People used to keep their opinions to themselves. In part society brought us up fearful of self-expression, because historically, if your opinion did not coincide with others you might find yourself in trouble. To be opinionated was a criticism. To be able to express an opinion one would need to be important and have access to media: a politician, an established journalist, a member of the academic elite or a newspaper editor. All would be very cautious, for a word out of place could lead to many unpleasant consequences.
For most of the twentieth century there was a gradual move towards increased vocality. Then came social media: Facebook, Twitter and the Blog and Vlog sites changed everything. There are endless opportunities for self-expression and the sheer weight of the numbers of opinions render it slightly safer to express one’s own views. Would one more opinion hurt? It will perhaps hardly be noticed.
We might say that the public is so much better informed today, with access to twenty-four hour a day news media, blogs, tweets and pictures. It would be nice to think so, but greater volume of material certainly does not equate to higher quality of information. It is merely noise, and it is more than likely that the more news media that exists, the lower on average will be the quality of the news data that comes from that media each minute. The pearls of wisdom may be hard to distinguish from the political fuzz and verbal garbage driven by a need to find something to say for twenty-four hours every day. This adds excellent camouflage for my own words.
Social media has given us all a voice, and we all love the sound of our own voices, and so we speak, often ignoring what we hear as we think our words are so very much more useful. Even the traditional media allows us to debate and comment on articles and participate in news stories. The one way street of media providing information has a new road layout and is now two-way.
Politicians seize the chance to inflame public opinions whenever it suits them, failing dismally to comprehend the danger in what they do. Public opinion, once inflamed is hard to control, and the public is not quite as malleable as many might suppose. In the end, the truth becomes apparent, and whether it is Adam Smith’s invisible hand, or the guidance attributed to Abraham Lincoln in, “you can fool some of the people some of the time…”, what we always see is that propaganda – for that is what the manipulation of public opinion is – always fails in the end.
However, opinions often arise merely because we do not know enough to know how little we know, and for that reason we determine our opinions based on the things that are said by those we respect. Yet we rarely ask ourselves why we respect those people.
For my part, I have been in practice as a professional auditor, accountant, tax adviser and business consultant for about thirty-five years, and I have worked with the smallest of start-up businesses to multi-national household names. When I qualified in my profession I was at the height of my technical knowledge in my field, yet I knew almost nothing of any use to mankind. More than a third of a century later, I feel that the huge respect I felt then for the establishment, for the wisdom of the decisions in the Courts, for the political and economic know-how – was all misplaced. Much of what used to be seen as good is now perceived as evil. What was once thought wise is now thought foolish. Perhaps what was left is now right, and what was right is now wrong.
“Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact, the wheels have stopped
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom”,
as Bob Dylan observed in Idiot Wind (1974).
In an age where even I might publish my thoughts, we would think that individualism is the ruling force. How ironic is it then, that our world is being taken over by compliance, central control, health and safety and social acceptability. Humour has been confined to the politically correct, and satire is only acceptable if it comes with a warning that it is satire. The statues of people once revered, but also found wanting in certain ways, are pulled down in our new Utopia, where even God Himself will soon go on trial for ruthlessly drowning oppressive armies in the Red Sea. Perhaps Utopia is not quite as much fun as Sir Thomas More would have had us believe.
This blog is about personal observation and comment. Just like everyone else, I want to know what it is all about. This blog is an exploration, because I accept that I do not have all of the answers, or maybe any of them, though it is biased towards the areas in which I or my colleagues might hold some expertise. It attempts to put an alternative perspective on matters of current interest, in short writings. I hope to avoid causing offence, but if someone tries hard enough, they will always be able to take offence where none is intended – and if that’s happens, I apologise.
I need to stress one thing. I am proud to be a Principal in Hillier Hopkins, and a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). However, the views that I express in this blog are entirely personal, and do not reflect or represent in any way the views of Hillier Hopkins or any of its Principals or Staff, nor of the ICAEW nor any of its Members. I am also obliged to state that no person reading this blog or being told of its contents should place any reliance on its content, nor make any decision based on what I write in this blog without seeking suitable professional advice. Nothing in this blog is intended to be advice, financial advice, tax advice or in any other way suitable material to be relied on for any purpose whatsoever, except perhaps for amusement. And the fact that I have to say these things, rather says it all, doesn’t it?