Opinion: What It Ain’t

Sibling Rivalry

As mentioned in a prior post (“Matters of Opinion: the Triumph of Passionate, Ignorant and Irrational Conviction in America”), defining exactly what opinion is can be a bit tricky. But recognizing opinion when you see it is rather simpler; and even simpler still is understanding when something is not opinion.

Which brings us to turn the mirror on this blog itself. This is not a blog of opinion, but a blog of fact and analysis.  The blog’s mission statement includes the following sentence:

We offer solid fact without becoming pedantic, and personality without becoming bogged down by opinion.

This has been re-worded several times (at one point it said “without relying on opinion”), largely in an attempt to fend off the gotcha squad — or, as Michael Moore calls them, the wacko attackos. These are individuals who deem it a matter of great importance to attempt to discredit information and ideas that clash with their beliefs, and so they comb through these posts in a quixotic quest for an instance of “hypocrisy” or “contradiction”. (You’ll often spot them when they quote back every little thing you say, followed by a snide retort which they believe to be a refutation.) Evidently they believe that if they can find a single such instance, then they can discard the entire blog with a sigh of relief and a smirk of triumph. And the possibility of finding an opinion in these pages is perhaps what entices them most: find just a single opinion, they seem to believe, and they can safely conclude that the blog is nothing but opinion.

This blog is not about me, and I’m not going to allow anyone to make it about me. I don’t consider it a matter of great urgency to defend myself from attacks — indeed, I consider it of little to no consequence at all. But sometimes the gotcha squadders commit blunders which it can be instructive to examine. And they commit several in their obsession with opinion.

The most obvious mistake they make is to conclude that a statement to the effect that a blog does not focus on opinion can be taken as a claim that it contains no opinion whatsoever. Which of course is patent nonsense, and illustrates how ideologues often zero in on the one interpretation that best suits their purposes.  It’s impossible for anyone’s writing of any length to be utterly opinion-free (at least in my opinion). Of course you’ll find occasional opinions here. Even though this is not a blog of opinion, the door is open to it; it’s just never the guest of honor.

The second point is that what opinions you will find here concern relatively minor matters. I might mention in passing that I consider the Beatles to be far superior to the Rolling Stones, and you would not be wrong to classify that as an opinion (albeit a highly qualified one — I happen to have a rather extensive background in music). But since this is not a blog about music, such an opinion would never be the central concern of a post here; it would only be used to expound upon meatier topics.

But the most significant error the attackos make is to confuse, or deliberately conflate, opinion with subjectivity in general. As we discussed before, opinion is only one type of subjectivity. If I begin telling a story, and start laughing, that’s clearly a subjective response. But is it an opinion?Or have I merely flavored my telling of the story? Someone else might tell it using exactly the same words, but begin crying. The subjectivity of the teller would be very different, but how could our respective renditions be called a difference of opinion if the wording is exactly the same? If I say “this story always cracks me up”, is that an opinion? Nope; it’s just a statement of fact. And if I say, “I think this story is very funny”, that’s also, strictly speaking, a statement of fact; but in practical use it’s so indistinguishable from “this story is very funny” that we might as well call them both opinion.

I especially hear the “that’s just your opinion” refrain from Second Amendment fanatics — not surprising, since they are among the most reactionary of demographic groups. (That’s an observation, not an opinion). Which just might be a good reason why they should not own guns in the first place. (That’s speculative analysis, not opinion.) Although if they did, it’s quite possible that they would take up the slack by committing violence by other means. That’s speculation, which is also not opinion.

I certainly speculate frequently here, and you often can spot it by qualifiers like perhaps, possibly, it well may be, etc. But even without such markers, the speculative nature of the comment is clear enough. And it would be a mistake to assume that I intend such statements to represent undisputed fact. It sometimes would be a mistake to assume that I even believe them myself.

One of the most curious, and therefore most frequent, attacks I’ve received from the gun gallery concerns my comments about the killer of Trayvon Martin — specifically, that he was “aggressively stalking” Martin. Aha! they say, this is clearly an opinion. Nope. Granted, the choice of words is subjective — our word choices are always subjective, in my opinion. But still, those words describe solid facts established by the evidence including a recording of his call to police.

