OP-ED: Opinion and Reality

Fair warning from the start: This post is going to address that beast, politics, and talk about it a little. Probably not in the way most of you expect, but it is going to address it. So fair warning, this might be messy. But I’m pulling no punches and diving right in.

The last few months have reminded me of an experience I once had a little over a decade ago. I collect cool background images for my PC, and from a variety of sources. Photographs of national parks, neat images from video-games I’ve played, whatever. That mix and combination, however, lead to a very interesting exchange.

I had a visitor over who, through one means or another had noticed my rotating backgrounds, and commented on them and how nice they looked. At the moment, the background in question had been showing a very artistic photograph of Hamburg, Germany. I nodded, agreeing, and then noted that it almost made me want to visit and see the city someday.

At which point, this individual did something very unexpected and unusual. They shook their head sadly and said “Oh sure, that’d be nice, but it’s not a real place.”

Stunned and slightly perplexed, I replied that it was indeed very real. Hamburg, Germany was a city on a map.

At this point things took a swift turn sideways. This individual, who up until this point I had assumed was a rational, thinking human being, shook their head and with a sad, patronizing tone said ‘Oh no, it’s not hun. You just think it is because of all those video games you play. You’ve lost touch with reality. You think these imaginary places are real.’

After a moment’s pure shocked disbelief, I replied that I knew very well the difference between fantasy and reality, and replied that Hamburg, Germany was a very real place.

Their response? They shook their head, told me how sad it was that playing video games had messed with my head so much, and hoped that one day I would realize the difference between fantasy and reality.

To this day I wonder if that individual ever realized exactly how crazy they sounded.

Anyway, why bring this weird (but true) tale up? Because this exchange has reminded me a lot of the state of the political sphere in the United States at the moment. Just yesterday I observed someone who I would have presumed to be a rational, thinking human being insist that something that had been reported had to have been “fake news” because so-and-so would never do that.

Even when they were shown over a dozen stories, all quoting the individual in question’s personal twitter speaking directly about it. They insisted that the person wouldnever do or say that’ and that their own personal twitter had to have been falsified by this person’s enemies.

Why am I not naming names here? Because it could be anyone at this point on both sides of the Republican-Democrat spectrum. Much of the political posturing I see these days online seems wholly and willfully divested from reality. Person A makes a statement, one easily proven true or false with hard numbers and reports.

But those reports “don’t matter,” they might argue. Or they’re false. Even if they came from the very source they claim to be promoting. All that matters is the opinion they want to be true, not the reality itself.

Which is why it’s been reminding me of that little conversation I had about the picture of Hamburg, Germany. This individual, I quickly learned, was rabidly against video games. Anything that could conceivably be thrown against them was, and was fact in their book.

Because of this, they had to hold that Hamburg was fake, rather than real place, because it being so reinforced their own already committed stance that as someone who played video games, I was delusional and didn’t have a grasp on reality. So rather than learn and acknowledge that yes, Hamburg is a real place, this individual doubled down that it couldn’t be, and refused all logic to the contrary. Admitting otherwise would have been acknowledging that perhaps their own worldview was wrong, and well … they couldn’t accept that.

Their pride and self-image (no matter how deluded) mattered too much to question their own path.

Worryingly, I see a lot of similar behavior across posts on Facebook. Not from advertisers or promoted posts, but from people. People espousing a mindset of “the facts don’t matter” but only what they “choose to believe.”

This has been a worrying trend in the last decade or so, but things right now seem to be pushing it to a fever point. People seem to want to express their opinions … but only insafar as everyone says they’re “right.” Anyone who disagrees is insulting them personally, and therefore must be wrong.

Personally, I believe pride, entitlement, and selfishness are at the root of a lot of it. A mindset of “How dare anyone insist I be wrong? Don’t they know who I am? I deserve to be respected, and that means no one should disagree with me!”


Again, written out like this, it sounds like hyperbole, but sadly in my experience it’s not. For example, about six or seven months ago I shared a piece discussing stagnant wages and rising costs of living and an individual who quite proudly holds themselves as a member of a particular US generation showed up to dispute it. Not with numbers, but with “I think you’re all wrong, whiny, and entitled” sort of speech. However, during the course of their mockery, they challenged anyone to offer them “real numbers” to prove their own offered “evidence” wrong.

And someone did. Someone looked up the actual values this person was pretending to quote (they made them up), from multiple sources, posted them, along with a breakdown, and told this person “Look, you’re wrong.”

And here’s what happened. This poster lost their mind. In ALL CAPS (the classic internet shout), the disputer questioned the one who’d replied with “HOW DARE YOU CALL ME A LIAR!?” Yes, rather than address the sources this poster had brought, they chose to “acknowledge” the difference between what this poster had replied and what they had claimed by referring to it as “calling them a liar.”

