Opinions Are Not Equal

Kill someone, save a life
Don’t do drugs, drink all night
Worship Jesus, praise Satan
Opinions are all contradictions

~Burst, by Anthrax, from Sound of White Noise

 

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I’m going to do us all a favor.  I’m going to help us look, maybe even be, smarter.  As has become my way, this might be a bit of a tirade, a bit of a rant, and a bit sarcastic—and is surely to angry up the blood in some.  I’m going to illustrate why your opinion is either good or crap, and show you how they can be grown, changed, and improved.  Essentially, I’m trying to illustrate a few ways in which we can improve our opinions, and recognize—at long last—that merely “having” an opinion does not mean it’s of any particular value. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m particularly smart or smarter than any of you out there in internet-land, only that I see far too many not living up to their potential—and far too many defending stupidity “just because,” when that is the last aspect of humanity we should be coddling.

Well, actually, opinions and their “sacred” version, beliefs, have everything to do with just about anything—because we all have thoughts, feelings, and views on all sorts of things.  If you’re like me, you’re a gamer—our lives are built around boxes of pure science and technology and expressed through art—well, usually, anyway.  So, with that in mind, maybe this is a safe place to do this. After all, we obviously love science enough to spend several hours a day with it in our living rooms—we should be smart enough to approach things in a similarly scientific manner.  We should be able to put thought and analysis into our everyday thinking.

 

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Opinions are like…

The old cliché is that “opinions are like assholes—everyone has one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.”  Well, the first half of that is true.  Everyone does have one—usually (to be fair, it’s fine to not have an opinion on something, so don’t let anyone pressure you into having an opinion just to have one), but I dare say I don’t think everyone else’s opinion stinks.  Indeed, I have found a great deal of opinions that I greatly enjoy and will even champion, even if they differ a bit from my views.

But let’s just say what people with bad opinions don’t want to hear or face:  Opinions are not equal.

Opinions can be any of the following:

1.       Educated

2.       Stupid

3.       Fact-based

4.       Fictional

5.       Rational

6.       Irrational

7.       Unbiased

8.       Biased

9.       Tolerant

10.    Prejudiced

11.    Loving

12.    Hateful

I won’t deny it, I get annoyed when I see people defend any old opinion or belief as if they’re all equal.  No they’re not.  Some us don’t go off half-cocked, willy-nilly, knee-jerking our reactions all over the place, and nor should we.  Some of us put thought behind our opinions.  Some of us use facts.  Essentially, I’m going to show you that an opinion may be without merit, because, yes, it’s possible.  Opinions can be utter nonsense, and in fact, they can be factually incorrect.  They can beevil.  And they can be good.

But they are not all equal, and in this regard, some can be dismissed outright.  Some opinions are, indeed, superior by way of validity, and some are indeed, inferior, by way of lacking validity or if they are downright hateful or aggressively biased.

Yes, we all have opinions, but the manner in which we form them will either add weight to them or make them utterly pointless.  If our opinion just shoots from our mouth, totally bypassing our brain, it may be a bit problematic. We’ve all done this.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction. Learning how to stop this is key to preventing us from advertising our own stupidity or ignorance—which is pretty much the only thing this kind of reaction is good for.

It is fine to be ignorant, by the way—so long as you don’t attempt to talk based on that ignorance—we don’t all know everything there is about everything or anything.  I’m totally ignorant of architecture, for instance.  I’m ignorant of the political spectrum of Nigeria.  I read a lot about science, skepticism, and a surprising amount about religion—so I’m actively minimizing my ignorance there.  I read and know even more about video games, so my ignorance in that regard isrelatively small—but there huge gaps, of course.  For instance, I can’t really answer any questions on the ZX Spectrum or Zeebo, even though I own games for the former.  I do my best not to talk about subjects about which I know nothing.  I’m not going to try to tell you my thoughts about politics in Nigeria aside from to, at best, tell you I don’t know anything about that.  If someone is telling me about something about which I am ignorant, I will tell them, “I don’t know what that is.”  If I’m online, I open another tab and look it up.  Suffice to say, if we don’t know what we’re talking about, we need to stop talking about it.  And keep in mind, even if we do think we know a lot about something, we don’t.  Someone always knows something we don’t.