You may say that he was armed and Martin was unarmed, and he made some unfortunate disparaging verbal references (calling Martin one of “these assholes” and a “fucking punk”) to a person about whom he knew nothing except his race, and chose to disregard the dispatcher’s instructions to stay in his vehicle and let the police handle it, and gave pursuit on foot to confront someone he erroneously regarded as a crime suspect but who in fact was minding his own business (unlike the killer) even after expressing concern because the youth was supposedly coming toward him, and the ensuing confrontation was a big misunderstanding that spiraled out of control and resulted in the inadvertent death of an innocent person. I say he was aggressively stalking the kid. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. It’s a difference of diction and attitude, not a difference of opinion. It would be a difference of opinion if you said that Martin got what he deserved, and I said that his killer ought to be locked up.

It’s very common these days to lump all subjectivity under the banner of opinion — essays in the media, for instance, are commonly referred to as op-ed pieces, apparently on the assumption that any type of essay/ editorial must hinge on or be infused with opinion. Opinion often is present to one degree or another, but not necessarily so.

For example, you’ve probably surmised if you’ve been following these posts that I am not a charter member of the Dick Cheney fan club. I make that fact known at every opportunity. But my expression of my distaste for the man is not opinion, nor is it opinion when I recount his many vile misdeeds that prompt this response in me. They are all matters of verifiable record. What would be an opinion would be if I stated that he is unfit to empty Lord Voldemort’s chamber pot with a soda straw. After all, it’s entirely possible that such a task would in fact be ideally suited to his particular gifts.

Speaking of public officials appointed by Supreme Court fiat, it once seemed rather anomalous to speak of court decisions as “opinions”. A judge’s task is presumably to interpret law and the constitution, not to mandate opinion into law (even if opinion inevitably comes into play). While it may be semantic hairsplitting to differentiate between interpretation and opinion, there is a distinct line between ruling based on how one reads the constitution or the law and ruling based on one’s personal ideology. At least there once was.

The current majority of five “conservative” justices, however, have crossed that line repeatedly and blatantly. The watershed moment was Bush vs. Gore, in which among other things they halted the Florida recount because it was their opinion that protecting Bush’s claim to victory was more important than finding out who really won. (No, that’s not an exaggeration.)  This arrogant act has paid off in further dividends for the worshipers of opinion; the “president” they installed was in turn able to appoint two young replacements for members of their gang who were running out of gas, assuring a steady stream of such rulings for at least a generation.  Most recently, these five male Catholics decreed that religious conviction takes precedence over law — at least provided the religious convictions are their own and the law is one backed by a president whom the wingers have determined to despise at all costs.

If you would have a little practice in identifying and distinguishing between observation, analysis and opinion, try reading a few movie reviews (of which I’ve written quite a few in my time). All three are generally present in any given review, and they’re often organized in more or less discrete chunks.

Typically, a review will begin with observation and analysis. How long is the film? Is it in black and white or color? Is it a comedy, drama, thriller, slasher, mystery, satire, sci-fi/ fantasy, or some combination thereof? Who are the actors, writers, directors and designers? Does it appear to be influenced by Hitchcock or Bergman or some other master? Does it contain elements of film noir, nouvelle vague, or cinema verite?  There may be some subjectivity, of course, involved in answering such questions. The answers sometimes may even cross the border into the Domain Of Opinion. But there are usually definite “correct” answers that even critics can supply. (That’s a joke, critics.)

Then the second part of a review tends to focus on opinion. Is the ending effective? How well did the cast perform? Is the pacing good? Is the gore excessive? Should Woody Allen have quit while he was ahead? There are no definite right or wrong answers here. (Well, except maybe for the part about Woody Allen). Such opinions will give the readers a better idea of whether or not they should see the film, based on their opinions of the reviewer’s opinions.  But while reviews almost always contain opinion, and often are largely opinion (or at least highly opinionated), that isn’t always the case. When I wrote reviews, I considered it more important to give prospective ticket buyers an idea what to expect for their buck than to bring the world up to speed on my personal tastes. Accordingly, I kept opinion in the background just as I do with this blog.

