This is not a love song

THE OUTSIDER - Erwin T. Romulo () - February 11, 2011 - 12:00am

Is it a responsibility to have an opinion?

It’s a very astute question and a very valid one. At a time when just about everyone seems to have an opinion and has the means of expressing it via social media, it can be argued that having no opinion could be the most political act one can take these days. To say nothing, to offer nothing, to effectively withdraw from public discourse: what could be more radical?

It is also very dangerous.

“Public opinion exists only where there are no ideas,” the great wit Oscar Wilde once quipped. I agree with the sentiment, though I’d counter that there were a lot of ideas even during the time when he uttered those words. The difference now is that there is no escaping them. Arguably, Wilde’s statement is even more valid now where there are more ideas so much so that they cancel each other out. It’s practically force-fed to you wherever you turn.

(I, for one, think the new Coke Zero billboard with Solenn Heusaff, which resembles the one we shot for last year’s October issue of Uno magazine, represents an “idea” and a very potent one at that. I could write another essay from that last sentence alone. The stance of Ms. Heusaff’s body, the semaphore signaled by her fighting stance and the name of the product itself all produce an affect that even those who don’t notice it explicitly will understand implicitly. But maybe that’ll wait for another column.)  

But maybe what Wilde really meant was “good ideas” and to that we can only agree. And perhaps the real target of Wilde’s quote was to attack the so-called “wisdom of crowds.” Or, in our Christian nation, the often-repeated but much-abused Latin phrase “Vox populi, vox dei.”

From ideas spark opinion. But just because it becomes popular doesn’t mean that it isn’t right. Often, just as in the case of Nazi Germany or the foreign policies of both W. Bush and Obama especially in the Middle East, it has led to the mess that region is in now. Yup, they’re going to kill themselves to get democracy but maybe not the kind that the US would appreciate, especially with the growing power of Iran.

As one political philosopher wrote in 2003: “The history of ideas obeys a law of irony. Ideas have consequences, but rarely those their authors expect or desire, and never only those.” Why? Because they are deformed by the interpretations or (aha!) the opinions of people who find it expedient for their own purposes to exploit them. (That is, if they know it at all, I’m not quite sure how many of the current members of the Liberal Party actually understand the historical concept of liberalism, which is myriad and has many strains of thought.)

The upcoming debate on the Reproductive Health bill is not based on ideas. It is based on opinions. Or, in Roilo Golez’s case, “the Google” which led him to what he considers the definitive and dependable resource today, Wikipedia, and to cherry-pick one of the several answers given to the question of when does life begins. Even the debate of organ donation has been clouded by opinions (most of them based on faith, not ideas). If it were based on the latter then it would be worth considering the fact that dialysis is not the best solution to a person suffering from kidney failure. As early as the ‘90s, the advances of medical science had made organ transplant the best option for patients. Of course the problem is that we do not have enough organs to satisfy the demand. Despite the National Kidney Institute’s efforts to inform the public and establish a systematic scheme for organ donation, it is often too demonized by people who have opinions more informed by fear than careful study of the facts.

So, is it important to have an opinion? You’re damn well right it is. But, more than having one, it’s important to know, find out, and listen to people who believe in things that are totally in opposition to yours. Oftentimes, these people turn out to be my best friends.

Yes, have an opinion but also be tolerant of the opinions of others. Study the facts and try to tease out the ideas from the rhetoric (not an easy task with the bunch of loudmouths we have today, I’ll admit). But you must make your own. And know that it is something that you have arrived at rather than having adhered to. Even your most worthy opponents will have to respect that.

* * *

Today is Alexis Tioseco’s birthday. He was murdered along with his girlfriend, Nika Bohinc, a Slovenian national on Sept. 1, 2009. So far, despite the efforts of his friends, family, his lawyer Theodore Te and the National Bureau of Investigation’s Death Investigation Division (DID), in particular Zaldy Rivera, the case has not progressed. He lived on Times Street, only eight houses away from where PNoy used to reside. He would have been 30 years old.

Alexis and I never agreed on anything. But that made our friendship and our working relationship as writer and editor respectively as dynamic and as great as it was. I published pieces that he wrote that were directly counter to my own opinions on the subject. Why? Because Alexis expressed his opinions because he had definitely formed real ideas about the topic, based on study and listening to what everyone else had to say. He was a very good listener.

As a guest on Rock Ed Radio and the ANC program Media in Focus (both, sadly, off the air) his advantage was that he always listened intently, even to the pathetic grumblings of Carlo J. Caparas, and then would react or express his own opinion. He was always polite and did his best not to speak out of turn. Nor did he dignify put-downs of people such as Caparas, who obviously hadn’t listened to what Alexis was trying to tell him. If they had, then they might’ve had the wisdom to shut up.

He might be gone. But as Ninoy Aquino wrote: “It might be shouting at the darkness, as some may say. But then Churchill did ‘no more than sound the roar’ — and see what he achieved!”

During his short life, Alexis roared and, even now, we are only starting to fully appreciate what he achieved.

* * *

Thanks to Sarah Meier-Albano.

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