People, opinions and the Internet
A lot of the time we are connected to strangers via the Internet, many I have found decent, polite, smart, funny, and generous with their time and thoughts. In addition, there are people who don’t think very clearly, or who are mistaken in their beliefs, which they will discover later in life. A still smaller number are very angry.
There are broadly three types of argument, the factual (I did this, I found that) the appeal to authority (experts say , everyone agrees that… blah blah blah) and the ad hominem (if you think that you must be stupid). In the absence of the first, many people on the internet quickly resort to the latter two, and some can only function in the last mode. The first is the only useful mode, in which you can learn and improve your outcomes, whilst the others leave you stuck where you are.
When it comes to exchanging opinions, some people’s self-esteem depends on being right, or being agreed with, which they take to be the same thing. The need to be “right” can be highly destructive. People will often fight to the bitter end rather than change their opinion, because it is an admission that previously they might be wrong. We are all “wrong” about lots of things.
A lot of this traces back to emotions in childhood, associated with praise or rejection: “You are wrong, therefore you are stupid” (fear you are not loved – bad parenting). Pointing out someone else is wrong (and that therefore you are right) can become an immensely gratifying act. A number of people I have encountered are addicted to pointing out error, which includes grammar and spelling ( content beats spelling every time, sorry) If you ask them what they personally think, what is good about something, they go blank. They don’t have an opinion they will admit to, in case it is wrong.
Admitting to being wrong (and having to change) is something people find difficult. It should be an opportunity to improve, but often it comes with baggage (“You are wrong, therefore you are stupid”) The Ad Hominem is a lingua franca for some people, a destructive habit of thought.
Looking back at how my opinions have changed over the years, over very small things through to very big things, I conclude I have been wrong about lots of things at times, lots of the time. Worse, what was right yesterday may be wrong today, or tomorrow, and vice versa. Being wrong is a normal human condition. We experience an ever-evolving degree of wrongness or temporary approximate rightness.. Perhaps we shouldn’t feel so bad about it, as long as we are still committed to hopefully getting it “more right” as we go along.
Beware the self-righteous, in every walk of life. They are absolutely certain they are right, but as likely to be wrong as anyone else. The difference is they are prepared to do anything to eliminate dissent to prove they are right. The graveyards of history are full of their opponents.
I confess I smart a little if someone points out that something I have written is (factually) wrong. Feet of clay! People unconsciously expect “expert opinion” on line to be correct. Quite rightly so. However everyone makes the odd mistake, unintentionally, and I am happy to make corrections. That is not the same as a difference of opinion. Opinions are not facts. However many people seem to believe their opinion to be “facts”
The big problem is one person’s experience is not the same as another’s.
The stuff written here is my opinion, honestly felt, at this moment in time, based on what I know to date. It is a racing certainty that some of it will turn out to be wrong. Borrowing the old adage from the advertising industry, half the stuff here is right: if only we knew which half. Personally, I hope it’s more than half, but I may be wrong about that too.
We seek opinion, and we offer opinion, we live in a world saturated with opinion, from professional journalist to amateur and enthusiast online reviewer, customer reviews, trusted sources, comments on opinionated blogs, even. Given how much time we devote to garnering opinion, we need to become more discriminating as to the worth of the opinions to which we attend.
The most common opinion I come across is the “I like/ I don’t like” opinion. It is based on an impenetrable source – some unknown individuals unknown set of preferences, and is actually the least informative (no offence intended) . A friend of a friend once persuaded me to watch a film because it was “the best film they had ever seen”. I thought it was absolutely dreadful, but then how was I to know their taste ran only to chick-lit when I love guns and explosions?
Another frequently-offered opinion is the sample of one. I have a Bildengurgle pressing and its really great! Or: I have a Nagasaki II DAC and its absolutely fantastic!! Really? I recall this music-hall line:
“Hi Henry, how’s the wife?”
Henry: “Compared to whose?”
Henry is happily married to just the one wife, and hasn’t tried any other people’s wives. Admirable, but lacking in breadth of experience. King Henry the Eighth could tell him a few things about wives, he was always chopping and changing. The Nagasaki II is their entry model. The Nagasaki IX is what you want to hear..
The second-hand opinion, or meta-opinion (“wisdom of crowds”), is prey to collecting together many of the above. Until you have a frame of reference, you can not weigh the opinion.
The “multiple samples” is an attempt to move beyond these limitations, your “opinion” is tentative and open to change as a result of new and conflicting evidence. None of us have experience of every possible variation, or would want to – life is too short. AFAIK is the relevant disclaimer – As Far As I Know… I often find my expectation upset by experience. Experience is the only thing I trust. I test it often, and sometimes I have to change my opinion. Opinions are like clothes, to be changed when dirty.
The “unknown unknown” was Donald Rumsfeld’s great insight. You don’t know what you don’t know. Keep a box for what you do know, your experience, and leave the door open for further discovery along the way. Experience says there is a lot more to be discovered as long as you keep looking.