Let’s look at some opinions, relative to gaming no less:

“There are no games on the Vita, Wii U, XBO, PS4, etc.”

“I don’t see anything I want so I’m going to wait for [insert key franchises] before I buy.”

The Vita and Wii U have received this slack for the entirety of their initial year on the market.  I posit that this is not a valid opinion, because it is too narrowly focused and it is factually incorrect.  The Wii U and the Vita have quite a few games, each.  Historically, no game console ever launches with all its best, most memorable, or strongest titles either on launch day or even during the first year it’s out.  Go ahead, try it—tell me a first year Sega Genesis or Playstation 3 game that came to truly define the console.  You might get one, and you might need to check your work—because the Genesis did not launch with Sonic the Hedgehog and the Playstation 3 did launch withLair.  So, yes, they had games, but no, they did not have their defining titles right away, because no console does.  Making a blanket comment such as “they have no games” is a weak statement, and a thoughtless opinion.  Pretty much every person we see who has said this has done it out of bias or ignorance, if not both.

Perhaps we want to defend such a weak statement by attempting to explain how it should have been interpreted.  That’s lazy, both physically or verbally and intellectually—as we should’ve written or said our intent in the first place if it was indeed different.  It’s not the job of others to interpret our laziness to appease us.  It’s our job as a speaker or commenter to communicate well.  That’s part of why we have schools.

What about the Xbox One or Playstation 4?  Well, their launches are perfect mirrors of the Wii U, X360, PS3, Vita, etc—they are mostly flooded with ports of games you can get anywhere else.  Logically, if you felt “there were no games” on the Wii U or Vita, then the same sentiment must be held for the XBO and PS4.  This is an opinion made, again, largely from ignorance, a knee-jerk reaction, or from bias.  They have games.  They’re not the best games in the world, and history indicates that we shouldn’t be expecting that in the first place.

The latter view—of wanting to wait for key franchises before you buy a console, that makes perfect sense and that works on pretty much all levels, unless that key franchise is already out, then it might be a bit baffling.  Maybe you’re waiting for Smash Bros before you get a Wii U, or Witcher 3 before you decide on a PS4 or Xbox One.  That’s a perfectly valid view or feeling.  Maybe a little narrow in that there is quite a bit more to play before then, but hey, it’s not a factually incorrect sentiment.  It’s just what you may prefer.  Congratulations, a personally valid opinion.

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Oh look, Moron Kombat.

Here’s the issue: I see no point in wasting time or energy for any of us to give “fair time” to opinions that clearly don’t warrant any amount of acknowledgement or respect.  It doesn’t matter if it is your opinion and you take ownership of it, or that it defines you.  If it is stupid, evil, inhuman, inhumane, or prejudiced, then it is without merit.  The Ku Klux Klan believes that minorities are inferior to white people.  The Westboro Baptist Church believes gays deserve to die and that God hates them.  Both of these groups use religion to form and justify their opinions.  We should no more entertain these opinions than we should entertain the opinions of someone who, say, has decided to believe that Bill Gates will personally pull Xbox-flavored ice cream out of his ass for you when you buy your next console.

In reference to the WBC and KKK, it is hate-based and factually incorrect—minorities are not inferior to white people.  All races are equal in their basic human form—equal in their abilities, their minds, their potential.  Are you happy with these opinions? These beliefs?  When we simply brush this off with a wave of our hand, “well, everyone has their opinion,” then we validate this kind of vitriolic nonsense.  This kind of hatred and bigotry.  Now it’s okay.  Well, they believe what they want and everyone is entitled to that.

Now, that’s legally true.  Here, in the United States, we are guaranteed the freedom of speech.  We can think and feel and say and believe whatever the hell we want, no matter how evil or stupid or asinine, brilliant, intelligent, or valuable.

