So often would my high school used to get sued by its own residents that it employed its own personal team of full-time attorneys. That was the type of high school that I went to, a high school with a large population of parents who found quite a bit to complain about… and who also happened to be acquainted with a of lawyers… or happened to be lawyers themselves.
I would arrive at this high school, Monday through Friday, as a responsible high school student, at 7:20 AM, when my bus would arrive. I would take a beeline to the cafeteria, where I would fill my Contigo thermos with coffee from the school coffee tap. I would sit down, occasionally with my friends, if I happened to have friends that morning. And, within this high school, in this cafeteria, at 7:30 AM, when I have just woken up from my 6-hour nap, when I do not have the heart to go to classes nor the heart not to go to classes, so often would I find myself sitting, drinking my coffee, and someone would come up to me, and, unsolicitedly, say to me something along the lines of, “Eww, the school coffee tastes like piss.”
Like… what does that even mean? This is high school. None of us even drink coffee regularly. Except #edgy me. I was the only person I knew of that drank coffee. Not even my teachers. But I added one part milk for every part coffee. It’s more like coffee-flavored milk at that point. So, I really don’t understand. Sorry I’m bothering you with my “piss coffee”. What does it meant for the coffee I drank on a regular basis to “taste like piss”? What does coffee taste like? What does piss taste like? Have you tasted piss? Does any coffee that is not a caramel frappuccino with added sugar and substituted with soy milk taste like piss? Did I ask for your opinion on my coffee? Did I implore for your expertise? What. Does. That. Even. Mean?
We are all entitled to an opinion, ethically speaking.
Just because you have an opinion, doesn’t mean you should express it.
Using platitudes such as “good” or “bad” or “tastes like piss” does not offer any substance. Of course, it is quite elitist for me to say that because I am placing a hierarchy on what is considered to be quality conversation. But, when I hear individuals tell me (not explain to me, tell me) what is good coffee and bad coffee based off virtually no substantive insights except an entitlement to an opinion, I cannot help but to shred my soul, aggressively, into the open air.
Coffee can be burnt. There would be a sour taste without any notes that would overwhelm the entire palate. That would be bad coffee. Except, coffee is usually not burnt. If you buy coffee at a coffee shop, chances are, it’s not burnt. It is quite hard to burn coffee. You would have to really fuck up, but considering everyone (except the trainees, who are shadowing) who serves as a barista is trained in making coffee, there is very, very little burnt coffee in the world. Yet, it seems there is an overwhelming amount of “bad” coffee in the world. I would venture to say that some think the majority of coffee in the world is “bad” coffee.
They would, however, say that Wawa coffee is good. Wawa has that #brand, after all. And, in response to this idea, someone did an AP Stats project asking randomly selected students to differentiate between Wawa coffee and school coffee. They would also ask students which coffee they preferred more. It was a cool project. I followed up on this project after it was completed. I asked if there was a statistical significant bias. There was, surprisingly; people preferred the school coffee better.
I remember there was a part of my life when I would ironically talk about beverages to satirize the elitism associated with wine and coffee, discussing the “floral notes” or “earthy tones” or whatever bullshit I could come up with that was vaguely true according to a flavor table. In retrospect, I do realize that even this satire is elitism in itself, as I am constructing additional hierarchies even within the elitist world of tasting beverage. But, it is quite an undertheorized version of an aesthetic that I have been cultivating throughout my entire life: namely, that I hate elitism.
Making opinions on drinks. Of course, there is the small talk portion of it in the sense that many people drink coffee and beer, and it is easy to make a comment about coffee and beer considering that many people drink coffee and beer. I get it. No, I really don’t get it, but I can rationalize the motivation out in my head, and I find that sufficient enough.
There was a chapter in Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class titled “Pecuniary Canons of Taste”. Within this chapter, there is a part that describes his reasoning for why people make opinions on drinks. I don’t have the book with me at the moment, so I don’t have the exact quote, but to summarize, eloquently:
Rich people make opinions on drinks to flex on poor people.
The reasoning goes: rich people like to dominate society in all facets. They like to dominate society economically, they like to dominate society politically, and they like to dominate society culturally. Economics and politics is pretty straightforward. Exploit. Just do it. Sponsored by… you guessed it, Nike. There are different avenues to dominate culture. One avenue, for example, is appropriation. But, in the context of taste, the another avenue is dictating what is considered to be good taste and what is considered to be bad taste… such as, without any sort of evidence, telling people what is good coffee and what is bad coffee.
