October 25


Posted by William Berry | Filed under Blog | 6 Comments

I wanted to take a minute to talk about opinions. Perhaps it is because I’m reading so many papers this weekend and seeing “in my opinion” written so many times (it took me quite a few papers to learn that phrase has no place in a research paper as well). Perhaps it is that first Philosophy course I took that discussed how discourse has changed in the age of television, which affected me so deeply. Perhaps it is the criminal justice course I am currently teaching in which the text shatters the myths about the justice system. Perhaps a friend’s question about my opinion on Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize spurred me on. Or maybe it was the article I read this week by Jason Whitlock in which he admits he doesn’t vote, and believes politicians to be too dishonest for him to care about the process.

I haven’t shared this often, especially as a result of this South Florida culture where so many people came from places where they have no political voice. But I do not vote, and never have. I feel politicians are dishonest, and it is all a game; a game in which I refuse to participate. Before you think me a communist, anti-American, or something else, let me explain using other examples.

In the book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Television” Neil Postman discusses how television has changed the way we look at many things. The chapter that has resonated with me since I was introduced to it was the one on politics. The most compelling argument was the Nixon-Kennedy debates. When people watched the debate and were polled about who won, they overwhelmingly picked Kennedy. He had a tan, wore makeup for the television production, was composed, and didn’t appear to sweat. Nixon, on the other hand, refused makeup and looked washed out, was sweating, and as such did not appear composed. But, as opposed to those who watched the debate, those that read the debate overwhelmingly selected Nixon as the winner. This demonstrates how appearance can influence opinion, even where there is no basis for it to do so.

In the course I am teaching called Criminal Justice and the Substance Abuser, one of the texts we are using is called “Sense and Non-Sense about Crime and Drugs” by Samuel Walker. It does an outstanding job of discussing the perception, and the reality, of the criminal justice system. It also infers that many politicians use getting tougher on crime as a platform, when in actuality we are already tougher on crime than nearly every other westernized culture. Yet politicians find a cause, a rare but heavily publicized case to get themselves elected. They make surface changes which have no real effect because none was really necessary. But this gets them elected, makes people feel safer, and unfortunately, often results in the incarceration or longer incarceration of lesser criminals for which the law was not initially intended.

So my argument is as follows: I generally do not know enough about topics to have an educated opinion. Nor do I wish to devote time to investigating it thoroughly. So, I simply reserve my right not to have an opinion on these types of topics. This may not sway you. And it shouldn’t, as it is merely an introduction, some food for thought.

You may be thinking this is just some (fill in your own adjective here, just try not to use South Florida’s favorite one, “super”) idiot’s justification for his beliefs. And that is certainly fine. However, I encourage you to explore the issue of forming opinions further. Do some reading and investigate where your opinion on anything may come from. Look into your biases and how they influence your thought.

In Buddhism a neutral, detached, compassionate stance is the goal. I really think they have the right idea. But then again, that is just my opinion.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2009 at 10:19 AM and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Opinions”

  1. Chet on October 25th, 2009 at 11:11 AM

    I would still say that you have an opinion on these matters and that your opinion has been shaped by what you have observed over time. If someone were to ask you about a particular political topic, couldn’t you simply reply:

    “That’s politics, and in my opinion politics…”

    It seems that you do have an opinion on the overlying theme: politics. You may or may not have an opinion on the topics.

    Someone may not have an opinion about the Philadelphia Eagles, not because they aren’t educated enough about them, but because they already have the opinion that they don’t like football.

  2. William Berry on October 25th, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    In this technical way, yes, everyone has an opinion. But i think what I am getting at is the wholehearted belief in your opinion as the way things are actually are.
    Good point, and thanks for the comment.

  3. Onidia on October 25th, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    I like your article and my opinion is that all kinds of politicians are very dishonest and they use of the necessities of the population to lie and gain more power.

  4. William Berry on October 25th, 2009 at 2:48 PM

    Thank you for your opinion.

  5. AbilDavis on October 25th, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    I enjoyed reading this, especially the part on Nixon debate (you should rent Frost Nixon! fascinating!). To further your Buddhism philosophy, would it go to say..even if our opinions were the most compassionate, wise and reflective, ..wouldn’t fate and our lack of real control of our destinies dictate that the future course is and will be what it will be, with or without our amused discourse?

    For example, the trend is against real healthcare reform, so many fighting a battle to make sure they don’t lose money or we as a nation will not go into more debt for the benefit of those who fall ill or have catastrophic illness or injury and are left bankrupt or without care. No matter how righteous we may feel we are, perhaps it is meant to be, that we are on the path of no return, or the so called “apocalypse”, with our environment and our humanity being destroyed…and our views or opinions..are just as effective in controlling the outcome as they would be in controlling who won a football game.

  6. William Berry on October 25th, 2009 at 4:30 PM

    This is an interesting comment. I’m glad you read and found the post interesting. You seem ti be indicating destiny is set, or can be set. I’m not sure the Buddhist perspective on fate and destiny.
    As an Existential therapist I believe in free-will over destiny, yet at the same time acknowledge many things are not within our control.
    Thank you for your comment.

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