Monday, August 25, 2008

On the Formation of Opinions

A person with whom I am familiar recently posited a two-part hypothesis:
  • that all opinions are based on emotion
  • any opinion that is not based on personal experience is "stupid"


By this so-called logic (and I use the term incredibly loosely), those who have not been in war, or more specifically, the Iraq War, are not entitled to their opinions about said war in Iraq -- or at least, those opinions are not as valued as those who have been in war. The opinions of Vincent Bugliosi (whose book The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder is a very informed and informative critique of the Iraq war and its lead up), Randi Rhodes, and even the venerable Rush Limbaugh are stupid, regardless of the facts that inform these opinions because none of them has ever been in war. (Randi Rhodes served in the Air Force, but not during war time. Limbaugh got out of Vietnam because he had a cyst on his ass, and I am not sure of Bugliosi's military experience, but I believe he was in law school during Korea, and putting Charles Manson in prison during Vietnam.)

By this so-called logic, the opinions of Supreme Court Justices are not based on intellectual interpretation of the Constitution; not based on precedent, but on the emotional whims of 9 quite fallible human beings and our very livelihoods as Americans are based on the emotionality of these 9 people who were chosen for their intestinal fortitude rather than their legal experience and expertise; who were confirmed by Senators who asked them emotional questions rather than legal ones, deciding whether to confirm them based on some emotionality rather than the actual answers to actual legal questions. By this logic, 8 of the 9 Justices are not qualified and ergo should not be forming legal opinions on such vulgar things as women's sovereignty over their own bodies for lack of any experience as being women. By this logic, 8 of the 9 Justices have no standing to form legal opinions and thereby set precedent on such things as race and class discrimination for lack of experience as racial minorities or having been poor.

Why, I'm amazed we ever get a goddamn thing done in this country!

Contrary to what certain zealots might have us believe when they are feeding their emotionally based opinions to us; a good, solid, informed, respectable opinions, be it political, legal, social or what have you, are based upon FACTS not emotions and simply having experience with a given subject does not automatically make one's opinion more important or right than someone who is forming their opinion on the basis of facts. Claiming otherwise is an intellectually lazy and dishonest non sequitur debate tactic and all those whom employ it should be locked in a library so as to inform their opinions with reason and facts.

Throwing out the non sequitur, for instance "well how many times have you been raped?" into a debate about rape in our current culture is not an adequate debate technique, and you will never see such a thing said by any reasonable or rational human being. (Full disclosure: I said this once in an internet chat room while discussing this very subject. The moment I had typed the statement, however, I was so disgusted with myself I immediately apologized to all participants begging them to forget I had written such a thing.) Such tactics would never be employed, as my relative claimed, in a law school setting as utilizing the "I know more about this than you because I have an unverifiable, un-emperical life experience with this subject" (in lieu of actual facts that is) strategy is likely to get a person laughed out of the debate and possibly the room. It is the intellectual equivalent of a three year old sticking out her tongue and screaming "NU-UH!!!".

Opinions, my friends, are based on facts, influenced by theory and ideas of others, and conviction (the emotional bit) is maintained by personal experiences. Those who take the time to research their facts, drawing conclusions after the facts have been analyzed (using additional facts as well as the opinions of others); it is they whose opinions are, or at least should be, held in higher regard and despite whatever right-wing screaming match is currently in the public light, it is those with the FACTS who win debates, often because they are right and prove with FACTS to others that they are, in fact, right. A person is not automatically right because of their conviction. A person is not automatically right based on their personal experiences. Human conviction and personal experience are subjective and therefore subject to interpretation and fallible.

A person is right when facts and emperically verifiable evidence (if there is any to be had) agrees with her opinions.


No comments: