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Caru On February - 27 - 2011

I love to argue, to debate, to offer up my opinion and examine others. To me, these discussions are some of the most interesting and meaningful uses of human intelligence. Unfortunately, argumentation is all too often stereotyped as irrelevant and emotive shouting matches between odious and childish people, and that truly intelligent and moderate people should avoid argumentation at all costs. However, this idea isn’t truly moderate. It’s the flip side of the idea that shouting and one-upmanship is a form of honest and intelligent debate. Both of these ideas are shallow and ultimately self-indulgent.

True argumentation is both calm and passionate, both sarcastic and serious, both respectful and ruthless and, above all, logical and factual. There is a noticeable lack of this form of argumentation in the media and public life. What you get is either nicey-nice, everybody’s opinion is equal tripe or you get batshit-insane ravings from over-interested and under-informed loud-mouths.

Furthermore, few people rarely have the courage to admit that they were wrong. Now, defending your argument and what you’ve said in the public forum is all well and good, but you must realise and accept when you have made a mistake. We all must do so. People all too often defend their comments or arguments solely because they are their comments and arguments. I do it too. I suspect that we are all guilty on this count. However, we must not allow ourselves to be limited by this selfish impulse, and that’s what it does. It limits us. It prevents us from changing our opinions, it entrenches false positions and it creates animosity between peoples. It is not hyperbolic to say that this selfish impulse has caused its fair share of war and community destruction.

In addition, I must comment on something that annoys me greatly. Everybody is entitled to an opinion and I encourage and hope that people develop opinions, however, the idea that you have a right to not have your opinion criticised once you have stated it is ludicrous. Once you have stated your position, it, in one sense, does not belong to you anymore. Once the words escape your lungs, they are no longer your thoughts, and therefore are no longer subject to your whims. They are, as it were, fair game. Now, of course, you can rightly or wrongly choose not to entertain criticisms. You have that choice, but do not attempt to rebuff such criticism with the facile statement: “It’s my opinion.” It makes you seem childish.

Written by Caru

I don't really have anything of note to put in here... Oh, I won a bar of chocolate once.

28 Responses so far.

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  1. KQuark says:

    I agree with you. I’m never wrong. jk jk

    Actually when I’m factually wrong I have no problem admitting it. I agree an opinion should be challenged but unless there is there is a grand judge of opinion I don’t know about opinions are just that opinion and not subject to the same laws of right and wrong. I think of opinions as having somewhat of a probability associated with them. Ergo my opinions are 85.543034350802943% right.

    For example most on the left will say the surge in Iraq did not work. There will be allot of explanations for the reasons why they say that but that would be the consensus. I think there is a higher than 50% probability the surge did work even though I was against it at the time because the goals of the surge where mostly achieved. But since future events are unknown and negative results of the surge could manifest years down the road It’s only a probability.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      KQ, I agree that opinions, in and of themselves are NOT facts. But many opinions are formed by having the facts. This is what bugs the crap out of me about trolls. Most, if not all of their opinions are based on misinformation and often times, outright lies. And to make it worse, they refuse to be corrected by the presentation of facts. It is willful ignorance at it’s worst.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      KQ you bring up a great point about something like the surge. The thing with that example is, it can be argued on both sides by reasonable and fact-based people.

      But here’s a particular beef of mine--one that ensures I will end the discussion. It’s when people use their opinions and stop there. For example, it is valid to say, “In my opinion, Collin Firth is a hunk.” That is purely subjective, and it doesn’t matter how many people agree-- it is still an question of personal preference.

      But when someone says, “It is my opinion that Obama was born in Kenya,” regardless of any facts or proof to the contrary, well, that’s plain willful stupidity. They are saying that their OPINION trumps all else. It’s not subjective issue.

      There have been a few great debates here and I always think much less of anyone who, after facts and examples and logic have been raised, finally just say, “Well that’s MY opinion.” In effect, they are admitting that they don’t want to be challenged. They refuse to change their minds--no matter that the facts do not support their beliefs.

      In fact, they dig in further--that has been proven. Maybe it’s because they are too fragile. Or maybe their ego is too tenuous--I am not sure. But at that point, the conversation is over--which is what they wanted to begin with. They weren’t interested in learning, but merely wanted to opine and bloviate-- to hear themselves talk. That’s just MY opinion.

    • cyrano1 says:

      From the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld:

      The Unknown
      As we know,
      There are known knowns.
      There are things we know we know.
      We also know
      There are known unknowns.
      That is to say
      We know there are some things
      We do not know.
      But there are also unknown unknowns,
      The ones we don’t know
      We don’t know.

      :roll:

      • AlphaBitch says:

        Geez Louise. I can see Shatner reading this in a beat style.

        • coffeegod says:

          Awww, geez, Alpha…I’ll never get that mental picture out of my skull….

          • AlphaBitch says:

            Sorry! Don’t you just HATE it when that happens???? I get stuck on songs -- fortunately not Shatner beat poetry.

            But seriously -- seems ripe for the picking…..

            • coffeegod says:

              I’ve had the lead line of the chorus from ‘Oh You Pretty Things’ by David Bowie cruising through my brain for a few months now.

              Nothing like an ear worm to make you nutz.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Yep, Alpha--like when he read Palin Tweets!

          • AlphaBitch says:

            Yep. such a joy, eh?

            I’m on and off so much these days -- starting to be spring here in SCen TX, so lots to do. We have a big old wildscape to tend to. Also. nothin’ to beat depression like dirt….er, I mean earth. (Dirt is what gets on your clothes, according to my soil science teacher at -- whoop -- Texas A&M, where I was an Agro-American/2%er/malcontent)

            Thanks for all you do, Cher. Haven’t taken the time lately to say that to you, but I mean it. You are a jewel.