The next time your immediate impression is that something in a review, or a blog post, or anywhere else, is opinion, you might want to take a closer look. You may find that you’ve been painting with too broad a brush.

 

15 thoughts on “Opinion: What It Ain’t

  1. “This is not a blog of opinion, but a blog of fact and analysis”

    Its not as easy as that anymore. When arguing with those on the right, I’ve been stymied by the simple fact that they will not accept the sources of any of my facts. Wikipedia, an encyclopedia, New York Times or any other major news source, an article in a scholarly journal that has been reviewed by others, etc., none are acceptable to them. In their arguments they link to obscure websites, right wing news sources, or worse, anecdotal experiences..

    • Quite so. Many consider Sean Hannity or Alex Jones to be more of an authority on climate than the world’s top scientists. What ya gonna do? I was just reading about Conservapedia and Politically Incorrect Guides (both of which I intend to discuss in the future) part of an extensive network of “research” sources for an alternative universe. Misinformation has always been with us, but in the past it was just due mostly to ignorance. Today, we have a booming industry to perpetuate misinformation via calculated miseducation. And it appears to be only getting worse.

  2. I agree that the Supreme Court of late has passed into the realm of opinion far too often. Previously I thought it made great sense that religious freedoms went only so far until they began allowing threats to the health and well-being of citizens. i.e. respecting the faith of Christian scientists who believe in the healing power of faith and of living a virtuous life, CAN be ordered by law to allow their children to receive conventional medical treatments which would undoubtedly improve their health or even save their lives. In other words, religious freedom is good and fine, until practitioners start sacrificing virgins in the volcanoes of Hawaii, or decide to hold a poison Kool-aid party in the jungles of South America.

    Lately I view the pro-business rulings of the 5 justice majority, as pandering to the idea that nothing need be rationally and logically true as evidenced by their disregard for previously established ideas–such as the understanding that Corporate entities are not the same as people, and that money is not to be considered a form of free speech. It now seems, especially coming from Justice Alito (I don’t know the correct spelling of his name) that any kind of legal gymnastics or contortions are acceptable if they result in upholding conservative policies. And it IS my first Amendment right to disagree with him!

    Yes the Climate science black hole of relatively which denies verifiable scientific knowledge in favor of the opinions from clueless legislators, rather than facts coming from Nobel Prize winning Climate scientists, is very disturbing, since it implies that anything a reputable science website may say is not really believable.

    My opinion. or my speculation, is that this cesspool of denial cannot last forever. Eventually when the weather becomes even worse than it is now, and Congressmen must realize how they are denying the job creating potential of green energy, The dam of ignorance will finally break. Unfortunately right wing tactics may succeed in fooling the public until it is much too late.

    More than anything POP, I admire your use of simple logic to expose the falsehoods behind cherry picked DGUs and posing simple question that force us to look at the man behind the curtain!

    Keep doing what you are doing!

  3. When I woke up this morning I realized that the Supreme Court Justice I made a reference to is Justice Scalia, not Alito. Scalia has a reputation as a loose cannon but I understand he does heavily favor ruling in support of business interests.

  4. “One of the most curious, and therefore most frequent, attacks I’ve received from the gun gallery concerns my comments about the killer of Trayvon Martin — specifically, that he was “aggressively stalking” Martin. Aha! they say, this is clearly an opinion. Nope. Granted, the choice of words is subjective — our word choices are always subjective, in my opinion. But still, those words describe solid facts established by the evidence including a recording of his call to police.”

    Wow, the “professor” is wrong again. Shocking, right? Maybe you should familiarize yourself with the actual definition of “stalking,” or at least look up how the state of Florida defines it…

    http://www.sa18.state.fl.us/page/stalking.html

    “Stalking is defined in the State of Florida as “willfully, maliciously, and REPEATEDLY following, harassing or cyberstalking” another. Stalking behaviors can consist of many things-actual physical following of a person, continuously calling or texting, e-mailing, leaving notes or sending letters, leaving or sending objects or “gifts”…essentially, a PATTERN of unwanted behavior with malicious intent. Stalking involves a PATTERN of behavior that causes substantial emotional distress to a specific person with no legitimate purpose.”

