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Opinion or Fact?

This image originally appeared in the Daily Mirror on 2 July 2016

Have you ever noticed the underlying “but” in much of our social intercourse these days? If you haven’t it is maybe that you, like me, have almost become inured to it. We seem to live our lives embroiled in a constant stream of negativity such that the positive becomes totally subsumed.

Was it ever thus or is it a human trait that has crept up on us in the last 20, 30 or 40 years? Opinion now seems to be couched in such a way as to invite a forthright negativity of response because it lacks thought, erudition or even relatively simple scholarship. On the one hand it creates a herd instinct in both camps, those that agree and those that disagree.

I was reminded of this thought process recently when watching an American television interviewer talk to some anti-Trump protesters on an American campus. These protesters included an American “professor” of some sort whose subject matter expertise I did not understand and so have forgotten what it was. An indictment of scholarly impact perhaps. What was a constant was the frustration of the interviewer trying to get his interviewees to articulate by some kind of evidential process, exactly why they were there and what it was or is about Trump that would cause them to protest so vehemently. None could and I found that so depressing. It was simple, apparently, to join the bandwagon of malcontent protest but clearly far too difficult to research the fundamental basis for the protest. I would posit that by so doing, they rendered their protest redundant and not worth listening to.

Such has been the strident development of opinion in recent times, particularly from the onset of so called social media (which to me comes across as very often, antisocial) that opinion is now portrayed as fact. Hitherto to have fact accepted into our mainstream thinking it had to have a substantial base of scientific data and analysis. That has been the ever present requirement for development of philosophical thought, of medical breakthroughs, of mathematical innovation, physics in all of its various forms and the development of products and services that add value to our way of life. In those various fields it has never been enough to say “I think this is the case, so it must be so”, we have always demanded hard evidence to substantiate the premise or the theory.

Such robust thinking has now been replaced by the acceptance of opinion as fact even though counter argument is promoted but more often than not based on the underlying “but” I mentioned before. In both cases, I would argue, the positions are trivial. If the opinion could then be followed up with science backed evidence or the counter argument likewise, then the thought process moves on from opinion based to fact based. How often do we resort to a position of “it’s a matter of opinion” which in and of itself discounts the very possibility that an opinion could be wrong or at least fundamentally flawed.

This last year or so has seen some seismic political events occur in our world where opinion forming has become the vehicle for the canvas. If you would agree with my concerns about opinion you may see my overall concern that we have or will make momentous political decisions based on opinion rather than fact.

In the United States in 2016 the electorate was swayed by “spin”, the very embodiment of opinion twisting to the exclusion of all fact by a Presidential campaign run by both the Republicans and Democrats that seemed to be devoid of fact and replete with smear, innuendo and dubious opinion forming.

In France the Far Right ran a campaign based on presenting the case that immigration in that country is out of control and so all of the problems with France must be set firmly at the door of the immigrant. No facts to support this racist thinking but said often enough, these sorts of opinions will become mainstream thinking. Again, simple minded thinking not based on any scientific presentation of facts or of an electorate willing to undertake the necessary research to substantiate the opinion presented as fact. In Germany, the AfD Party managed to spin Angela Merkel’s ill conceived immigration policy so far to the right that the perceived wisdom in much of German society is that every ill the country faces just now is entirely down to immigrants. No mention of a failing Eurozone or limited growth even in the German economy. So much so that this misplaced and unfounded opinion has meant that the AfD won enough seats in Germany’s recent General Election to totally destabilise German politics whereby Merkel is now struggling to form a government.

The presentation of opinion as fact was never more personified than in the EU Referendum in the UK in 2016. Both Leave and Remain positions were based almost entirely on opinion and very little fact. Remain made the tactically incorrect decision to run its campaign based on creating a climate of fear for the economic consequences of a decision to leave the EU. Unemployment to go to record highs. Investment to join a wagon train heading for the hills rapidly. Interest rates and inflation to go through the roof. Britain becoming a third world country with no friends, allies or trading partners. Our lives and those of our children would be ruined. All of this gloom laden negativity based purely on opinion with no facts to support it. (It has always been my view that nothing is won from a position of abject negativity).What has now emerged from the Remain campaign is that none of the predictions of failure have come to pass because we now have the benefit of 17 month’s worth of evidential fact. Fact has overtaken opinion in this case totally and yet many Remain campaigners still cling to the erroneous positing of opinion even when confronted with evidential contrary fact.

The Leave campaign was based on a positive view of our future as a nation but even it had some negative opinions that took root. As in France, the opinion that immigration was and is a major problem became a cornerstone of much of the thinking and so the Leave campaign was branded as racist and so fundamentally flawed. Fortunately, for me as an ardent Leave voter, the positives of regaining control of our sovereignty, of our law making and our ability to transact international trade agreements held sway and our faith in the UK’s ability to control our own destiny turned from researched views of our history and the implicit destination of travel of the EU, into solid fact based thinking based on the evidence. More of that evidence has come to light over the last 17 months which I regard as total vindication of my decision to vote Leave.

So where are we now in this opinion formed world rather than fact based evidential thought processes?

In a bit of a mess I would suggest. As Effie Deans said in another post for The Daily Globe, many of our universities seem to have become supporters of the mediocre where research, reading and scholarship have been supplanted by easily obtained answers to everything based on your ability to consult a search engine but very little else. As with the protesting students in America, this produces for us a generation lacking an ability to think for itself or sustain argument based on scientific process. The General Election in the UK in June 2017 underlined this graphically. Our students managed to vote for a Party based on opinion forming spin as bad as that in the United States last year with promises of socialist nirvana for all based on zero evidence that the promises could either be delivered let alone ever fulfilled.

We came within a few votes of electing a Marxist government in the UK which shows the implicit dangers of opinion forming as fact rather than fact firmed by evidential scholarship.

How we overcome the perilous state the world has got into through opinion forming as fact, I do not know. I wish I did but would not dare to suggest that I have sufficient facts to support a position based on opinion of the way forward. People with more erudition than I maybe will. I can only hope so.

About Ian Pye

Profile photo of Ian Pye

Ian is grammar school educated although he briefly flirted with the idea of becoming Britain’s answer to Breaking Bad’s Walter White with a short sojourn at university. The constant smell of hydrogen sulphide caused the break up of that partnership and thereafter he pursued a career in sales culminating in partnering with his second wife for many years in their own recruitment business. When the second marriage came to an amicable end, so did Ian’s allotted time in the world of commerce and he became a retired person of no means but a still active brain.

He lives on the outskirts of the great metropolis of Manchester and has close affinity with the red side of the football city being a United fan of over 50 years.

He has deep interest in British politics, is conservative by nature and persuasion as well as reading much on aspects of religious theology particularly the works out of Albuquerque, New Mexico of Richard Rohr and hitherto Richard’s mentor, Thomas Merton.

Ian has three children, two of whom live in London and the third in Toronto as well as four adorable grandchildren

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