But it does not mean that all opinions are equal, nor does it mean all beliefs are equal—or valid.  If an opinion is not formed through logic, facts, or sound reasoning, then it sacrifices its validity.  It isnot on equal ground with any opinion formed through intelligence or analysis or facts.  An opinion formed on nothing is not equally valid to an opinion formed through knowledge and research.   We should not casually defend asininity by stating that we all have our own opinions and that’s fine.  An opinion can simply be wrong, as the WBC and KKK so handily show.  Minorities are not inferior to white people.  Gays are not abominations—they’re people.

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Treading a Minefield

People don’t like being wrong. I get that.  But, and I can only put this so sincerely, grow the hell up.  Perhaps this is because people are petty and place value on trivial things.  I can give you something that I would argue is more important than a mild temporary high derived from a perception of “being right”:  Learning and growing.

Now, if all you care about is being right, then I have the easiest way for you to do it:  Only use provable facts.  That means no appealing to authority.  That means no speaking without knowing.  That means no making crap up on the fly.  That means stowing bias in the toilet where it belongs.  And that means any references used must be from credible places.

For instance, if I’m trying to argue against evolution, I’m wasting my time by citing anything that isnot scientifically literate.  Evolution is science, and has 150+ years of hard scientific study, evidence, and understanding.  Evolution would be extremely easy to disprove—all you need is to find a single animal in totally the wrong place in the fossil record.  For instance, if you were to find a fossilized kangaroo skeleton at the same level and age as dimetrodon—and somewhere not even remotely Australia—you might have something here.  Even better if that discovery is made by an educated scientist and it has been confirmed through peer review—the backbone of science.

I’m not going to get anywhere trying to poke holes in evolution by citing various religious texts—because they aren’t science, the authors (of the really old stuff) are unknown, and there is no evidence.  In effect, a religious text is not scientific, and you don’t see Creationists out on paleontological digs.

If I want to defend a view, thought, concept, or argument on video games, I’m not going to use CNN.com or Fox News or some random nut out there on 4chan.  I’m not likely to use the actual place I want to defend either—say, I’m not going to defend Microsoft sales by citing statements directly from Microsoft—at least not alone, given their penchant for hilarious number fudgery over this generation.  I will cite reputable, external video game news sources, maybe IGN, or GameSpot, or Gamasutra, or whatever the hell site this is.  Lethal GameInforcer, or something.

Here’s another point: We cannot state blatant stupidity and then try to make others prove us wrong.  That’s failure from the outset.  If you’re the one with the weak opinion, belief, or view—then it is on you to prove your point.  Keep this brilliant sentiment in mind:

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If we cannot prove our point or back it up with solid evidence (facts, analysis, logic, physical representations, etc.), then our point is wrong.  If we cannot demonstrate a valid reason for our opinion, then our opinion is weak—if not wrong or stupid.  If we need others to prove us wrong, we are admitting that our view is wrong.

No one can necessarily prove a negative.  This is when someone says, “you can’t prove there isn’t an invisible teapot orbiting the sun between Mercury and Venus, therefore, we should believe in it.”  Just because it cannot be disproven is not a good reason to believe it.  If I walked up to you and said, “I believe there is an invisible bat-winged Pegasus that flies before me and occasionally drops loose change,” you would not believe me unless I could somehow provide evidence.

Then again, I can find “evidence.” “Look here,” I say, as I pull a penny and a nickel from my pocket, “evidence.”  And you twist your face in disbelief.  Obviously, I am probably an idiot and my belief is moronic.

If you have any brains at all, no doubt you’ve already seen the flaw in my “evidence.”  And that flaw is known as Occam’s Razor.  Occam’s razor states, quite simply, that the simplest explanation is the most likely.  What is the most likely explanation for my “evidence?”  That people dropped it on the ground.  This doesn’t need my invisible bat-winged Pegasus! We have ample evidence that people drop change—we’ve all done it!  We’ve all dropped change, known we’ve done it, and kept walking!  Who gives a crap? It’s a nickel!  I have literally tens of nickels in my car!  My belief is asinine!  It’s ridiculous!