    Please take careful notice of the capitalized words. Zimmerman’s actions that night did NOT constitute stalking under Florida law. Also, what “stalker” in his right mind would call the police to inform them of his location and activity? I realize the facts are not going to sway your opinion, (that’s right, your opinion) but that isn’t my purpose. I am providing this information so that others can see just how misinformed you truly are.

    Peter W. Johnson, I eagerly await what will undoubtedly be a 20 paragraph response. Proceed in 3…2…1…

    • The Professor did not accuse the killer of committing the crime of stalking as defined by Florida law. The Professor just said he was stalking, which has at least six (non-legal) definitions. — at least five of which apply here.
      Once again, the Professor was right and “Someone” tried to score cheap points by distorting his words. Shocking, right?

      • Ah, the old semantics game, again? Good lord, you really are a nonstop source of amusement. Have fun patting yourself on the back for being “right.” That’s a good one, bud.

      • Cute. First you lecture me to look up the meaning of stalking. Then, after I humor you by doing so and showing that the dictionary is very solidly behind me, you protest that I’m playing a “game of semantics”. Talk about an endless source of entertainment. Or at least you would be if I had the time and inclination to indulge myself in your little delusional hobby. Fortunately, I have neither.

      • Not only is your argument here a prime example of paradoxical thinking (since you are obviously the one playing word games) but the post you included me in, immediately involved a transparent Ad- Hominem attack on my writing style—one of the most irrelevant and cowardly ways to frame a discussion. What will you go after next–my lunch money? Will you slam me into my locker and do the old towel whip thing in gym class? Grow up buddy!

        Keep this BS up and pretty soon you’ll qualify as a cyberstalker under your own definition of the word! But I will not play along. If you really want some fun, do something more worthwhile and go play with yourself!–not just pretending to be engaging in a legitimate forum discussion!

    • Wow,

      The only thing I could add is to ask whether the definition of “stalking,” trumps any other definition of the word in any other states? My Merriam Webster’s dictionary also uses the word to describe the action of, “pursuing game stealthily.” And sure enough Florida law also makes no mention of insisting that Trayvon was a deer being stalked for a trophy or for meat by Zimmerman. It also doesn’t include him in the description of a Stalk as an upright stem of a plant.

      However, does Florida have the option of defining the word legally in anyway that it sees fit? Apparently yes! However the Law in Florida has been questioned in many ways since well before that incident and after it. My own definition would not see it as only applying to repeated attempts as examples of valid stalking, and I hope that eventually Florida law will eventually agree. Until then, aggressively following, harassing or cyber stalking another is good enough for me. Even once! Since these actions intrinsically include the concept of repetition. And, by the way, take note that in my first comment on this thread I already disagreed with the POP on whether the outcome of Zimmerman’s trial was correctly decided. It also only takes two paragraphs to state these simple differences about the definition of “Stalk!” as well as my believe that the trial was decided correctly according to the lack of solid evidence provided by the Prosecution.

      • This individual (who has posted in different guises and from different locations, apparently believing he’s fooled me) will almost certainly be barred from any future posts, as he has violated just about every principle of decorum imaginable, after being given numerous chances to clean up his act. I only allowed these two comments to slip by because I hoped they might serve as an illustration to others of what kind of conduct to avoid if they hope to be taken seriously here.

      • Yes, I think I know who this guy is, and didn’t relish playing along with him this time.

        I want you to know though that my last comment was listed under yours because I thought it would supplement your comment about semantics on his part. I knew you’d know my comment was meant for him, but I probably should have clicked on the reply under (anonymous) when leaving my most recent comment.

  5. P.O.P., since you’re a vegetarian who has given opinions on guns and since this is about opinions, I want to give my opinion on hunting and hope people can comment. I support animal welfare. I support laws against dog fighting and I believe in harshly punishing those who abuse their pets. I am against poaching. Now if the world were vegetarian, then that would be fine with me. But most of world eats meat and I do not pass judgment on them. If people want to hunt deer, pheasant, ducks or rabbits for food, then as long as they are swiftly killed, then I have no problem. While I’m a vegetarian, I have no problem with hunting for food as long as the animal is quickly killed and I support requiring marksmanship for hunters. I know hunters who agree with me and they oppose poaching & believe in the idea of eating their kills. Nature as known can be cruel. Though PETA would differ, I would rather see a hunter quickly shoot and kill a quail, duck, deer or rabbit and eat their kill vs. a python killing a rabbit. Yes, the python is doing what is nature, but nature can be cruel.

