I haven’t decided yet…

Why are people so full of opinions? People froth at the mouth if there is a challenge to their views on on Labour’s tax policy, the Liberal’s leadership troubles, the Republican’s media strategy, the Democrat’s foreign policy or the Western Bulldogs forward line policy.

They act like they know it all. Why? They don’t have to make decisions on these issues! No-one’s about to ask them to take over from Rudd, Obama
or Eade. Why are they so committed to their opinion? There’s not a complete information. If you asked them, they’d be the first to admit they don’t know all the relevant factors.

So why can’t they simply be interested obervers? They could make up their mind if and only if they have to. Are people so addicted to having a point of view?

There are conflicting facts. For example there is evidence that Newtonian physics is fucntional, and evidence that quantum physics is functional. There is no theory to unite them.

Likewise, there is evidence that Twitter is a pile of crap that has jumped the shark, and evidence that it remains much more popular than some other very good websites.

Still, making a decision in the face of conflicting facts comes to look pretty smart compared to making a decision in the absence of all facts. For example, during the Presidency of George W Bush a journalist reported an aide told him :

guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued.
New York Times Magazine, 17/10/2004

These are the people who believe the Earth is flat, that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and that Sarah Palin is a serious contender in 2012.

So in the absence of facts, and the confusing nature of the things that we do know, why are people in such a rush to make decisions?

They say that “Any man who is not a socialist at age 20 has no heart. Any man who is not a capitalist at age 40 has no head.” I think both are wrong. These are major questions. I entirely advocate studying them furiously. But why conclude? Concluding will likely blind you to future evidence and make you more and more wrong.

Labelling yourself is an example of this. I could call myself a Protestant, a liberal, a Keynesian and a devotee of Kant. This would pre-define my position on a range of topics, and would load me up with pre-prepared material I could use to win a whole lot of arguments. But I’d be defending territory I couldn’t be sure I believed in.

Having opinions is like having money. It makes people feel important. We equate having opinions with being smart. Having a well thought-out philosophy is held in even higher regard. Being right is the best of all possible feelings, and you can’t be right unless you have an opinion first.

But I reckon cohesiveness is unconvincing, and certainty is a sign of weakness. Reality remains uncohesive. Holding conflicting views should be acceptable. Holding no absolute views is probably preferable.

Of course, in the end, decisions must be taken. For most of us, election time is the main example. There’s no way we can know all the relevant facts. But a position must be taken. But that decision should be immediately thrown back in the mix. It should be seen as the interpretation of the best evidence at the time, not as an expression of who you are.

The ‘reality-based community’ should be confused . Reality is a pigsty compared to the neat, imaginary worlds of all those -isms. It makes sense that we have no idea what’s going on.

Any firm, sternly-worded opinions you wish to share? Pop them below!

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

9 thoughts on “I haven’t decided yet…”

  1. Actually – there is a theory unifying Quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics. Something to do with strings. It’s all a bunch of garbage anyway, in my opinion.


  2. right with you on String Theory. unprovable and irrefutable ‘science’. it’s a perfect example of a half-baked opinion.

    exactly what we should have expected when we left physics to the physicists…


  3. Wasn’t Newtonian physics more or less superceded by Einstein’s theory of relativity? My understanding was that Newtonian physics works reasonably well (in that you’d not notice the difference, like assuming that pi=3.14159 : workable, but not “right”) describing things on Earth, but falls apart trying to deal with gravity on a planetary scale, amongst other more cosmic scale physics problems.

    Relativity can’t cope with tiny things like quantum mechanics can, though, because some results on the tiniest of scales seem to suggest influence moving faster than light, unacceptable to relativity. And there’s the rub.

    ANYWAY – opinions, eh? I wrote an essay on moral and ethic relativism (as opposed to relativity ;-) ) that more or less dismissed the idea of ‘moral’ truth as nothing more than opinion. And the reasoning goes that opinions are, by definition, what you have in the absence of proof. The problem with opinions is when they become intransient.

    Winning an argument is more about the “win”, than the opinion, though: the “best feeling in the world” comes from victory, not a conviction to the principle you were arguing for, if any.

    I could go on and on and on – drinks?


    1. Don’t drag Albert Einstein into this. It’s just another thing I don’t understand.

      And I think the problem with opinions is when their owners become *intransigent*. Refer to Dufus above.


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