If you have the opinion that loose change is dropped by regular people and not invisible bat-winged Pegasus, and you base that opinion off active observation and logical simplicity, then your opinion is vastly superior to my comparatively stupid assumption.

I understand fully that this basic understanding of evidence and logical reasoning tends to destroy religious beliefs, but then, all religions are founded on faith for a reason—because facts easily demolish faith.  And when you face conflicting facts with your long-held beliefs, then you are…

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Facing the Cognitive Dissonance

cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas (yep, copied right from Wikipedia, because I’m not going to give you a better definition than that).  Our brain, in a sense, breaks.  Best case scenario, we analyze the facts and the new information and modify our understanding to break free of the dissonance.  Worst case scenario, we choose to flee from any information that conflicts with old, long-held beliefs, return to ignorance, and learn nothing.

We have all faced this.  It can be tough.  I can’t imagine how tough it must be for religious people to have to face this every day.  Even spending all my youthful Sundays wasting two hours at church, I was never religious and hardly a believer, so it was easy for me to outgrow those silly genocidal Bible stories.  No wonder so many high-profile Creationists sound so totally off their rockers.  They’re trying to rationalize things that are scientifically, historically, biologically, and logically irrational and flatly incorrect.  No seriously, they’ve gone from “Satan buried those bones in the ground to test faith” to “humans lived with dinosaurs—6,000 years ago.”

I’ve personally faced my own cognitive dissonance, as we all have, I’m sure.  I didn’t “believe” in global warming for a while—a short while, at any rate.  Why?  Because of politicians.  Politicians, it should be noted, are routinely wrong—and it was a distrust of politicians, including Al Gore, that instilled this.  The more I looked into anthropogenic global warming, the more I understood it, the more I saw scientists increasingly worrying—the more I couldn’t deny it.  I faced a cognitive dissonance in that my perceived understanding was wrong.  I sucked it up.  I still don’t really like Al Gore, but I understand that anthropogenic global warming is overwhelmingly factual.  What do I distrust now?  Still the damn politicians.  They may be understanding that it’s happening, but now the thing I fear now is what kind of totally horrifying solutions they may come up with.  The cliché remains, the only things worse than the problems created by Congress, are the solutions.  The point here, however, is that I got over being wrong.  If I can do it, certainly anyone can—I’m certainly nothing special.

This is arguably the hardest part of having an opinion that is fundamentally wrong.  Getting over it.  We can recognize it more easily than we can get over it.  I was shown a video in college about how people fail to learn, unfortunately I don’t remember what the hell it was called (or I’d link YouTube here).  But the gist of it was thus:  People cling too strongly to previously held beliefs, even when presented with new information, even when they are able to accept the new information.

The example given was in the question of what makes seasons change on Earth.  We have a factual statement that Earth lies in an elliptical orbit around the sun, which means sometimes it is closer and sometimes it is further away—by a negligible amount.  When students—college students in the film—were asked this, they said that the elliptical orbit causes the seasons.   They were then asked why the southern hemisphere has seasons opposite of the northern hemisphere, if this was the case, and it confused a surprising number of them. Science then taught them that, no, actually seasons are caused by the Earth tilting on its axis, and when the northern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, it’s summer, and at that time, the southern hemisphere is in winter, as it is tiltedaway from the sun.  They understood this new information and recognized that what they believed before was incorrect.  Then they were asked this again at a later date—and shockingly, many of them once again had believed the elliptical orbit caused the seasons to change. Again, these were college students.

This is an important thing to remember (and is spotlighted in another of my blogs) that sometimes humans are slow at learning, even when learning hard lessons.  The human brain is an incredibly fallible element for memory storage—this is notable in that eyewitness accounts are very well known as the least reliable form of evidence for pretty much any given situation.  With this in mind, we should remember to never make absolutist statements (you know, like the Sith), not only because they’re all Palpatine-evil, but because we know our own brains are incapable of accurate memory—we should never be too certain of our own memories.

