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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snowballs, Ho's, and Other Unpopular, Inflamatory Diction

Since this is still a somewhat free country under political-correctness duress, I feel like writing a blog entry about those who might take offense to reading my opinions. Why? It seems everyone bristles when an opinionated thought doesn't fit their vanilla tastes so prevalent in present-day America.

First of all, opinion is defined as "personal view: the view somebody takes about an issue, especially when it is based solely on personal judgment." An opinion is a belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.

For example, I may claim an opinion that simply reflects personal preferences, not arguable positions. Let's say I claim that vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate ice cream. This is just an opinion, not a position that I can argue with facts. My opinion is based on my own view, sans proof.

However, an opinion with substantial support can be backed by facts, in which case it becomes an argument, although people may draw opposing opinions from the same set of facts. Opinions that reflect arguable positions beg for solid support of the validity of the claim.

One must keep in mind when a person presents an argument, he or she is trying to convince an audience of something. Much of what we encounter on a daily basis -- from advertising, from politicians -- is designed to convince without giving good reasons.

Beware of arguments committing common fallacies. Here are two criteria for good arguments:

1. An argument is not good if the conclusion is nothing more than a restatement of the premises, or if the conclusion rests upon a highly doubtful premise or premises.

Here is such an argument:

"I am Adrian's best friend. I'm sure of this because she told me so, and I know she wouldn't lie to her best friend."

The premise that Adrian wouldn't lie to her best friend assumes the truth of the conclusion that "I am Adrian's best friend." This is known as circular reasoning (begging the question) in which a person must assume the conclusion to accept the premise. Believe me, this type of argumentation doesn't hold water in any court of justice.

2. For an argument to be good, it must be valid or strong.

Here is an argument to demonstrate the meaning of the difference between valid arguments and strong arguments:

"The weather report says that the hurricane may cause rain this afternoon. The sky is full of clouds and the wind is blowing. It's going to start raining soon."

In this argument, the person making the argument believes that the conclusion probably follows from the premises. Why? Because it is unlikely (though not impossible) for the premises to be true and the conclusion false at the same time.

Although this forecast may be called a strong argument, it is, by definition, invalid or "being without foundation or force in fact, truth, or law." It may be a good argument. It may be a bad argument.
An invalid argument may be strong, yet it is possible for the conclusion to be false even if all the premises are true.

A sound argument is a valid argument whose conclusion follows from its premise(s), and the premise(s) of the argument are true. A sound, reasonable argument is based on generous support in facts, research, statistics, pertinent examples, and expert opinions. It hinges on the development of inductive and deductive reasoning,

Yet, just because an opinion is a prevailing view, that does not mean it is supported by sound means. Thus, a widely held opinion can merely be popular or be a view advanced by the media or by the tongues of the masses. Yes, Virginia, there is little reality in reality television.

British philosopher and social critic critic Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) said, “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a wide-spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible”

For example, many choose to believe the opinion that President Obama was not born in the United States, that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, that Neil Armstrong did not set foot on the moon in 1969, or that the government stores bodies of aliens in Area 51. I, personally, hold none of those opinions. If you do, I'm sure you have good reasons ... don't you? After all, biting on weak support is a symptom of possessing a weak, gullible brain.

I'm not saying people should be close-minded. Open minds welcome arguments refuting their opinions. They find it just as important to view and weigh the opposition as to build their self-proported stronger views. Here is the reality: If an opposing view cannot logically be discredited, a wise person should recognize the opposition, and most likely change his or her mind about the subject.
Therefore, being able to give concessions to the opposition and to find even stronger support for countering opinion is the basis of creating a logical thesis, or a "proposition advanced as an acceptable argument." "I believe it because it is true" is nonsense with no support most often used by children who have problems with critical thinking.

In the face of an argument, here is something else to be considered. A lot of time is wasted arguing about subjects that require no argumentation. Let's face it, if something is factual and sound, there is no reason to argue its existence.

Here, in my hometown, too many prefer to skip the process of examining evidence, and, instead, they make long inductive jumps right into beliefs that fit "cozily" into their limited frames of reference. They often say, "'Round here we'uns don't care for no smartass talkin' educated fools."

These proud people live with whatever common sense they gather through ultra-limited experience and "stick to their guns" with unflinching, unchangeable minds. They stand rigid on the Good Book without reading nary another. Once comfortable with their frame of reference, they often extol their opinions and denounce others who disagree.

It is impossible to enter into an argument with those who refuse to listen with an open mind requiring them to seek proof and truth. For them, it is easier to believe with the "gut" than with the "mind," and never the twain shall meet. They choose their opinions by siding with those who seem to express their paths of least resistance. After all, doing research and studying opinions takes considerable time and effort away from their daily pastimes of texting and apping and watching television.

These days the lazy minded find their opinions expressed on the chosen television news channels that cater to their right or left political views. To them, television opinion translates to the highest proof. Since a paid commentator expresses an idea they like on the sacred altar of belief in the American home, the faithful "buy into" the thoughts of the talking head and spread it like good and faithful political disciples in their own community circles. Emotion often carries the day for the rigid rightists and leftists.

