By Euan Merrilees, Third Year, Philosophy
An opinion piece about hating opinion pieces… I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite. In fact, for the purposes of this article, I very much am.
I hate clickbait titles with a burning passion. They are deceptive, disingenuous, despicable, and devoid of imagination. And yet here I am! By lying in the title, I have whetted your appetite for some edgy ‘hot take’, only to disappoint when you realise that I don’t actually hate all opinion pieces.
It’s just that ‘The current form of discourse in news media is disheartening because it could be so much better’ is not a very engaging title.
To be clear, I don’t hate the idea of opinion pieces. In their truest and most virtuous form, they encourage empathy, protect the voices of the disenfranchised, and encapsulate the absolute best aspects of public discourse.
Most modern clickbait articles do not serve this noble function. At best they provide a diverting three minutes of mild entertainment. At worst they are social propaganda, trying to conscript the reader to their cause and to turn them against any traitor or tyrant that may oppose them.
You may be thinking that I’m sitting here in a tin foil hat yelling about smoke when there is no fire, but I cannot be the only one who is dismayed by the current state of political discourse.
It has become so polarised. So ‘them and us’. ‘You’re with us or against us.’
The news should make people think about current events, it should not tell people what to think. People writing opinion pieces should be interested in a search for the truth, not writing as if they work in the ministry of truth.
Most modern clickbait articles do not serve this noble function
Should we abolish opinion pieces? No! Absolutely not. They are a cornerstone of democracy. So why the vitriol? The reason I am harsh is that opinion pieces can, and have been, vital to the safeguarding of the world we live in.
News media is an essential lubricant in the machinery of democracy, and when it don’t perform its function, parts start breaking. For opinion pieces to be great again, they need to embrace what made them great in the first place: their ability to protect the downtrodden.
Sometimes I catch myself feeling nostalgic for the state-controlled media of Singapore where I grew up. It was a lot simpler back then: the state was always right and dissidents knew their place.
What a morally dubious state of affairs. The Singaporean state is lightning in a bottle. Out here in the real world opinion pieces have a vital function not just to act as a check on malpractice, but to protect our basic rights.
The reason I am harsh is that opinion pieces can, and have been, vital to the safeguarding of the world we live in
If some government genius comes up with a policy that swindles a part of the population, we get to see the story from the disenfranchised point of view. This is one of the key reasons why free speech is so important as a basic right.
We need to speak up when we are being trodden on. When something does not work or is unjust, voices need to be heard. The plight people face must be recognised.
Authorities need to be kept in check. People’s lives must be made better. Opinion pieces offer a unique opportunity for all this to happen. When someone shares their struggle, it offers a wonderful channel where empathy can flow and unite.
On the flip side, it allows whatever lawmaker or offending party to share their story – their side of things. Often, why people believe a certain thing is a lot more enlightening than the thing they believe.
Often, why people believe a certain thing is a lot more enlightening than the thing they believe
When things are reduced in this way, we find that most people tend to want the same thing: a world that can work for everyone. Political deliberation and discourse can be far healthier. We can search for keyhole solutions to the world’s big problems, rather than entrench ourselves in our cognitive biases.
Opinion articles need not come from just the apparent oppressor and the oppressed. We should hear the voices of experts; from political scientists, open-minded economists, acclaimed academics, astute social commentators.
The world does not need opinions from someone like me: ill-informed and most certainly ideologically motivated by a whole spiderweb of cognitive biases.
In this article, I’ve sought to prove that discourse is good and those who are polarized into false dichotomies are misguided.
Is this article so different than the ones I raged against? I will leave that for you to decide.
Featured Illustration: Alice Proctor, Head of Illustration
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