    Though I do not listen to country music, singer Miranda Leigh Lambert in addition to the good work she does to protect dogs with Pedigree dog food also hunts & fishes for food. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that it is consistent to support animal welfare & @ the same time have no problem with food hunting as long as the animal is humanely and swiftly killed. Miranda Leigh Lambert is a hunteress who proves that there are people who support animal welfare who have no problem with food hunting as long as animal is swiftly killed and no poaching.

    I don’t believe people should be allowed to keep a monitor lizard or a python as a pet because those animals are not like a dog or a cat. As known, what has happened is that people have released monitor lizards and pythons into the Everglades when they got too big and these 2 have killed endangered species as the adult pythons and monitor lizards have almost no predators except for the American alligator.

    I support hunting the pythons and monitor lizards which are in the Everglades to protect the endangered species. I know that the U.S Humane Society opposes hunting the pythons and monitor lizards in the Everglades but this is what is needed to protect endangered species. Hunt the pythons & monitor lizards or put them in zoos or better yet, their natural environments they came from. If you have thoughts, then please comment.

  6. P.O.P., wanted to give view I had discussed on another forum regarding Falkland Islands. I’m not British but I’ve been to the United Kingdom 7 times as I have relatives who live there and I went to a British school in Spain (King’s College) from 1982 to 1984 when we lived in Madrid-I lived in Spain when I was 11 to 14 years old. I’ve not been to the Falkland Islands & I’ve not been to South America. Costa Rica (visited Sept. 2013) is the Iberoamerican nation I have been to, with exception of shopping trips to Mexican border town of Nogales. Anyhow, I am copying/pasting here my view which I wrote in another forum where I say that it must be free will of Falkland Islanders to decide sovereignty.

    I am fine with dialogue between the U.K. & Argentina on the Falkland Islands or which Argentina calls las Malvinas. Argentina is interested is because of oil, natural reserves & fish which Falkland Islands have. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner who is friends with Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro, late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez (Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias) & Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro. Morrissey is against free will when it comes to Falkland Islanders deciding their sovereingty. Venezuela’s late Pres. Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, along with Bolivia’s Evo Morales & Ecuador’s Rafael Correa side with Argentina because they’re all Socialists & it would benefit Venezuela’s Citgo as they can profit from the natural gas & oil.

    Argentina is interested in Falkland Islands because they want the oil, natural gas & fish which the F.I. have & Argentina’s allies Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador & Cuba side with Argentina because they can also profit from the oil, fish & natural gas . If Falkland Islands were to become useless in that if oil & natural gas runs out, Argentina would lose interest. If Falkland Islanders voted for independence, Argentine military would enter Falkland Islands without a fight & claim the F.I. Big reason why Falkland Islanders voted to stay British-for British military protection. The United Kingdom or Great Britain has said that it must be Falkland Islanders free will to decide.

    If Argentina wants to do business in Falkland Islands, then I support trade. If Falkland Islanders on their own free will decided that they want to be part of Argentina & do so with no threats and no force, then that I support free will to do so. For eg. if Argentine businesses worked in Falkland Islands and the Falkland Islanders decided on their own free will that they want to be part of Argentina rather than U.K. because it is more profitable, then that is no problem because it’s Falkland Islanders deciding on their own free will. But if Falkland Islanders want to remain a part of the United Kingdom, then Argentina must respect that. If Falkland Islanders want to become an independent nation, then both Argentina & the U.K. must respect that. I’m against the unilateral idea where Falkland Islands is given to Argentina without the free will of the Falkland Islanders. Let the Falkland Islanders decide their sovereignty.

