The importance of being hip

I got hit with a real “shut up” moment, recently. “You got a lot of theories about what’s gone wrong, but until you got solutions…” — a moment I paused to meditate on, which was later revisited when the same person repeated a rumor they’d heard as fact that (easily) proved to be a product of urban legend.

I have no doubt that the person in question would never have thought to link the two moments, even though to my way of thinking, the fact of their connection is self-evident. But this leaves me to suspect that, in the interest of demonstrating proper deference or possibly garden-variety indecision and confusion, I haven’t ever clearly articulated my “message”.

So here it is: Be hip.

There is some argument about the etymology of the term, and it comes to bear in this instance because I consider the conflicting definitions antithetical to one another. As it tends to be used, it can be loosely considered equivalent to “fashionable”, however it also means to be cosmopolitan in outlook and well informed and anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always agitated to promote acceptance of the latter definition, largely because it has no parallel term that conveys the same nuance.

To expand this into further specificity, it means to cultivate a historical and contemporary frame of reference that allows one to understand the events of the day in context.

But this isn’t saving the Earth or ending nuclear proliferation or creating jobs or even conserving water. Focusing on obtaining and validating information is abstract and has no concrete impact on the material world. But whoever said “opinions are like assholes” had a tragically malformed understanding of the nature of opinion.

Should you and I disagree, it’s highly unlikely that I will change your mind or vice versa. The reasons for this are myriad and better addressed in a separate essay. While there are obvious exceptions with respect to considerations like celebrity or authority, for the most part, the average person carries forward their opinions with little interest in changing them, and only rarely succeed in changing anyone’s mind without great effort. This is further compounded by either the lack of impact in offering counter factual evidence or the appearance of that lack. This would seem to validate the idea that opinion has little to no appreciable impact on real-world issues.

Which is precisely backwards. Opinion informs decisions which translate as action, and the value of a correctly informed opinion is not to persuade anyone else, but to inform our own actions as a consequence. But most of our families muddled through an atomic-family, judeo/christian humanist upbringing, and as a consequence, we tend to associate “doing good” with “smiting evil”.

This tends to wind up involving smiting the wrong party and more often, a lot of waiting around to smite with very little actual smiting taking place.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole framework of misinformation propping the whole thing in place. The trick is not to repeat correct information and change anyone’s mind, it’s to be one of many people repeating that same information. File it under “message control”.

If one were to posit that the world is filled with misguided and clueless people, it would be a meaningless and sophomoric observation; the proper take away is to recognize the importance of not being one of them or, by extension, contributing to the underlying causes of this circumstance. The most direct way to do so is to justify apathy as a consequence of feeling ineffectual.

As it happens, I responded to the original remark by declining to speak further on the topic. After a sense, I feel somewhat guilty, since this might further this individual’s sense that I only present them anecdotally as an example of all that is bad and wrong with the world, yet it’s nothing so judgmental and extrospective as that. The nature of the incident is trivial; it merely illustrates a principle I’ve given some thought to and this essay completes a thought that occurred to me at the time but was never expressed.

This is core to who I am; ultimately, it doesn’t matter if anyone else participates or not.

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  • Comments (4)
    • Max Bell
    • August 8th, 2010

    Alternately? I could have just said “never tell me to shut up”. XD

      • Max Bell
      • August 8th, 2010

      Hey, guys! I’ve got an idea! A vampire police procedural!

      See? Sometimes I do know when to stifle myself.

    • babaganusz
    • August 9th, 2010

    sign me up! (for participation, and for the procedural)

    • babaganusz
    • August 9th, 2010

    it matters to more than one person. not that that inherently justifies it 😉 but there are plenty of other ways to nail the justification thing. if i ever became a professor i would expand the field of neurometajustification.

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