Sunday, July 10, 2005

The right to opinion

It is not a big secret that people often have opinions about things they cannot possibly understand. Such opinions are usually based on second hand information or misinformation, and are nothing more then idle talk by people that don't know any better. On the other hand, there are people that were in the midst of the events, smelled the gunpowder, and formed their own opinion based on first hand experience. So, it should be very simple to make out who has the right to an opinion and who doesn't, right? Not so fast.

For example, what if two people that lived through the same events ended up with opposite opinions? Clearly both had first-hand experience, how come they didn't reached the same conclusions? Maybe their experience wasn't the same? Maybe it is not even about the experience? Take Israel of today. Everyone lives in the same country, but somehow left and right are, to put it gently, in huge disagreement.

Another example. If in order to have an opinion one has to experience the events first-hand, do we ever have hope to know our history? First, just a tiny portion of human history is covered by authors that claim to be witnesses of the events they describe (and way too many of those texts are forgeries, biased or were copied or translated incorrectly). More important, historians that read those originals are not witnesses, and hence are not equipped to separate truth from a lie, let alone to fill in the missing gaps of information! Yet I doubt anyone will claim that good books on history do not exist. Somehow (not often enough) historians do manage to get something right about things long gone and far away. How?

Here is my answer. Every person has his own, built in ability to make out lie from truth and right from wrong. Those who use it, slowly build up a system of values and evaluations. If one tries to at least keep the system self-consistent, lie will always attract lie, and truth will attract truth. The more lies one lets in voluntarily (and there are so many twisted reasons for this to happen!), the more lies will be later added without him even noticing. Our opinions are formed based on those values. The less lies and contradictions exist in the value system, the greater that opinion's right is to exist.

The only way to evaluate other person's opinion for quality is to first evaluate the person himself. This is highly subjective, as our own system of values might be wrong. I personally do not see escape from this deadlock. The only thing we can do is do our best.

In any event, "smelling the gunpowder" is just as valuable to understanding what is going on, as sitting in a bus is valuable to understanding how it's engine works. It can provide some quality info, but only if you know how to read it, and only up to a point.

But then again, this is only my opinion.


Irina Tsukerman said...

Hmm, the problem with evaluating someone else's opinion is that we tend to ignore the contradictions that exist within our own system of evaluation, so we need someone else to point them out, and it becomes a neverending cycle.

Yury Puzis said...

Exactly! Worse, we don't notice some contradictions or lies that we could have otherwise simply because they are not immediately apperent. Too deep.
Makes me kinda sad.

FollowJesus said...

There are some things that are just not based on opinions.

Example: the earth is round, the sky looks blue to everyone I've ever known and all humans need air to breathe.

The existence of such concrete facts imply there must concretely be absolute truths.