This being Sunday, obsessive browsers in the land of punditocracy like myself are presented with a surfeit of opinions, from the right, from the self-satisfied middle, and from what passes for the left in this benighted land. The opinions themselves are for the most part toothless, no danger to themselves or others, but the reading of them, I find, can be very dangerous indeed. They raise my blood pressure alarmingly. This is, I suppose what it is to be addicted -- consuming something that long experience teaches can be harmful to one's health, and yet unable to stop. My father was both an alcoholic and a nicotine addict. If necessary, he could stop drinking, but he was completely unable to stop smoking, and in the end, it was the cigarettes that killed him.
Having an opinion is at once so easy and seemingly so important. The official purveyors of opinions -- the Thomas Friedmans and Maureen Dowds and the rest -- appear to think that when they have formed an opinion they have done a good day's work, and can knock off. It is rather like those media stars, the Kardashians, who are said to be famous for being famous.
It all puts me in mind of one of the most poignant and moving passages in all of Philosophy, the Preface to Kierkegaard's short, beautiful work The Philosophic Fragments. Here he is as he begins the last long paragraph of the Preface:
"But what is my personal opinion of the matter herein being discussed? ... I could wish that no one would ask me this question; for next to knowing whether I have an opinion or not, nothing could very well be of less importance to another than the knowledge of what that opinion might be. To have an opinion is both too much and too little for my uses. To have an opinion presupposes a sense of ease and security in life, such as is implied in having a wife and children; it is a privilege not to be enjoyed by one who must keep himself in readiness night and day, or is without assured means of support."
To have an opinion about public affairs implies that one has a secure income insulated from the matters about which one has formed the opinion. Thomas Friedman will continue to live a comfortable upper-class life regardless of the total disconnect between his opinions and the events of the world. Maureen Dowd is free to write dismissively of Barack Obama as a "disappointment" because the TIMES will continue to pay her salary regardless of what happens to the auto workers in Detroit or to a gay couple in Mississippi. And of course, I sit here in a comfortable Chapel Hill condo, confident of receiving my pension and Social Security bank deposits every month, no matter how witty or penetrating or banal and superficial my blog post of the day may be.
At the same time, I am struggling to launch a program at Bennett College that may, if I have some success, help a few students to earn a college degree who otherwise might drop out. In Kierkegaard's words, when it comes to my involvement with Bennett, "to have an opinion is both too much and too little for my uses." Each day, I must make decisions with too little information and nothing like adequate resources, hoping that the choices I make will lead to at least a modest success.
The contrast between my efforts at Bennett and my self-indulgence as a blogger makes me wonder whether perhaps I should be engaged in the latter at all.