On being sick of opinions…

THE other day the broadcaster Tom Sutcliffe tweeted that he was “utterly sick of opinions, including all of my own. I’d quite like a week of being as thoughtless as a cow”.

Perhaps Tom was tired of curating all the wordy talking heads on BBC Radio Four’s Saturday Review. Perhaps he was just tired of being required to have opinions all the damn time.

Whatever the case, his words had resonance. Yes, I thought, opinions form a quarrelsome queue around every aspect of life, and they form a quarrelsome queue in your own head, too.

Strongly put opinions are what gave us Brexit and Trump, so often lumped together by the liberal disillusioned as a terrible double act. With Brexit, the pro-opinions are much stronger than they have any logical right to be. Put simply, how can something of unknown outcome have been sold to us as being of unquestionable good.

It can’t, but it was.

Brexit was oversold to us, and the Remain case was undersold by a complacent crew headed by David Cameron (comfortable whereabouts now unknown).

The world is full of opinionated people, from grumblers writing blogs to that congregation of horribly self-assured egotistical men who mess up our lives (they’re not all men, but it does seem like it at times). There they always are, shouting at us. Farage and Johnson and Gove and the gang. All so sure of themselves, all so certain they are right.

So full of arrogant opinions they make us feel sick.

Anyway, this was my train of thought yesterday when another tweet popped up, this time from Helen Pidd, north of England editor of The Guardian.

Helen was passing on news that the T&A newspaper in Bradford had turned off the comments on its website. The paper said it was not against “robust debate on issues of public interest” but added that a vocal minority was intent on abusing the ability to comment.

“They lurk beneath even the most innocuous of stories to grind out personal grudges, rail against the council or the T&A or – worse – pollute the comments section with hate-filled, racist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic tirades”.

Those comments do represent a difficulty for websites, as they allow cowards to hide behind their anonymity and spit abuse safe in the knowledge that they will remain unaccountable.

The Yorkshire Post editor, James Mitchinson, tweeted in reply the hope that readers’ letters will rise again.

This may be so and, as a sometime letters’ editor, I do like a letters page. Yet it still seems to be a shame to cut off all comments, as this goes against the idea of democratising opinion.

In the past, readers only found an outlet for their views if they wrote to the editor – and if they wrote in green ink, you knew to take a deep breath before reading. Quite why the ranting brigade favoured green ink is just one of those mysteries.

In shutting off comments, the T&A is silencing the sensible majority along with the malignant minority. I think that represents a loss.

Ideally, the comments section represents a chance for everyone to have a say, and this has now gone. Perhaps it is a staffing issue, as keeping an eye on those rolling comments, and weeding out the unsuitable ones, is a full-time job.

The T&A shares an editor with the Press here in York, and at the time of writing, the Press website still allows comments.

As for my own opinions, for sure sometimes I am sick of those, although having none would stymie blogging. Feel free to comment on any of this, should you wish.

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