A Charlatan by Design

Home Archived Opinion A Charlatan by Design

by Paul Smith

“Belief is the death of intelligence.” – Robert Anton Wilson

My fundamental approach to life, and with it, all matters of intellectual deliberation, is one of agnosticism. I do not mean this so much in the religious sense, but rather, I try to consider all of life’s pertinent questions with cautious hesitancy.

I must confess such an approach does not accord very well with my new function as blogger and opinion-writer extraordinaire.

The problem lies in the very design of opinion writing.

The standard opinion format goes as follows: the writer of the piece will usually identify a problem, and then offer his criticisms, usually supporting his critiques with factual or background information, and then the writer will offer a solution to the said problem.

To be taken seriously, I need to present myself in way which suggests my ability to identify problems and offer solutions holds weight and merit – true grit and gravitas, if you will.

Such opining requires a degree of chutzpah and certitude – qualities which utterly clash with agnosticism.

Ultimately when composing these pieces, I am forced to write in the point-of-view of a character, a character I have invented for this specific purpose – the character of Mr. Opinion.

Mr. Opinion must always forge that delicate balance between attempting to come off as informed and resolute, while also not sounding too arrogant and condescending.

And as a result, Mr. Opinion is often a charlatan.

Mr. Opinion can be a bullheaded, myopic know-it-all who has a solution to everything and is capable of browbeating opponents into submission through the sheer loftiness of his ego.

Meanwhile, the mild-mannered “Paul Smith” has very few solutions to anything, sometimes meditates while listening to recordings of whale sounds, thought Rachel Getting Married was a great film, and is actually quite squishy to the touch.

Mr. Opinion is the Hyde to my Jekyll. And the structure of opinion writing is the potion I drink causing the transformation.

Here’s an example of what I mean:  In real life, even though I considered the argument the Bush administration presented for war against Iraq to be an obvious sham, I never took any strong position either for or against military action.

I always felt to take such a stance was to assume more than I knew. I did not know definitively the real reasons why the Bush administration felt it necessary to remove Saddam Hussein, therefore I felt taking a solid posture one way or the other would be presumptuous and overreaching.

At best, I am qualified to offer educated speculation – and that goes for all topics which I offer up my views.

However, Mr. Opinion’s job is to spin the speculation into gospel. He accomplishes this trick through the smoke and mirrors of syntax (I’m doing it right now and you’re probably not even aware of it).

Now, it may be obvious to many at this point that this very piece I am currently writing criticizing the inherent design of most opinion pieces is in itself following the basic format for which I am castigating.

I have identified a problem: how the restrictive design structure of opinion writing transforms me into Mr. Opinion.

I have offered background information: my agnosticism, e.g. my unwillingness to take a position on the Iraq war, and how this just doesn’t jive with Mr. Opinion’s primary function.

Now all I have left to do is offer a solution and the “opinion piece” hat-trick will be complete.

For once, Mr. Opinion has no solution – and if you believe that, I have several cases of snake-oil to sell you.

Here’s the non-solution solution: I urge any would-be readers to not take anything I write all that seriously – including that which you are presently reading.

Never trust a charlatan, even one by design. Because you never know whom will be writing, Jekyll or Hyde.

I think I feel the potion wearing off…

Leave a Reply