They doubled down in this. They then accused the responder of ‘not knowing that they should respect their elders,’ and ‘how dare you accuse me of lying’ (which they hadn’t, just offered actual sources). They finalized their statement with “this is the problem with your generation: you don’t respect anyone and refuse to treat those who deserve it well.’

I had to block them, as this was not the first time they’d acted in this manner. But the irony of everything they said was they they were the ones being disrespectful and acting in sheer entitlement. From their post, they saw it as their “right” to be unequivocally respected as an authority even if they had no idea what they were talking about. And when their completely made-up numbers were shown to be untrue, rather than praised, their pride couldn’t take it, and they went ballistic.


Sadly, this is far from the only case of behavior like this rearing its head, in politics or otherwise. Another individual I know posted a comment about finances and jobs that was basically, to sum it up, “people these days don’t know how to work, here’s what I got paid for this many hours in this year.”

As someone who follows this sort of thing, I wrote out a polite response showing it wasn’t nearly as cut and dry. I adjusted what they’d been paid to account for inflation, and then did the same in reverse for the same job (I was actually able to pull it up, the company was still around) and show that by the math, someone working that same job today, doing the same thing, would need around twice the hours this individual had worked to make the equivalent pay.

It was well explained, the math was all shown, etc etc. I urged them to realize that it wasn’t quite a matter of blaming a generation for laziness, but rather that the numbers showed things had changed. Very clear and easy to understand.

They deleted the whole post. Just gone. To this day, they still post memes and other bits about how “lazy” everyone after their generation is, and how they just need to “work a few hours.”

Which isn’t true. Mathematically, it’s been proven again and again. But when faced with the truth, they seem to have come to a crossroads. They could—

A) Admit they were even possibly wrong and examine the numbers

—-or—

B) Erase it to protect their own self-image, and continue on as normal.

Unfortunately they chose B.


Okay, I’ve been rambling on this now for—checks—1,400 words. What’s the point I’m getting at?

Well the first one is obvious. I’m worried. Regardless of what anyone else says, I hold that one of the strongest traits a person can have, and one that should earn respect, is the ability to admit when one is wrong. It’s hard. It takes humility. But also reason: No one is right all the time. We’re just not. It’s hard to admit that we’ve screwed up … but the act of doing so is what makes us strong.

The inverse—insisting that one can never be wrong—is weakness. Cowardice, even. Unfortunately, I feel as though many see this as the other way around, and well … that’s only weakness masquerading as strength. When a serious blow strikes a wall that is weak, rather than strong, things have a tendency to go very wrong.

This is, to bring things around to my writing, one of the reasons I write some of the characters I do. I’ve said before that I like to write characters that are good in some way, protagonists that readers can look up to. And you might have noticed that in a lot of my books the protagonists I write will own up to being wrong. They nod, accept it, and move on when it happens. Sometimes it might be a bit of a struggle for them, but at the end of the day, they’ll admit when they’re wrong. Many of them (like Sali or Meelo, for example) with a nod, any needed apology, and a move on from there. That’s strength, not weakness.

But even outside of that, as the United States gears up for an election, I find myself fearing that many are voting purely out of personal pride rather than any other sense of reason or logic. And that pride is twisting people so far from actual facts and truth that … Well, let me put it this way: the other day a relative of mine decried that Rudy Giuliani hadn’t spoken about something because “Democrats always lie.”

For those of you outside the US, Giuliani is a Republican, a member of the other US party that gets all the attention. But this individual was so wrapped up in their own “this has to be true” moment (that moment being “Giuliani said this”) that when it turned out they hadn’t, the only recourse they had to fall back on was ‘Well he didn’t because he lied because he’s a Democrat.’

This is the logic of the insane. And rest assured, both sides of the two primary party supporters are showing it in droves as far as I can see.


This all sounds awfully depressing, so then what is the point of all this? Ultimately, I suppose, in the end it is a plea.

Don’t be weak. Have the strength to admit a mistake. Have the strength to listen to something said by someone, even when it’s appealing to what you want to hear, and ask “Is this correct?” Then find out!

We live in the age of the greatest access to knowledge mankind has ever faced. With the click of a mouse and a few keystrokes, I can pull up a the receipts of an oil company from the early 1800s detailing how much different sections of pipe cost. When a government official or party member makes a claim, anyone can check to verify it. Knowledge is public! There are resources upon resources out there.

‘”But oh,” I can hear some of you saying “What if they’re false?” Not a winning trump (pun unintentional) card, actually. One source may be tweaking things, yes. But that’s why we have access to hundreds of sources. You can find multiple research studies on just about everything these days. Multiple dataset collection services.

Have the strength to decide for yourself while still having the strength to acknowledge when something you decided was incorrect.

