Becoming Scientific on Opinions: Keeping Bullshit in its Place

Lies are the disease of human civilization

By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ November 11, 2019

We have lost the distinction between holding active opinions and being stupid. Being opinionated is having opinions or positions on topics or issues. That is good. It is always more interesting to talk to someone who holds opinions on things than to talk to someone who has no opinion.

In the later case there is no topic of conversation. Boring.

The negative image of opinionated people is not a factor of having opinions but a factor of the number and quality of those opinions. We are all familiar with the person who has one opinion. This is a large group most of which are boring and harmless but also includes single-issue wingnuts and and the nearly coterminous conspiracy theorists.

As we also know the latter two groups are obnoxious and may be dangerous. In the most extreme cases members of these groups appear to be physically present but have mentally diverged from reality. At the obnoxious level the single issue folks are usually correcting a poorly perceived wrong, whether in terms of the shape of the earth, abortion, cryptocurrency, or the correct method of voting in elections. It’s best to simply avoid these people if possible.

The dangerous level tends to include conspiracy people of various types. The danger comes from completely irrational manipulation of membership in these groups for political control. These people can easily become violent and, being often, bat shit crazy makes their loss of reality and tendencies toward paranoia with attendant manipulation via suggested threats a major social danger.

We now know that failing political parties are a major source of this danger. This happens when the philosophical underpinnings of a political group become unable to support policies through loss of relevance or cultural changes. Paranoia and conspiracies are the usual short term fallback and work very well by substituting fear and rage for rational thought. These tend, however, to come to a bad end. Irrationality is not a good survival characteristic.

Being successfully opinionated is hard work. It means selecting the topics on which to hold an opinion and then to research that topic so that your opinion is based on fact. But it is important to remember that opinions are hypothetical. They have a wider array of purposes than simply understanding your positions on identified facts.

If opinions cannot be based in fact they must have good logic. They should be creative and unusual because opinions are the source of discussion and, hopefully, discovery.

These opinions need to be built on a coherent foundational philosophy or you risk embarrassing inconsistencies. The power of your opinions is also dependent on humility and honesty. You opinion may be wrong or you may meet a better opinion on the same topic and that will require you to change the opinion that you have.

This is where things have come apart in late Western Civilization. Opinions are assertions of truth that are being offered for debate. An opinion has no value if it is provably wrong. Pig headed insistence turns an opinion into bullshit and, if it is intended to deny reality, into lies.

Active denial of scientific reality and logic also turns opinions into bullshit or lies. As we know the stresses of rapid technological change and human social structural failure have been used to justify ignorance and denial of rational thought. This started with acceptance of unstructured and weak opinions that were not immediately challenged.

There is a great deal of responsibility in holding an opinion. If you articulate it well other people may come to accept your opinion as valid. Then you are responsible for those who share your opinion.

One of the most stunning things that can happen is to, after some period of time, hear other people agreeing on an opinion that you have originally held. This should scare the shit out of you. “What have I wrought?” Are the famous and incredibly appropriate words for that.

This does not mean that you are the sole creator of something although that could be a dangerous source of pride. The reality is almost certainly that other people share that opinion particularly if it is well constructed a valid. But you still have shared responsibility.

The fate worse than death is to hear other people repeating an opinion that you had previously held but you know now is pure bullshit. This is the sin of bullshitters who take great pleasure in spreading bullshit. These are not opinions but lies. The distinction between bullshit and lies is of value only at the personal and individual level. Bullshit that spreads is a lie.

Part of the problem that is destroying post modern Western civilization is this disconnect between opinions, reality, and personal responsibility. It is a result of a century or more of evolving capitalism and advertising. Lies are ok unless someone gets hurt and can prove they got hurt because of the lie. This is the gate to hell.

This is the gate through which the Russian Communist Party, Nazism/Fascism, US Republican Party, and Brexit came into their modern and post modern forms. This allows lies to be accepted as opinions and then substituted for truth to an untutored population. That is wrong.

We need to restore legitimate opinions and call lies what they are. The error of thinking that only the financial result matters has led to this. How many ways are we lied to everyday?

Having a mentally disturbed psychopath in the White House certainly doesn’t help but that is a symptom of a long pathological development. Winning is not everything. While there are many sides to an opinion, as there are to any story, the weight of fact, scientific process, and truth is the great attractor.

Lying is wrong does not need another paragraph starting, ‘but on the other hand . . .’ This is post modern evolution of distorting the definition of opinion. It is very easy to repeat everything said as if it is equally valid but it is not and it is the responsibility of every sentient being to actively determine the weight of truth in any opinion.

Opinions are suggested ideas. They are subject to factual verification, analysis, and testing. You don’t simply keep everything you pick up.

Simply because our reality is inherently relative at a fundamental level does not mean that any spurious opinion is equally valid. Relativity functions on interrelated sets of physical reality rules. It takes education and intellectual rigor to manage that. We need to manage the our universe of opinions with equal rigor.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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