      • ADONAI says:

        HA!

        He was in charge of the military for almost a decade.

  2. jkkFL says:

    Caru, another excellent post! Thank you.
    That’s what I like about this site. I find myself rarely angry at anything I read; and no one is trying to demean another.
    But I Can tell you- I have read some posts here that make me say- ‘What the Hell??’
    So many times, I speed read an article, and find myself saying ‘WHOA!”
    ‘There is so much depth and substance in this article I need to come back and read this when I am fresh and uncluttered.’
    That is what I find so amazing here.

  3. Chernynkaya says:

    I have many thoughts about this excellent post, Caru. However, I am too tired to write them tonight. I agree with what everyone else so far has written. I am hoping that later, someone will express my exact thoughts so that I will only have to write, “I agree! Exactly!” That happens.

    In the meantime, I just want you to know that whenever I come across someone who is digging in their heels and refusing to admit they have changed their mind or admit that they were wrong, I’m just gonna C&P the link to your piece!

  4. PocketWatch says:

    Just after I got out of the service where I spent a few years teaching electronics for the NSA, I went to work for a company on “Electronics Row” up on Route 128 north of Boston as a Field Service Engineer. These guys did it right. At the height of their dominance in their niche (commercial typesetting computers) they had over 400 service guys nation-wide. And they trained the hell out of us, not only in installation, repair, and maintenance, but also in real, live customer service.

    And one of the things they drummed into all of us was “Never be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ because you never know who you might be trying to bullshit.”

    This goes for opinion and changing your mind about something, which is really at the base of any technical service job anyway… I used to teach people how to troubleshoot and repair complicated equipment. If you go into any problem with an unshakable opinion or think you know it all, you might as well go home. You HAVE to be able to change your mind on the fly when faced with new information. And that information is NOT opinion-based, but is hard evidence based in physics and reality… you can’t change it.

    My ramble is about this… being able to change your mind is NOT a weakness, but a strength. WHEN did we start to think that unbending stances were somehow “manly” or “strong” and that to have a public figure change their mind about an issue was a weakness?

    Finally, I just want to say that I am NEVER wrong. I thought I was, once. I was mistaken.

    8)

  5. david p canada says:

    The very word “opinion” conveys a sense of diplomacy.

    If you say, “This brand of beer is shitty”, you’re really not giving me any room to debate. To challenge you, I must basically call you a liar. But if you say, “In my opinion, this brand of beer is shitty”, I can debate with you without you stalking out of the room in a huff.

    Just my opinion.

  6. Firbolg says:

    Like you, Caru, I am also Irish. I agree with everything in your post.
    I believe that, for the Irish, debate is a sport much like chess to the Russians.
    The advantage is that, unlike chess, we don’t need to carry around boards and pieces!
    Whether you call it argument or debate, provided it is carried out intellectually with passion and not anger, and with an open mind it is always enjoyable, and very often enlightening.
    To me winning or losing comes in second to having a good debate and I will often preferred to join in on the “weaker” side to test my debating mettle.

  7. Abbyrose86 says:

    I think I totally just fell in love with you for this post!

    Caru thank you! Seriously. Debate is a good thing if done with respect, it provides much opportunity for different ideas to be brought to mind….that should be a good thing.

    However, too often, debate evolves into something ugly which does nothing to further critical thought and the sharing of ideas.

    WE, all, need to be aware and to think about when a discussion is turning to something else, and look within ourselves to knot Stifle debate, but to keep it on it’s proper course.

    Thank you for the reminder! Kudos!

  8. I agree with you!

    I do not agree with the trend of calling names and using words anyway one chooses or making the word mean what one wants it to mean.

    I do not agree with the trend of insisting that one’s opinion is an established fact just because one “says so” (this tactic didn’t work for my mother, either).

    A webcomic artist/writer I know is rather right-wing and reactionary. He loves to spout off about the so-called contreversy about “every belief is valid”. Yeah, he is an idiot about some things (but has other good points).

    Every belief is not valid. Every belief *system* is not valid. However, when a belief is about purely subjective matters, it is neither valid nor invalid. I can spout off all day about “gray is the perfect color”, and there is nothing I can do to prove it or others can do to disprove it.

    However, beliefs based on erroneous statements of facts can be questioned. Can they be disproven? Only if you enjoy the pointless pursuit of convincing someone else to believe something that is contrary to what they *want* to believe.

  9. AdLib says:

    No argument here. 😉

    Actually, I do heartily agree with your points…which is why I find the HP type of “discussion” and “debate” a waste of time.

    Arguments, in the sense of opposing points of view, are actually enlightening if done in a genuine way. On a blog, that’s especially true to those reading exchanges but also to those debating.

    Does an opinion or proposition hold water or does it have major breaches of fact and logic?

    If one cares primarily about truth instead of “being right”, one welcomes debate and opposing views. They either enhance the validity of one’s POV by failing or point more at the truth by succeeding.

    IMO, those who wish to promote an opinion but do not want it challenged have issues related to insecurity and ego, they can’t afford to be wrong because their self-image and/or confidence are tied up in their being right.

    Whereas, those who are confident and have come by conclusions using reason and facts, have no complaints about challenges to their propositions and even if it entails a long exchange to get there, they will choose truth whether it resides with their initial proposition or someone else’s.

    As I tell my 7 year old daughter, being able to say you’re mistaken allows you to learn and become smarter. Needing to act as if you’re smarter at all costs, makes one less so.


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