You’ll notice this frequently in science—scientists will tend to go out of their way to avoid making absolutist statements.  Indeed, science is merely the most accurate understanding of said phenomena that we currently have.  There are, of course, simple statements that are out-and-out facts that can be said with absolute confidence—the sun warms the earth, the earth revolves around the sun, dinosaurs used to live on earth, the oceans are salty, evolution has been proven as a fact, humans are fallible and creative, etc.   For the most part, however, scientists tend to be wary of their findings and understandings.

Science is also a great example when trying to figure out how to handle being wrong.  Though the occasional, totally fallible human may behave erroneously, science as a whole doesn’t have a problem with being wrong—indeed, being wrong means just as much growth and understanding as being “right.”  One may argue that being wrong is more important, because it allows science to throw away junk theories so they may focus on newer, better concepts and ideas.  If only we were all so humble as science and noble as argon!

 

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You Gotta Have Respect—But Only for People

Concerning opinions and beliefs, we will round this out with those “sacred” opinions—religious beliefs.  Somehow, religions have managed to create an illogical concept that some beliefs are “totally sacred” and that people should respect them.  This comes full circle to the WBC and Islam hating gays, or the KKK every single other minority, or Hitler’s belief that he was doing God’s work in murdering Jews, or Stalin’s belief that human life really didn’t matter so long as the machine of government succeeded.  These horrific beliefs are more than enough to show that opinions and facts themselves do not deserve respect.  They are monstrous and anti-human beliefs.  I will have respect for a bird crapping on my newly washed car before I have respect for any of this nonsense.

When we speak to people with different ideas, opinions, and views, obviously we should have some respect.  And I have too much respect for the human animal to respect some of the stupidity some of us wish to believe.  I know, it’s not always easy.  Some people are nigh impossible to talk to, prideful of ignorance (let’s not be this way), or simply stuck in their ways and totally fearful of change or information that contradicts deeply held, if irrational and illogical, beliefs.

Just because we assign a concept of “sacredness” to an idea does not make it magically immune to criticism or questioning.  When someone says their nonsense belief is immune to criticism, and must never be criticized, they are admitting that its foundations are too weak to handle any criticism.  Why do you think Scientology or Islam don’t like criticism?  Because it’s all too easy for skeptics to do it successfully.

                “If faith can move mountains, then it should be able to withstand criticism.”

Faith is a silly concept not to be held with any amount of absent-minded respect.  Again, I could have faith in an invisible bat-winged change-dropping Pegasus.  I could have faith that murdering six million human beings is my divine purpose.  Who assigns what is and isn’t sacred and above reproach?  No one does, because nothing is.  No idea, no concept, no belief, no opinion is immune to being questioned and examined and critiqued.  Not even this one that you’re reading right now (but please try to remain focused when you have at me in the comments section).  But logic, analysis, science, intelligence, and investigation can show us which beliefs, opinions, or faiths are very likely without value, factually incorrect, or just silly.

Try to be nice to the people, of course—but there is no reason to be nice to the beliefs themselves, especially if they are stating horrible things that your inborn humanity knows are wrong.  People who hold silly beliefs are often quick to be offended or to quickly assume they are, themselves, being attacked—but that’s just the risk of what happens during such a discussion.

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This was originally going to be a short blog, I don’t know what happened…

My point here was to dismiss the—what I view as—totally asinine concept that “everyone has an opinion and all are equal.”

Short answer: Opinions are not created equally, and opinions are not equal.

Long answer: See blog above.

We live in the information age.  We live in the future.  I’ve personally watched video games go from a TV screen with barely a hundred pixels across and four colors to photo-realistic, totally invented monsters from space.  I’ve seen information gathering go from buying magazines or digging back-achingly through the dusty old library where my Mom works to jamming a few keywords into Google and having a wealth of data at my fingertips.  Technological growth is absolutely incredible, and we now live in a time when information simply cannot be hidden.  Religions once used ignorance and “divine” leaders to control how people thought.  Governments did this as well (North Korea still does).  They controlled information and knowledge, because stupid and ignorant subjects were more easily subjugated.  Now, anyone can learn anything.  It’s right here—it’s a tab away.

