J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 2-7-11 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 2-7-11

I caught up with my old rancher friend again, the one I drove with to the Stock Show, and who commented during the trip that many people today suffer from having too many opinions, a condition he called Opinion Overload, of OO.

The gist of his comment was that the plentiful immediacy of news causes many folks to feel compelled to have opinions about things they have no influence over. The disconnect between awareness and involvement can build up as a static charge in people that discharges as pointless aggression. Like road rage, gangs, dubious wars, and so forth.

I asked him again about OO on a trip to the doctor.

“A lot of it comes from the way television has taken over,” he said. “Television is an interesting thing. Some of them are getting pretty big these days. I saw one the other day that must’ve been several feet across. My nephew has one that’s pretty near as big as he is. Anyway, if you think about it, having those big, moving pictures right there in your house, can give you the idea that what’s happening out there, good and bad, is right there in your living room. What you have to watch out for, I think, is the pictures you get may be only one point of view, or only a selected point of view.

“When I was a kid, of course, all we had was radio. If you listen to the radio, you have to imagine what’s on the other end rather than having everything put to you as a picture. Big difference there. For one thing, your mind is more active when you have to imagine, and for another thing, when people listen to the radio, each person can have a different picture in their head rather than everybody having the same picture.”

Confirming this observation, I had heard of some research about the 9/11 attacks that indicated people who watched it on television over and over again were more likely to be traumatized, paranoid, or motivated to an excessive violent response than people who either didn’t watch it all, or watched it once or twice.

I asked him what he thought of the situation in Tunis and Egypt.

“I shouldn’t have an opinion, and really, I don’t. All I know is it’s interesting that the revolutions over there are run by young folks using Twitter and Facebook. I don’t even know what those are, but I can guess that they come with the small computers and phones people have these days. I’m not sure democracy works well with too many people in charge. The few times I’ve been in elected office, in small things like the school board or ditch board, I’ve found out that most people don’t want to be informed, they just want to have an opinion. If the people with too many opinions are in charge, running government by electronics and cell phones, I don’t think they’ll be very happy with the way it turns out.”

One of the things I like about my old friend – apart from historical perspective – is the way he can look at something I take for granted, like watching television or listening to the news, and cause me to understand it in new way. Many of the older people in our communities have this capacity, and most of them are willing to share it.

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