Opinion Fatigue Syndrome is the latest disease of modern life

It is time to come clean. For some time now I have been suffering from a disabling condition, one that I have been able, by and large, to keep hidden from all but my closest friends. I followed this course because I felt a certain shame and a reluctance to expose myself to the pity of "normal" associates. But I have come to believe that silence serves no one, particularly not those similarly afflicted.

Where other ailments have their support networks and charities, their awareness-raisers and lobby groups, we have, as yet, nothing. So let me state boldly that I am suffering from Opinion Fatigue Syndrome. The symptoms, should you be anxious, are relatively straightforward - sufferers may discover that they are unable to hold an intellectual position for more than two minutes without shooting pains behind the eyes; some display an involuntary, fluttering droop of the eyelids when they hear the words "What do you think about ...?"; others experience giddiness and nausea when listening to Call Nick Ross.

Indeed, provisional research suggests that talk radio may be a powerful vector for the disease; I first suspected that I was a sufferer, for example, when I was rung up by a local radio station, temporarily out of stock of opinions and seeking to download some by telephone. "We're doing a discussion about X," said the researcher. "I wonder if you have an opinion on that." "I'm afraid I don't," I replied with what was then an unaccountable testiness, "and what's more I don't want to have one, either." Had I suggested that all school-age children should be issued with Baby Berettas and 200 rounds of ammunition I think she would have been less shocked. That, at least, would have been an opinion - a controversial opinion, what's more, which is gold-top stuff as far as local radio is concerned. But to flaunt my naked apositionality like that, to wallow shamelessly in my conviction deficit, was a kind of blasphemy against the very idea of the discussion programme. I was a little shocked myself.

Since then the symptoms have grown in strength. Among the hundreds of subjects on which I find myself almost incapable of holding a consistent opinion are: the effect of television violence on small children, the merits of dog licences, whether the Booker prize is good or bad for literature, and the moral necessity of recycling empty bottles. Some might argue that this disables me for my current profession - that a columnist who cannot confidently opine is as dangerous as a blind air traffic controller. To which I can only say that while a blind air traffic controller is not qualified to maintain the system, he or she may be well placed to question it. Freed from the distraction of having to ensure that jumbo jets don't collide over Hyde Park, they could ask whether all this frantic, sky-cluttering aviation is really necessary. In much the same way, my condition has forced me to question the merit of having opinions at all.

What is the real value of that great ruck of opinion formers, those ceaseless production lines churning out half-baked ideas for people to wolf down on their way home from work so that they can regurgitate them later, slightly the worse for wear after their passage through the intellectual system? ("Did I really swallow that?", you think sometimes, as some half- digested opinion about EC fisheries policy exits your mouth.) Perhaps people should have fewer opinions, not more. There is some historical backing for this: the Oxford English Dictionary's first citation for opinion is a "judgement resting on grounds insufficient for complete demonstration". Milton nicely rephrases this in Areopagitica. "Opinion in good men", he writes, "is but knowledge in the making." These days, though, opinion is no longer an intermediate station on the way to somewhere better - it is a terminus beyond which the line of reason does not run. More radical Opinion Fatigue sufferers, incidentally, have suggested we posthumously enlist Milton to the cause, in the manner of those celebrity endorsement posters for Parkinson's Disease, but I would argue that this is a peculiarly 20th-century pathology, dependent on modern media for its aetiology. In any case, the chattering classes that Milton had in mind when he wrote of "good men" were tiny compared to our burgeoning private-sector opinionate. Many of his contemporaries never encountered an opinion from one year's end to the next; they had fixed beliefs, thoughtful or not, and exchanged information. These days, the oppressive democratisation of opinion is complete - you can't even be sure of walking down the street without a vox-pop crew asking to see your intellectual papers or a pollster seeking to monitor how the latest crop is doing in the mulch of popular opinion.

Why do opinion-makers make opinions? Because we don't all have the time to make our own, and yet we mustn't be caught without them (this is shown by the boom in revision aids for the opinionately challenged - snack journalism such as The Guardian's Pass Notes). To say you have no opinion is not simply to acknowledge that you know so little about the subject that utterance would be grotesque - it is virtually to disqualify yourself from citizenship. Well, I'm not ashamed any more. Given the nature of my disability, of course, I can't guarantee that I will feel the same way next week, but right now I'm out and I'm proud

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?