It might seem “nice” to imagine if only we could simply take what sounded good to us as true and it automatically became so … But what would such an existence be worth? Very little.

And the real world isn’t quite that simple. Far from it, actually. It’s complicated. Interlocking. And quite often, only understood insofar as we’ve been able to study it. Good science relies, nay requires that prior understanding be reinforced by constant study, and replaced if it is shown to be incorrect.

Bad science, on the other hand, simply runs with what it wants to be true. Bad science dismisses something it doesn’t like the sound of because of pride or entitlement.

Look, I’m not pleading with anyone who reads this to be perfect. That’s a pretty high bar (and the purview of another figure entirely). But I am saying that we don’t have to let ourselves be swept along by the currents of whatever we’re told, or what we want to believe. The captain of the largest ship may believe it’s everyone else’s job to make way before their inexorable form, that a clear path with not changing of course is their right … but the lighthouse will simply be otherwise.

Let’s all be a little stronger. A little more humble.

Let’s seek reality, rather than dismissing it for an opinion that suits our desires.

5 thoughts on “OP-ED: Opinion and Reality

  1. wait… maybe all those Hamburgers I’ve eaten over the years were imaginary? Tasted pretty good for make-believe, though, I must say.

    There is a certain joy to be found in correcting one’s own misconceptions/misunderstandings. Believing we have to be always right, and our opinions are sacrosanct, makes us very puny gods in our own miserable little dead-end universes.

    I much prefer the wonder and amazement of learning new things, and unlearning things that don’t work.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It’s been a red letter week for me in this area. I sometimes post on Quora. I had someone politely disagree with me and then explain their evidence and follow it up.with a patient explanation that changed my mind about the subject. If this wasn’t enough, another poster whose picture didn’t validate their point, thanked me for pointing it out apologized for putting up the wrong picture.

    This should be the norm indeed of the exception. I have found myself reporting posts of people whose politics I agree with because they are abusive or their arguments are nonsensical.

    I once loved debate because debating a knowledgeable person is a great way to learn about a topic. This love died a slow lingering death because it seems no one knows how to debate, they only know how to argue. The debates of this campaign season illustrate this quite well. Everyone who cares about them only wants to know who won. The point of a political debate is to give information to the voters to help.them participate in the election. As soon as it becomes about winning only, lying and deception become tools instead of bad behavior.

    I’m very afraid that something is going to break very soon with consequences that few can really conceive of.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My predominant problem with any form of debate is that I just don’t care enough to do get good at it. It takes time to go around looking up three or four sources on the same thing trying to get a non-biased consensus, and to look for all that – I mean really look, not just do a Google search and skim website headlines – requires you to be interested and invested in finding out.

    I’m not. In most cases, I legitimately do not care.

    That being said, when something comes up that I do care about, I’ll go out of my way to confirm information.

    I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with this way of looking at things. It prevents me from getting too invested in the kind of things that apparently drive a lot of people insane. The catch is that I have to acknowledge that there are some things I have an opinion on that I haven’t studied in depth, so I could be wrong. And I’ll admit, that’s hard. It’s one of the reasons I try to get my information from people who share their sources and, preferably, have more than one. If I can’t be bothered to confirm the data, I can at least try to hear the news from someone who has already taken that step. It’s not a perfect system, but what is?

    Like

    • I agree with Paul here; doing good faith debate is *exhausting* and time-consuming. Not long ago, I engaged with a friend from school who had posted a long diatribe filled with propaganda and confused information. I emailed him, looking to get some perspective. He wasn’t as unhinged as I was afraid that he was, but there was a lot to hash out. So we exchanged emails over the course of a week while I was on vacation. Being locked down, it was actually the main activity I engaged in over that week. Probably ended up writing 10 pages or so, with sources and everything. One of the recurring topics in this back and forth was my friend’s exasperation with the “media” and how hard it is find the “truth.” I don’t think I really changed his mind all that much, but we were able to have an amicable discussion.

      Trust is something that we’ve lost in the last few years. I read a couple of interesting articles on this topic at The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/collapsing-levels-trust-are-devastating-america/616581/ and https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/year-living-uncertainly/616648/), which has kind of become my refuge recently in rational discussion. We have lost our consensus on what is and is not. I think we can reclaim it, but it takes, hearkening back to the beginning of this long-winded comment, a *lot* of work.

      Oh, and thanks for sharing, Max.

      Like

  4. It’s pretty ironic that The Atlantic is complaining about collapsing levels of trust in America, given that they’re one of the primary vectors of trust destruction.

    I’ve lost all trust in The Atlantic ever since they called the Tea Party “teabaggers” in print. That was about a decade ago, and they’ve never shown any sort of remorse.

    Like

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