Opinions and facts

| 13/02/2009

(In answer to "Justifiable discrimination"): This is an interesting debate… but there is a lot of arguing here! Arguing usually arises when someone states their opinion as if it were a fact. When I state something which is my opinion, I will try to say “I think…”

Personally, I have never seen God, and I see no evidence that he exists – so my opinion is that God probably does not exist. During the course of my life, however, I have been wrong about many things, even some very simple things, so I have no reason to believe that my opinion on this matter is especially valid or important.

My good friend sees God “in everything” – so she very strongly believes that God exists. I would say she was an intelligent person… so maybe she is right about this too.

One thing is for certain, arguing opinions makes for great debates, but it never changes a fact. God does or does not exist, whatever we may think, and whether we like it or not.

Concepts and categories

Communicating with each other can be difficult sometimes. Our minds and feelings are complicated things. Few of us would claim to be able to say “exactly” how we feel about something, let alone communicate that feeling effectively to another human being.

To help us, humans generally categorize things to help structure language and facilitate communication. We refer to things as “good or evil”, “right or wrong”. However, thesethings are really just concepts and categories. They facilitate communication – they do not actually exist in the real world. There is no “right or wrong” in the world… there are simply lots of “things” in the world, and if we do not approve of these things we tend say they are “wrong”, and if we do approve of them we say they are “right”. This helps other people know our opinion regards these things.

Another way to categories things is on a scale. Rather than imagining the two options of “right” and “wrong”, we can think of a sliding scale, where something is “perfect” at one end, a “grey zone” in the middle, and “evil” at the other end. I think that, for any given fact in the world, it is unlikely that any two people would place it at exactly the same point on that scale, however, I would say that most of us are happy to make a judgment on where the “right” place on that scale should be.

This is tendency in people is why we have things like war, debates, human rights and inequality.

Rapists and abused children

There has been some interesting comparisons below; comparing the seriousness of homosexuality to pedophilia / rape etc. so I would like to comment on this… (though I don’t think it is very relevant to the news article).

“I feel sorry for rapists. Sometimes abused children should be punished.”

I think most people reading the above quote would have to read it twice, and then assume there was some awful typo here. I think few people would be able to reserve judgment on a person who made such a statement. However, this is my own opinion. Let me see if I can win you over to sharing my opinion with an argument which is only based on facts from my own life?

During my life so far, I have discovered that making a cake is generally easier if I have all the ingredients. Making a judgment, however, is different. Sometimes, the more information I have, the more difficult it becomes to make a judgment. Sometimes, it is easiest to make a judgment when I have no experience and no information. It is easy to judge from a position of ignorance.

What if I told you that the rapist who I feel sorry for brutally raped a young lady, repeatedly? (I doubt many people will share my opinion based on this information). He was caught, and the news devastated his family and friends, and sent shock-waves through a quiet community.

(I think most of us would agree that, though we feel sorry for the innocent victim and family members, it was probably best that he was caught, and he should be punished… I think probably people would vary widely in what they would think a suitable punishment for the rapist would be…)

The rapist was a young boy… still a school. He had been brutally abused by his father, since he was an infant.

Maybe now you can understand my opinion. Maybe even share it? Did you alter your initial judgment, once you understood the facts of the individual case? How “bad”, exactly, is this person? Should he be treated as an individual or simply categorized as “evil” and “rapist”?

What do you do when the abuser and the abused are the same person? How “bad” is someone who inherits a devastating legacy?

Sadly, this case is not unusual. I understand that a very significant proportion of abusers were once abused. One thing is for certain, arguing opinions makes for great debates, but it never changes a fact.

Killers

When I think about it, I know quite a lot of killers and victims.

I know a murderer who is incarcerated and dedicating himself to stopping youths from making the mistakes he made.

I have a friend whose father led a double life, with a second wife… then, when his sister discovered the truth, his father murdered his sister.

Now I think about it, I know several people involved in fatal car accidents… fatal to others, not to themselves

Maybe you think I am a policeman, or I work for a social group, or I am a prison visitor or volunteer? I am not. There is no aspect of my personal or professional life that is relevant here, what-so-ever… so I guess it must just mean that, if I stop and think about it, there is a lot of pain in the world.

Homosexuals

I think that, rather like rapists and abused children, killers and victims, old people and young people, black people and white people, people who are good at baking cakes and people who always seem to burn the edges and leave the middle bit runny, “homosexuals” and “heterosexuals” are just two more ways of categorizing people.

Personally, I am a heterosexual… but I would like to hope that these is something more to me as a human being than having sex with women.

I think that, if someone thinks that the “heterosexual” category defines me as a human being, that that would tell me more about that individual than it would tell me about myself.

