A Seat at the Table

Everyone old enough to think for themselves has formed opinions. This is a normal part of our intellectual nature. In the online world opinions can be found in everything from Social Media and blogs, to op-ed articles and comment sections. It seems everyone has an opinion and the venues for stating them are there, but it’s not an equal opportunity playing field. Only within certain groups are opinions given any meaningful acknowledgment. For the rest of us it can be a real struggle to assert ourselves and our right to expression and participation.

Opinion writing for citizens is a form of passive resistance, and one of the few means available to state our concerns and frustrations in a controlled way. Unfortunately, legitimacy and recognition of an opinion is given only when an opinion comes from someone of professional or public standing. For those of us who do not meet that criteria, our opinions are readily dismissed regardless of quality, relevance, or intent. Citizen opinions are thought to be formed out of ignorance and stupidity and therefore lacking merit, but this too is nothing more than an opinion. Everyone forms opinions according to available information, and there is often much that is withheld, distorted, or misrepresented according to whims of the powers that be.

However, awareness of what is happening in the world has been heightened and we can now observe for ourselves more fully, in a way previously unknown, the real depth of the propaganda – those biases, personal interests, and agendas that exist and that we are continually exposed to. We now have access to more diverse news sources than ever before and no longer have to be confined to a narrow pre-determined and controlled selection. This has become a thorn in the side for those who have positions of power, authority, and the ear of the public as it has become harder for them to further their own agendas with impunity.

Governments and Politicians – They have been busy engaging in selling arms, destabilizing regions, and creating enemies. This has been one of their principle activities for decades but now, thanks to the internet, this activity has become common knowledge among the many rather than the few. Tight controls of story lines with little questioning is no longer such an easy feat and they struggle to retain this control daily. Incidents involving increased rhetoric and questionable actions with possible negative consequences have continued to rise and people are upset, disillusioned, and concerned – as they should be. I believe this to be a huge factor in the increasing surveillance that we are subject to whether they admit to it or not. They fear eventual fallout of their actions – as they should.

Journalism – There are many excellent journalists who take seriously their vocation and produce first-rate work – sometimes at the risk of their personal safety – but the integrity of the field as a whole has declined. Too many have become the mouth pieces of those in power and spew out the propaganda as instructed. They know which side their bread is buttered on and make no apologies for it. It shows in the mediocre quality of the work they produce and the lack of ethics they exhibit. Many in the journalism field complain that citizen journalists- which include opinion writers- do not have the education and training to perform the job properly, let alone come to any informed opinions. Yet many journalists don’t perform the job properly either, and the opinions they write are not always any better formulated than if it had been written by an average citizen. Education and training alone guarantees nothing.

Intellectuals and Business People – They too suffer from bias and are influenced by politics. It has been my experience that if you want to study an historical event or person you must read multiple sources if you want a broad perspective. Otherwise in many cases you will come away from it with the scholars’ own – another form of propaganda. They are too occupied with political correctness and cultivating their own social place and advancement. People in business (public and private) are focused on outward appearances as well as increasing their net worth. It is not advantageous for them to consider much else. These two groups in particular rely on specific, and often ambiguous, language and rituals which makes it difficult for them to be understood and challenged – yet it is important that they are.

Those mentioned above, with few exceptions, base their thoughts and actions within very narrowly defined parameters. They are willing participants within the system they exist in and benefit from, but repeatedly the system is being exposed as the dysfunctional and shortsighted mess that it is. The very fact we are all affected gives us the right, and some may say the duty, to not only have opinions but to voice them as well.

Common sense is often lacking (we see this in practice repeatedly) yet citizen opinions tend to be disregarded even though we are in a position to see and experience the effects of policies in real time. Personal and life experiences are invaluable tools that are as important as formal education and should be utilized. Each has their place and worth and to value one while discounting the other is detrimental in the long run.

I certainly object to the view that the opinions of citizen journalists are irrelevant. By speaking out we are throwing doubt on their positions and calling into question the right by the minority to dominate and mold the opinions and lives of the majority. It is my belief that through their own ill-advised actions and words they have forfeited the right to complain about mine. The right to think, form opinions, and express them should belong to all.

Not all opinions are going to be informed or intelligent, but this is true on both sides of the divide. Just because someone is in a position of power or influence doesn’t mean their opinions are automatically intelligent and worthy of attention. Just as it doesn’t mean that citizen opinions aren’t. That is a ridiculous assumption to make. Our perspective is often different – our views may come from a different place – but that doesn’t mean our concerns are not valid or without merit.

There is much talk today about the ever increasing divide between the rich and the poor. This is much more than mere talk as the realities of it are borne out every day throughout the world. But this divide encompasses more than just economics. It affects every aspect of our lives and has consequences not only for individuals but also increasingly for whole communities also. We are losing much. For those of us who have freedom of expression to any degree, it is important that we not lose our voices as well. Expressing opinions is one of the few ways available for citizens to assert views, concerns, and ideas – for now that is. We must make the most of it.

Many of the problems faced by the world today are the result of failed and agenda driven policies by various so-called experts. Since the rest of us are forced to live with the consequences we have more than earned, and should demand, our own seat at the table.

“Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it.”     ~Martha Gellhorn