And, woe to those who might think differently! The "right thinkers" believe these other "dangerous" people with differing, "dangerous" opinions must be checked. And, the easiest way to win is to discredit their opponents, no matter the detrimental method used to do so nor the truth of the nasty allegations. So many of these highly opinionated people look for the first sign of fault in their opponent and aim for the jugular armed simply with the fallacy of ad hominem (attacking the man).

Today, it is blasphemy to speak if an opinion may spark discomfort of any kind. It is vogue to step only on the toes of those the public has deemed worthy of scorn. And, by the way, those worthy of scorn may change on a week to week basis depending upon the views expounded by some well-paid psychologists or attention-seeking gurus, not upon the logic of the "put down."

These days, the best policy for anyone considering uttering an unpopular opinion is to merely swallow the words before they escape the lips. Or, they might consider believing in all or believing in none. The "all or none" viewpoints escape criticism because no thought is required to discount such fools. Question Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or Oprah or the Crew on the View and be prepared for public condemnation. People want someone else to give them answers to their most personal arguments, and the media is swarming with so-called "experts" who can help them get right with their lives.

In his classic 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 (which, by the way, is the temperature at which books burn), Ray Bradbury wrote of a consenting society controlled by a totalitarian government, a society content to be anesthetized and to live in ignorance largely because the huge mass of published material with all its various views was just too overwhelming to think about.

The dictatorial solution, of course, was to burn books and the printed word to suppress dissenting ideas. Then, the government simply rewrote history to it's liking. I wonder if people remember the reality of this fictional theme in Nazi Germany?

Also, in the novel, Bradbury contended that people don’t like to feel inferior to those who possess knowledge. The novel implied that the most important factor leading to censorship was the objections of special-interest groups and “minorities” to things in books that offend them.

I see many parallels between the present American society and the society in Bradbury's dystopian novel. Here is a famous quote from the novel:

“If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it...

"Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change...

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door...Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?” 

(Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. 1953)

People today love to brag about loaded guns they keep to protect themselves and their families from intruders. Seldom, if ever, do you hear them mention their collection of books or their educated minds capable of perceiving critical thoughts. I assure you that a great book or a great mind has much more force and power than any firearm. But, at the same time most prefer to shoot down perceived enemies rather than to develop well-founded arguments against them.

It has always amazed me how much fear an opinion can instill in others. At one time the majority of those in America feared the possibility of using electricity, feared extending voting rights to women, feared the "scourge" of ignorant Irish immigrants, and feared granting civil rights to African Americans. But times change... don't they? Old lines of reasoning are found to be false... aren't they?

Well, I reserve the right to express my opinion. Any real power in my words only exists if people read and find some truth in my writing. I take pains to find good support for editorial opinions. But, I write to please myself. I always have. I have taught many students to do the same. In fact, I beg them to find their voice in the written word. I believe catharsis and writing go hand in hand.  Personal writing is good therapy and often creates new insights for me as I research things I consider important or interesting.

Lately I've been branded a dangerous nut case who should be checked before something terrible happens. For some reason, people think my voice -- written and spoken -- has injected a wave of insanity in my community. Hell, a joke on Facebook caused a huge uproar.

I have been told I must be considerate to a fault for every point of view and write only mundane and vanilla expressions, and if I don't, the poor readers wounded by my thoughtless words will suffer considerable, irreparable damage. They tell me they have their own problems; you know -- they suffer from this and that and don't need anyone writing words that could make them feel sad or reflective. Yet, these same people post their thoughtless "acceptable" thoughts continually on social media like Facebook.

Here is all I ask as a writer and as a free American citizen: Judge me yourself, but please don't become my judge, jury, and executioner by following those intent on belittling me and preaching to others -- people I don't even know well and who know nothing much about me -- that I am intent on brainwashing the populace with lies and deceit. Some want to defame me for disagreeing. They have mounted a campaign to discredit the decent things I have done. That is their right, but they should be ashamed.

If you want to campaign against lies and deceit, I suggest you shift your efforts against politicians, lobbyists, Federal agencies, misspent funds, and big businesses who refuse to pay an employee a decent wage and provide him or her with decent benefits.

Let me make this clear also. I am not a preacher or an evangelist. I am not a politician or a paid spokesman for anyone. I am a 63-year-old ex-teacher with a master's degree on a fixed income with time on his hands. I am not trying to become "important" like some here do with their constant self-aggrandizing methods.

If I offend you, unfriend me, stop reading my blog, attempt to check me, but before doing so, base your decision on my track record and on my intentions. I know both are not crystalline and perfect, but I ask you who now want to discredit me for being obscene and off-color, "Is your record without a blemish?" If so, you perfect folk feel free to cast stones and call for gag orders.

Congregations and organizations and parties and clubs are really not in my best interest, anyway. I have found myself uncomfortable blindly supporting all efforts of social belief. I remember saying and doing things I greatly regret while being active, but I also remember the insistence of those in charge on "going with the program" of some pretty lame schemes and ideas generated in these groups.

I don't want a thing other than to be able to continue writing and to be evaluated fairly. I cannot stress how important it is to me to maintain some little shred of self-dignity. My belief is that if you bite the hand of the person who helped feed you, you should expect to be bitten in return. Of course, I speak this in figurative terms, not "literally" as promised by those who now believe I need to be "checked."

"The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, 
the ecology, or the president. You realize that you 
control your own destiny."

--Albert Ellis


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