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"a recipe for creating dystopia"

Karl Marx insisted that religion was the opium of the people. These days, though, I think that opinions have replaced religion as the opium of the people, or maybe, to wax more thoroughly modern, the Oxycodone of the people now. I call them Opiniums in side-smirking homage to their addictive presence.

The phone rings and it's someone seeking my opinion on the subject of Death Taxes. I ask what the heck he means by Death Taxes and he sounds a little stunned by my question.
He produces no crisp response, so I volunteer to help, providing a brief overview of the history of inheritance taxes, why they were levied, and the modern emergence of the misleading Death Taxes label. He seems flummoxed, as if uncertain where to proceed next. I offer my strong opinion against affixing misleading meme-labels to complex issues, though I know that doesn't directly answer his question. I manage to keep him on the phone for a good twenty minutes, which means he wasn't bothering anyone else with his misleading question during that time. We have a semi-delightful conversation and he hangs up, hopefully a tiny bit wiser.

I hold my opiniums as if they were an inherited fortune, though they're not nearly as tangible. They might represent my sense of right and wrong without ever once dabbling in fact. They aren't dependent upon any stinking facts, but on feelings, which might have as easily been influenced by some slick pitchman as more diligent inquiry. Like feelings, opinions might just happen, with me making up meanings to associate with them after. Why do I prefer pistachio over chocolate? It might prove more productive for both of us if I counter your question by asking why you ask THAT question. Or, I could quickly cobble together an answer in the moment, one that might satisfy without really informing you. Is "I don't know" a valid response?

The petition pusher corners me in the grocery store parking lot, asking how I feel about the traffic situation. She's obviously come to a strong enough opinion about how she feels that she's out ginning up signatures from like-minded people. If I stop to ask, I'll discover that she, too, has dressed up her question in a cascading display of inciting (rather than insightful) memes, perhaps hoping to tap into an anger I'd until then been unaware of, to goad me into signing the petition. I always ask if I can have a piece of paper explaining the issue and she never has one. I decline to form an instant opinion and promise to do some homework. Maybe we'll bump into each other again before the deadline.

With the advent of modern polling, opiniums seem to have become the political currency. Opinion polls tell us what everyone else is thinking without informing us about the nature of the opinioners tallied. It's a safe bet that many of those polled made up their opinion on the spot, as I might, or responded in some way that they thought might please the pollster, or that the question had been meme-ified into what's called a begging question, one which reliably yields the desired response. Of course I'm against taxing death!

I imagine trying to pilot an airplane by the means of opinium polling. I ask the altimeter how high we are and it responds by asking after my opinion on the issue. The altimeter, shifting into a role perhaps better described as altimidator, insists upon polling the passengers before coming to a conclusion, the passengers being comprised of every experience level from seasoned filers to lap-bound infants, none of whom manage to survive the collision with the fourteener while the altimidator completes his survey.

Our insistence upon querying after opiniums often renders us clueless. Sure, we can revel in the fleeting recognition that we, on this issue, hold what appears to be the majority opinion, but what does that buy us? It might be that democracies are destined to be influenced by opiniums rather than by facts, and that the success of any party, any candidate, utterly and solely depends upon engineering consent by manipulating the opiniums of the governed. This seems like a recipe for creating dystopia.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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