When I form an opinion on something, I inhale all the information I can possibly get. Sometimes, there’s no right or wrong answer, but a preference (vanilla is better than chocolate). Other times, there is a clear cut distinction between right and wrong, good and bad (fare jumping on Metro is wrong because it’s stealing, something that too many in DC disagree with). And other times, I clearly see the reasons why the issue is controversial (socialism vs. capitalism), then lean the way I strongly believe would work best, while acknowledging why others feel differently. I’ll even take it a step further and say that more experiments are needed to understand some subjects before I can form an opinion.
For the controversial issues, I still inhale all the information, weigh the pros and cons of each argument, separate the rhetoric from facts, and partially form my opinions based not just on what I agree with, but reinforce them with the most passionate voices of the opposition who admit their rationale is different from folks on their own side. Yes, this is a thing. When folks on the same side have differing views of why, while lining up exactly with what their opposition says, then I know where I stand.
People steal. Some (usually liberals) say: They’re stealing because of economic inequality or for reasons that can be explained by the failures of governments or societies (racism, sexism, etc). The opposition (usually conservatives) says: They’re stealing because they’re bad people. Then we ask the criminals – why are you stealing? Some would say: Because of economic inequality, etc. (few want to admit their own shortcomings, but make excuses for themselves, though they may have valid points sometimes). Others would readily admit: Because we’re bad people. Bingo.
Those who don’t make excuses and admit their intentions as ‘the problem’ are the most honest people out there and the most credible source of information. They’re also often ignored by an entire side because they don’t fit their defenders’ worldview. Alabama State rep. John Rogers is a great example of this. Everything he said lines up exactly with what the opposition has been accusing his side of doing.
When someone admits their rationale is based on the very accusations that their opponents put forth, it undercuts every argument their defenders actually make. While some may indeed be crackpots (Rogers, I’m sure, has been accused of this), the more who come forth make it harder to ignore, especially those who have a vested interest in the issue. (The average activist is typically the absolute worst source of information.)
I pride myself in using this method as a factor in forming opinions, but it’s not common. That said, no one thinks that their own method is anything less than perfect, no matter how ill-informed their arguments are.
I’ve met people who do the same thing I do and wind up (slightly) on the other side of where I stand. I respect that. I can talk to these people, and I respect these people, despite forming a different opinion at the end of the day. I also highly respect them because they’re the type to call out their own side for irrational logic or behavior, and will tell me when I make a good point contrary to their own believes (I’ll do the same). Pragmatism is a great thing.
But most people, I believe, aren’t like this (at least in this area). The worst of them pick a side and stick with it, comfortable with any rationale – no matter how poorly researched – to support their cause. They’re called partisan hacks, and they’re frustrating people to know in this regard. The best of them carefully plot out further reasons why they are correct, often speak in non-combative tones, but ignore reasonable counterarguments and definitely ignore the very voices on their side that contradict their own viewpoints. These folks end up as thought-leaders to those looking for someone smarter than they are to justify their views. People make careers out of this, get paid big bucks, make friends and form relationships, all while using methods that purposely close the door on any valid point that contradicts their own viewpoint. My employer, The Washington Post, sometimes honors these individuals and props them up as stars, even when its own reporting shows how wrong these people can be.
To me, it’s heartbreaking as I know (some of) these folks are often very good people despite their willful close-mindedness. They also feel comfortable being that way because they’re surrounded by like-minded people. As I said earlier, I can respect someone with a different viewpoint, but not those who use this method.
In this day and age when people’s opinions are projected via social media, this becomes alienating. Some of the stupidest, poorly-researched things I’ve heard are said by (sometimes well-meaning) people who I can tear apart easily, but won’t because I respect them for reasons outside their opinions on the subject. I don’t want to start fights or lose friends on this, but my opinions of them as individuals plummet. It really sucks.
This isn’t to say I feel I’m always right about everything I decide. I get that there are multiple ways of approaching things and different ways are needed for experimentation to find a decent result, and some issues will never be settled. Some people I disagree with are still doing things that I admire and value. But too many of those people refuse to see the other side, and are comfortable and loved in their misguided bliss, while not even realising they’re alienating people like me who won’t call them out because it would jeopardize any friendship and ultimately serves no purpose. It’s frustrating.
I can say, in all honesty, that all of this has negatively affected my life. Perhaps I’d be happier if I caved into my values, picked a side, remained in a thought bubble, and lived happily ever after in ignorant bliss.