By Jim Kent



The underlying problem around here is the currently popular view that anyone who disagrees with us is stupid or evil or at least misinformed.  This is almost never true.  If we ask reasonable questions and listen carefully to the answers, we often realize that we agree about the facts but disagree about what they mean or what to do about them.  


That generally turns out to be because we apply different values to the facts.  Opinions, after all, are just the conjunction of values and facts.   If we talk (and listen) thoughtfully enough, there is at least some chance we can arrive at an embraceable impasse.  This is not "agreeing to disagree," which is usually a disguised form of intellectual surrender; it's understanding why we disagree and adopting an informed position that it's okay.   If it's okay, we should be comfortable foregoing further discussion about the issue.  We like the other party and respect their opinion but don't agree with it, for reasons that both parties understand and accept as valid.


When is it not okay?  Isn't everyone "entitled to an opinion"?  Of course--but they aren't entitled to have you agree that it's a defensible one.  If opinions are where values meet facts, we can safely discount the opinions of a person who turns out to be unclear about either.  I don't care about NFL football and know as little about it as possible, so I tend to look kindly on teams from cities I like and unkindly on others, even in matters of who ought to win.  Since my opinions about NFL football are therefore rubbish, you need pay no attention to them. 


A useful thing to remember is that what's true doesn't depend on who believes it, or how many do, or who they are, or how fervently they believe.  In this way, truth is like—oh, I don't know, maybe a virus-- or on a grander scale, evolution.  You can believe in creationism instead of evolution as long as you agree that your source is not science.  This doesn't have any effect on what's true or not about evolution, though.


It matters where we look for truth, but it also matters that we're transparent about it.  This is one thing The Current Incumbent has right:  He is perfectly clear that he is the sole Fountain of Truth, and that science and history and such exercises are not reliable sources for him.  We can question his choice of sources, but once you understand his premise, his logic is faultless:  Whatever I hear myself saying becomes true; I have heard myself say X; therefore X is true.  There is no point in further discussion, but not because you have reached an embraceable impasse unless you grant the validity of his major premise, which I rather hope you don't.  


The point of all this, if there is one, is that before we excoriate or denigrate those who disagree with us, we have an obligation to figure out why they do.  If the disagreement is based on sincere and defensible opinions, those opinions and their holders should be respected.  If we can't pull that off, we might need to despair of democracy's future.  


However, we should also remember the words of Sid Caesar: "There are people who have to be right all the time.  Those are the ones you make fun of."  (Full disclosure:  That includes me.)

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