It is not a surprise that money and aesthetics are deeply linked.
It makes quite a bit of sense. Innit. Of course, my sample is quite biased. I have been exposed to rich people all of my life. There was the first half of my life, when I lived in the main line, which is one of the richest places in the entirety of the United States, attending a rich school, and then there was the second half of my life, right now, when I live in University City, attending another rich school, where the median family income exceeds $100,000/year, and the average family income exceeds even that, putting most of the student body as dependents of families the top 5% of income in the United States, given one or two standard deviations. So, yes, I am surrounded by rich people. Quite a bit.
At the end of the day, it is a matter of entitlement. To your own opinion.
Some people feel as if they deserve to speak. Some people feel as if their opinions matter, as if they deserve to be heard regardless of the actual quality of their contribution. I notice this frequently. In GBMs. In classes. It is when people feel entitled to saying something that needs to be heard. Sometimes, it takes the form of beverages. Sometimes, it takes the form of music. There is one thing to have a discussion about drinks or music. There is another thing of throwing around opinions as if your opinions mattered. Yes, you are entitled to an opinion, ethically, but that doesn’t mean you should have an opinion, necessarily. Not everything in the world requires your input.
I’ve devised a little test, as of late, to assess someone’s entitlement towards their own opinions.
I ask them, “What do you think of The Chainsmokers?”
There isn’t a correct answer. I don’t even like The Chainsmokers anymore. They still have a lot of sentimental value to me, of course. The song “Closer” had been played at every frat basement I have ever gone to during my freshman fall, and the song “Paris” captures a summer of identity restructuring with a friend that is no longer friend. But, in terms of the music I listen to nowadays, I no longer have favorable thoughts to offer to their music. Even if the album Memories…Do not Open has sentimental value to me, I no longer view the music with the same positive lens as I had before.
There is, however, a wrong answer to the question.
It goes something along the lines of, “The Chainsmokers are objectively bad.”
…as opposed to, what I consider to be perfectly fine, “I don’t like The Chainsmokers.”
Of course, there is such thing as objectively good music and objectively bad music. There is objectively good coffee and objectively good wine and objectively good beer. I’m not denying the existence of the objective. But, for vast majorities of people who lay a claim to the objective using their subjective lens, how accurate is such a statement of objectivity?
There are the music critics, whose entire careers are dedicated towards understanding music in context of other music and evaluating music through its objective metrics. They can be wrong, of course, but they can understand their subjective judgement through objective metrics. Then, there are the music aficionados, who do not necessarily write music criticism for a living but have listened to enough music and studied enough music theory and criticism to understand how songs could be studied. They can also be wrong, but they can also be right. Then, there are main-line high school students who listen to hip-hop and say the n-word when singing along to Kendrick Lamar. The question then becomes not so much when they are wrong as opposed to when are they not wrong.
The question, “What do you think of The Chainsmokers” is not a measurement of musical taste; it is a measurement of entitlement to opinion. It is a measurement of how entitled you feel to your opinion. And, if you express your opinion as if it is a fact, then you are entitled to your opinion. We construct sentences to communicate sentiment. Diction and structure construct sentences and is indicative of sentiment. When diction and structure privileges an opinion to a fact, however, it is revealing that the underlying sentiment is one of entitlement. The belief that justifies such a framework is that your opinion on topics such as music and coffee is universal fact that is considered to be true, regardless of other’s opinions. The reasoning goes: you are right, therefore everyone else who disagrees must be wrong.
An expression of opinion such as “I don’t like” or “I like” understands the subjective nature of opinions. The usage of “like”, in this case, frames the sentence as one of subjectivity. The underlying assumption of your opinion being fact is no longer present. The statement is one that understands the limitations of the individual in creating objective measurements of concepts that are limited to subjective interpretations. The statement understands that opinions are created equal with other opinions and that one opinion does not have the right to dominate over another opinion. It is frame around the I, which is an objective anchoring to the subjective thought. The entitlement is no longer present. And, if the entitlement is no longer present, then I don’t get triggered to pieces anymore.
Sorry, I’m a bit snowflake-y like that.