Again, we are all ignorant on any number of subjects, but we live at a time when it is flatly inexcusable to be speaking or forming opinions based on that ignorance.  We have no excuse not to do some research and to learn something for ourselves—especially before we begin to speak about something.  In the gaming world, we have fanboyism that both clouds a mind in ignorance and refuses to accept any amount of criticism—while inspiring one to run their mouth about anything about which they are not a fanboy.  No one is above criticism, but at the same time, we should be doing it with some degree of intelligence.  Bad ideas will eventually do themselves in, so let’s not try to fight fire with fire—gentle water will work just fine.  When you have the right tools, you don’t need to be so forceful.

So believe whatever you want, but be aware, if you have formed that belief or opinion in a non-intelligent manner, then be prepared to be corrected, because you eventually will be.  We should all be called on our BS when it slips from our mouths… or in this case, our fingers.  If only we all took pride in learning and knowledge, than in ignorance and bias.  I will not place my most thoughtful opinions on the same level as the bigotry of the Westboro Baptist Church by simply saying “well, we all have our opinions, I guess.”  Even my most mindless, knee-jerk reaction is a better formed opinion than anything coming from the WBC.  I’m willing to bet the same of pretty much any of you, as well.

 

So, thanks for stopping by to view my opinion piece on opinions!

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Note 1:  I did not attack anyone’s faith, but the idea of blind faith based on no facts (or false or invented “facts”) by itself. The primary point of every religion is that each one is the one true faith. By the fact that there are so many religions, logically they cannot all be the one true religion, and in that regard, if there was a single true faith, then there would only be one.  In effect, all religions are equally wrong, and which you are depends far more on where you were born than any amount of “trueness.”  This is why if you’re born in the US, you’re more likely to be raised Christian, or if you’re born in India, you’re most likely to be Hindu—and also why religious “visions” are always related to the deities of that associated geographic region. American believers see the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich, Hindu believers see miracles of their statues drinking milk. The rational skeptic will be able to independently investigate both of these and be able to explain them scientifically and logically, the believer may apply no rationale and any lofty claim that they wish, from “all religions are equally true” (which I can agree with, if the “truth value” is “0”) to one god working in that old “mysterious ways” argument again.  One may be rational about most things in life and still be religious—and smart people can come up with smart-sounding reasons for accepting this element of “unrational” belief.
Note 2: I used the examples of the WBC and KKK because they are among the most extreme versions of opinions.  I could have used conspiracy theorists, who also have fundamentally faulty beliefs, but their beliefs tend not to be overly anti-humanist, harmful, or hateful—so it lessens the impact.  Not that they are entirely benign, however.  There are also opinions that psychics have measurable skills (none do, and none have), or that the Loch Ness Monster is real (some Creationists had actually adopted this cryptid as “evidence of Creationism” when there isn’t even evidence it exists).  There is also the notable opinion that flying airplanes into the World Trade Center was the “will of Allah” and that such a mass murder is perfectly justifiable.
Note 3: You are obviously free to disagree with this, indeed it is “merely” my opinion, my view.  But it is also the reason I have so little tolerance or respect for stupid, silly, illogical, or factually errant beliefs, views, opinions, or statements.  We are all entitled to our opinions—but merely stating an opinion doesn’t mean its automatically worth anything.
Note 4: The unfortunate reality we face is that many people form or have opinions or views without any actual research of their own.  It has been said that Christians view the Bible like a license agreement—they don’t actually read or understand it, they just scroll to the bottom and click “Agree.”  If you’re not willing to do the research, what possible weight could your argument possibly have?
NOTE 5: This blog originally appeared by me on gameinformer.com.
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