evident truth. But even when clamped beneath the claw of tyranny, she is, in the quiet pain, coursing timidly below the surface, betwixt its calloused claws, simmering and gathering herself, waiting for the day to rear her beauteous head. For when she finally speaks, her voice is heard.

Public opinion is the ultimate settler. It holds within its grasp the political, civil and ideological stance of society. As Mark Twain remarked, “Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God…” Or is it?

It’s certain that the voice of the people matters a tremendous deal, and it prevails. Problem is, as a marker it is often flawed, hailing a misconception, prejudice or an uninformed conclusion as undeniable truth. And there’s the rub. At such time, this god of Twain is a hollow idol. Rather than an organic philosophy in flux and progress, it is stubborn and impermeable to wise counsel or the potent spark latent in the clash of a different idea. Herein stem all the tragedies of humanity.

She is reposed…

Public opinion’s stronghold on policy, in most current modes of governance and industry, is moulded by the politics of profit, blame and whatever sways votes. It is true that public opinion results in policy, sure, but partisan politics can guilefully and craftily twist public opinion to suit any policy it purports. So the question remains, is public opinion the voice of the people or the voice the people are given?

After all, even in the lands of freedom and justice for all, public opinion is too often conceived, fed and polled by money for money, or power for power. So I must ask: With what form of mallet can we crack this chicken and egg dilemma?

The child-like, open and non-cynical pursuit of truth is, perhaps, life’s weighty task. According to Albert Einstein, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” Following the habits of others, the ideas and beliefs of others, and acting as others, is the easy work of the ungracefully aged, inertia-driven and inspiration-devoid. Is this limitation of the mind not self-inflicted oppression? “There is no greater oppression than to seek after the truth and not be able to find it,” writes Baha’u'llah.

This conundrum where truth and wisdom play chess with public opinion is where our collective conscience comes to life. Here Socrates’ words in the Crito apply sharply, where he advises his friend to follow the opinion of the wise rather than the public one:

But why should you, blessed Crito,
care about what the many think?
For the most reasonable, who are more worth considering,
will think these things were done as they actually were.

…If only, Crito, the many were able
to accomplish the greatest evil,
so that they would also be able to do the greatest good,
and that would be beautiful;
but now they do neither one;
for they are able to make one neither wise nor unwise,
but they do whatever happens by chance.

So when a sheep to public opinion, human activity is a game of chance? And so we wait for the next tipping point, opinion’s next shift over a precipice of chance, neither good nor bad, and into freefall, unfettered and released into new ideas, and, we hope, good habits? And then will we look back and laugh at our old ways, wondering what took us so long? Why all the suffering? You bet we will, because if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s change. But when is a tipping point? As every 5 year old passenger astutely poses in that salient universal question, “Are we there yet?” The answer is no. But ask long enough and it’s bound to be yes. Then, of course, after a short respite, we repeat that question on the way to another destination.

I was reading a statement from a man content under oppression that sums our situation well - whether you refer to his original context (political) or more aptly, a cultural, spiritual or ideological one: “We may be forfeiting our freedoms, as you say, but… why would we risk everything to take on the regime? We have to wait until society itself is disillusioned, and the masses open their eyes.”

Waiting for the masses… This is the general pre-occupation of an apathetic lot, this humanity, you and I. I guess we just hope that some people, somewhere, don’t wait. These sort exist you know, and as their juvenile passengers repeat that perennial and annoying question, they drive.

Find them, and ask their opinion.

5 Responses to “Public opinion, meet wisdom.”

  1. 1 The Commentator November 13, 2006 at 10:07 am

    I will not leave a comment since my opinion is obsolete.

  2. 2 Victor November 14, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    Earlier today I had a similar thought, on a much less profound level than your post, when I went to the ice cream store and asked, “Which flavor is your most popular?” Although in that instance, the wisdom of the masses proved to be accurate. ;-)

  3. 3 Misagh November 14, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Yes, it seems that popular opinion agrees unanimously with popular choice - I hope it was lemon sorbet, pistachio, creamy vanilla and fudge chocolate. But I am resigned to a likely popular choice of napolitana or something with strawberry. :-)

  4. 4 adeline November 20, 2006 at 6:35 am

    Sorry Missagh, this is irrelevant to your blog. I can’t find your email address ANYWHERE! Email me if you can, before or after you leave Sydney. I’ve got pics of your darling ladies on my blog. Take care and love.

  5. 5 Misagh May 30, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    This post still seems to get hits. Then say something!

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