    Socialist Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner is against the idea of Falkland Islands being an independent nation. Because of 1982 war, among other things, Falkland Islanders do not want to be part of Argentina. An argument Socialist Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner gives against Falkland Islanders deciding their sovereignty is that the Falkland Islanders are not the original inhabitants and while she is right that Falkland Islanders are not descendants of original inhabitants, the Falkland Islanders were born there so by birthright, it must be the free will of Falkland Islanders to decide their sovereignty. Falkland Islands has only a few thousand people and most people would not want to live there.

    Socialist Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner can say it’s about Argentine patriotism & ending colonialism but the main reason is because the Falkland Islands has something which Argentina wants and that is fish and oil reserves, though she says other things. There are Argentines who believe that it must be free will of Falkland Islanders to decide their sovereignty. Argentina’s govt. is not democracy but is Communist and associated with dictatorships. Falkland Islanders do not want to be part of Socialist Argentina because Socialist Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner is friends with Communist dictators Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro and Falkland Islanders don’t want to be part of a Socialist nation which allies with dictators.

  7. Hi, I haven’t posted here in a while because I had been watching Lassie and Rin Tin Tin episodes on Internet and watching as many full episodes as I can find of these 2 TV shows. As you know P.O.P. I believe TV is best from 1950s to early 1970s and my favorite TV shows are Bewitched (seen almost all episodes including all the episodes of 1977-78 short lived spinoff Tabatha (SF-1 episode 1976) and Tabitha (LA-13 episodes), I dream of Jeannie (seen almost all the episodes and the 1985 made for TV movie I dream of Jeannie 15 years later and the 1991 I still dream of Jeannie), Hitchcock Presents and Hour, Twilight Zone, Flipper (seen 88/89 episodes) & Partridge Family. I also like Rin Tin Tin and Lassie and I watch as many episodes as I can find of these 2 TV shows which are available on Internet.

    I wanted to talk about what I’d written before about hunting. I have been writing about this on Internet and am hoping people can comment though it’s copy/paste. They should get rid of trapping because that is cruel. I support animal welfare. I support laws against dog fighting and I believe in harshly punishing those who abuse their pets. I am against poaching. But most of world eats meat and I do not pass judgment on them. If it’s hunting for food and the animal is quickly killed, then I have no problem.

    If every1 were vegetarian, then hunting would mostly disappear. As long as people eat meat, animals will be killed for food be it farm animals or hunting. While if not mistaken there are fewer people hunting than they did in 1950s, hunting is not disappearing anytime soon because as long as people eat meat, animals will be killed on farms or in some cases hunted for food.

    If people want to hunt deer, pheasant, ducks or rabbits for food, then as long as they are swiftly killed, then I have no problem. While I’m a vegetarian, I have no problem with hunting for food as long as the animal is quickly killed and I support requiring marksmanship for hunters. I know hunters who agree with me and they oppose poaching & believe in the idea of eating their kills. I’ve found that hunters (huntress for women) can love their pets such as dogs, cats & horses, but not feel the same way with the quail, duck or rabbit they hunt because they see the quail, deer, duck or rabbit as food. Nature as known can be cruel. Though PETA would differ, I would rather see a hunter quickly shoot and kill a quail, duck, deer or rabbit and eat their kill vs. a python killing a rabbit. Yes, the python is doing what is nature, but nature can be cruel.

    Though I do not listen to country music, singer Miranda Leigh Lambert in addition to the good work she does to protect dogs with Pedigree dog food also hunts & fishes for food. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that it is consistent to support animal welfare & @ the same time have no problem with food hunting as long as the animal is humanely and swiftly killed. Miranda Leigh Lambert proves that there are people who support animal welfare who have no problem with food hunting. Another eg. would be radio host Rush Limbaugh (Rush Hudson Limbaugh) who did announcements for U.S. Humane Society in 2009. Though I don’t know if Rush hunts, he supports people’s right to hunt for food. Rush in 2009 did announcements for U.S. Humane Society where he speaks against dog fighting, animal abuse & he talked of his cat & how he loved his cat and so on. Should Pedigree Dog Food & U.S. Humane Society take announcements from people on animal topics like country singer Miranda (Miranda Leigh Lambert) and Rush because 1 has hunted?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s