“All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.” – W B Yeats
It is often remarked that there is nothing so boring as people without opinions. It is a sentiment that is difficult to disagree with. Only a few weeks ago, I was deriding the sort of vacuous drivel that seems to poke its ugly head up when we are devoid of beliefs. They are part and parcel of our personality. In essence, they are what makes us human. It is therefore ironic that we seem unable of moderating them.
Of course it is easy to slam those who we perceive to take things “too far” as extremists, we fear the very word itself and it’s connotations to ugly headlines. Extremism is inexorably linked to the nefarious activities of Al-Qaeda and the BNP, so we see it in our minds as something to be avoided. Yet ask the vast majority of people in the street for their opinions on a plethora of subjects and you’ll get some pretty extreme views.
Ask a bunch of people if they like One Direction for example, and they will probably in equal measure suggest their adoration or distain (probably dependent on their age) for the little pop munchkins. The correct answer in this case is, of course, “who?”, but I will leave this response out for fear of losing myself to facetiousness.
Artists, bands, sportsmen, almost everyone is either the best thing since sliced bread or utterly worthless. A group of Chelsea fans, if asked their opinion on the recently departed Andre Villas-Boas, will unanimously say that he was shit, yet 6 months ago he was the new messiah. Last weekend Theo Walcott was getting barracked by his own fans against Spurs, half an hour later he was their hero. The fickle nature of football fans is especially and comically pronounced by this very human disability to argue the middle ground. Scott Parker was considered criminally under-rated a year ago, yet the ensuing praise from the press went way too far and now we have the most mediocre England captain in history.
This only goes to demonstrate the power of the press in this battle. The headline writers deal in love and hate, because that is what the people want to read. Why bother with a balanced article, when you can rant away like Nick Griffin? The Daily Mail sells two million copies a day, yet is the written equivalent of talking to the most bigoted cabbie in London. It seems that Oscar Wilde was not far from the truth when he said “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”
Always supposedly representative of the masses, the political spectrum is equally affected. In the UK the governing party has swept from left to right wing by huge margins throughout history. Amusingly it is probably only the fact that all the parties are currently more or less the same that has led to a hung parliament. There are no extreme views, so we are apathetic. No thanks. Not interested. The total disregard for the beige policies was reflected by the fact that Nick Clegg’s ability to remember grannies’ names in debates practically became the central issue of the last election.
And therein lies the crux of it, we only seem to get animated by something we feel is a profound statement. Unfortunately most profound or original beliefs err to the side of controversy. If they didn’t they would be neither profound nor original. Next time you have a heated conversation with a group of friends, I guarantee that half will fight for a cause, while the others vehemently oppose it. No-one will take the middle ground, that particular area is so utterly boring.
The sheer existence of the position of ‘devil’s advocate’ is so intrinsically human. If you believe in something, you argue it until you’re blue in the face. If you don’t, why sit on the fence when you can have a pop from the opposing viewpoint?
It is ironic that the vast majority of solutions to human problems lie in the middle ground, as simply no-one is ever going to argue their case. We live for debate, when in reality we should strive for compromise.
Perhaps the most pertinent summation of our obsession with extreme opinions comes from that sagely character George W. Bush when he was caught on record saying:
“I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them.”
A statement it would be easy to mock if it weren’t so horribly familiar.
by Harry Harland