Opining on Opinions

OPINION: You Can Put Lipstick On The Economy, ...

Image by AMERICAN ARTIST BEN MURPHY via Flickr

Where, most dearly beloved reader, did you get your opinions from? Did you learn them at your mother’s knee? Were they beaten into you at school? Did you gain them from reading popular science books? Friends, family, religion, political leaders, harsh realities of life? How, reader, did you, in effect, come to be the person that you are?

I realise this is a bit deep, and in some respects it is just easier to have a go at making politically themed foodstuffs, but this, I think, is an important idea to think about. How much of us comes as a result of how we were raised? Are we really individuals at all, or just products of a jumbled mix of circumstance and chance?

I’m going to have to talk about my own circumstance now, mainly because I don’t know enough about you, although if you’ll e-mail me your bank details, and anything else that I might need to steal your identity, I’d gladly have a go about talking about your gullibility.

I was born in a fairly middle class, white, Christian family. Of all of those traits I haven’t dropped a single one, although a third of that is genetics, and another third is due to the fact that it’s hard to get a peerage when you’re seventeen and living in Birmingham. However, there are many things I do retain. For example, aside from my religion, I also feel strongly about education (my mother, my grandmother), I love Physics (my father), I’m pro-monarchy (father), get het up about class easily (mother) and I dislike txts w/o vwls & withhhh extraaaa lettttttterssss. That last one is most definitely my father.

I do, however, have my differences with my parents. For example, my mother would shoot me if she realised that I am not entirely persuaded that grammar schools are wrong, and my dad is more into actual engineering that the more abstract theoretical science that intrigues me. And I certainly don’t approve of many of their television choices, although that’s probably a generational thing. So I can’t really say I’m a clone of my parents.

The other major influences come from, supposedly, your social groups. I don’t drink much alcohol, although this is more to do with the fact that I only drink water because I dislike the taste of other drinks than the fact that I disapprove of the idea of getting wasted. I have a rather liberal attitude to the LGBT movement than perhaps others, and if one looked objectively at my opinions on personal freedoms, one would probably find me pushing towards Anonymous than my parents.

So who am I? In some ways, the fact that I have mixed and matched differing viewpoints hints at the way we become individuals. Taking, be it subjectively or objectively, the ideas we see around us and choosing the ones that make sense to us is how we decide who we are and what our opinions are. I’m not just a random fusion of my parents, friends, what I see one television, and the music I listen to. I’m the best of all of those ideas.

But then surely, if we all became the best of all our influences, we’d all realise that Biffy Clyro is a great band, Christianity is always right, and the poor should be given all our hard-earned money? After all, we live in a global society, where information can be shared in the blink of an eye. (Remember though, information cannot travel faster than the speed of light, which is why most of what you read on the internet is nonsense.) We can’t all be taking the best of what we see, otherwise life would be perfect, and, even accounting for a nature we can’t take care of, life is nothing like perfect.

Part of this probably comes from the fact that we cannot sift through all the information at once. Taking a very small example, the Bible Belt doesn’t get out too much, and so I can imagine it’s quite hard to accidentally overhear radically liberal views over there, such as the idea that climate change isn’t a non-existing myth created by God to punish gays. However, you can’t blame everything on that.

We have to decide what is right and what is the best opinion to have. We have to somehow have an opinion on which opinion is the best opinion. If you’ll forgive the fact that opinions are now spewing out all over this paragraph like a drunk spewing on the pavement outside the pub. Ultimately, our opinion on the best opinion must be a subjective opinion, because it is made up of the opinions we already have. Our current belief systems lead us to decide which opinions we are going to accept as better than ours. Better itself is subjective.

So how do we decide to be objective? Even cold hard facts can be twisted in all sorts of ways. There is a book somewhere called ‘How to lie with statistics‘, and it is a great guide to how you can make almost any statistic suit your needs by changing it to match other statistics. Additionally, there are some things we can’t measure. This cure may cost millions of pounds, and be effectively equivalent to giving these hundred people equally important cures for a fraction of the price, but who wants to be the person to tell the sufferer that he is being neglected in favour of the greater good?

But we can start somewhere. From an early age, we need to be presented with all sorts of reading materials. If that means that Ayn Rand is handed out at GCSE age, so be it. The Guardian and the Daily Mail should be held up side-by-side so that people can make informed opinions. People need to be taught how to discriminate between fact and absolute nonsense. Science can play a very big role in this. Science is itself an area where the truth is objective, yet it requires interpretations to become usable. Teaching science in some ways becomes less important than teaching how to do science. What is research? If I publish that I’ve found correlation between wearing stupid clothes and my potential dislike for you, does that mean my opinions are affected by stupid clothes? Of course not. My dislike for you will affect my judgement of your clothes.

Well I should stop now. It’s getting too deep for me, and I am fairly sure that I don’t dislike any of you, unless you are Ayn Rand, in which case I think your policies promote a despicable lack of important personal empathy, and I hate your clothes. To conclude, we cannot say that our views are anything less than subjective borrowed opinions. We can borrow other opinions, although the decisions here will always be subjective. However, by continuing to educate ourselves about opinions that we’ve never seen before, we may hopefully come to realise some sort of truth.

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