Life

Someone below has described life as “ a vale of tears”. Rapists and abused children, killers and victims, homosexuals and heterosexuals have all played a part in my life.

This is a fact.

I think that for some of these people, life is probably tougher than I could ever imagine. Nonetheless, I love my life, and these people have all contributed to that life in some way. I intend to make the most of my life, and do my best not to judge anyone based on a category.

The more people I can make room for in my life, the fuller and richer my life will be.

 

CNS note: This Viewpoint was submitted as a comment in the ongoing debate on Gordon Barlow’s VP "Justifiable discrimination". However, we felt it stood as a commentary in itself.

 

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Comments (4)

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  1. Some thoughts... says:

    IN REPLY TO ANON:

    Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on the rapist… I respect your opinion regarding him.

    Part of me agrees with you. I would say, however, that the part of me which agrees with you is a well-balanced and logical part of me, which draws heavily on the benefit of my loving upbringing, and all the other benefits of that upbringing, which I take for granted most days of my life. I would say that a large part of my moral compass has benefited from the time and love that my parents gave me, and continue to give me to this day… and I still depend on this love, even though I am now a man.

    Had I grown up under a litany of sexual abuse from my father, I wonder if I would have had the where-with-all to determine for myself that “this is wrong, and I must never do this to anyone else”.

    What if, including loosing my “virginity” (though it revolves me to call it that) to my father, I also lost my sense of perspective on life. What if I learned to loathe my own being and despise others? What if I lost my sanity?

    Incidentally, this boy was also abused by his siblings… I assume because they also learned this behavior from their father, and did not benefit from my random good luck in parents.

    I love and respect my father, and I want to be like him.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rapists: My opinion has still not changed about the rapist. In fact, I would hold him EVEN MORE accountable if he was abused because he has some real understanding of what that feels like and how that abuse has affected his life.

     

  3. Some thoughts... says:

    In reply to ANON :

    I enjoyed reading your reply.

    I don’t think you can use a word and ignore its meaning. “Judgmental” is a word which, for most people, carries with it an overtone of negatively, or criticism. In normal usage it does not simply mean “to pass a judgment”… it means more “to judge to excess”… so I would say it is not really fair for you to interchangemy use of “judgment” with the word “judgmental”.

    However, I think you ask a very fair (but tough!) question regarding whether Adolph Hitler was evil. If you don’t mind, I will stick to the use of the word “judgment” in my reply to avoid confusing the issue.

    I would certainly agree with you. If I was given the categorical choice of describing Adolph Hitler as “good” or “evil”, I would say “ sure, he was “evil”” … but equally, I would say I was certainly passing a judgment on him in saying so. Just because you (and probably most people in the world) would agree with me – that does not mean that I am not passing a judgment… it simply means I am passing a very popular judgment.

    I think people like passing popular judgments because it is easy to do, good fun, and because passing popular judgments openly helps confirm to other people that we are “just like them”… not strange and different (though, of course, this indulgence can be at the expense of actually thinking for ourselves).

    The fact relating to this matter is that there are some people in the world today who think Adolf Hitler was wonderful. (Facts exist irrespective of our opinions, and whether we like them or not). If one of these people was to be replying to your post, I would guess that they would likely say that you were indeed being “judgmental” by saying that Hitler was evil…they might say that Hitler was “simply misunderstood”… they might even say more than that. This fact, that other people do not share your opinion, reduces your comment to exactly what it is… a matter of opinion (all-be-it a mainstream opinion).

    Many people would argue that, I am being pedantic… after all, if almost everyone shares an opinion… it is the next best thing to a fact…

    There was a time in our world history, when almost everyone shared the very popular opinion on that the world was flat… however, their opinion did not change the associated fact.

    How else can I support my suggestion that that our agreement that the categorical statement that “Adolf Hilter was evil” was simply a matter of a shared opinion… and not a fact?

    Let’s imagine that you and I were friends, growing up in Germany in the tough years following the First World War. As Hitler rose to power, many, many people thought he was wonderful… maybe even MOST people thought he was wonderful… and not only in Germany, either, I should add. Imagine us both growing up together during this time… are you absolutely sure that we would both hold the same opinion as we so sagely do now?

    Personally, I would like to think that I would see Hitler for what he really was… I would stand up and be counted (or shot)… but to say that this is a fact, would be to infer that somehow I am more visionary and moral than the majority of the people of that time…

    This finally brings me to the answer to your question (sorry I took so long):

    Some people judge Hitler as evil. Some people judge Hitler as wonderful. Whether we like it or not, neither judgment has any influence or impact on what Hitler actually was.

  4. Anonymous says:

    "To help us, humans generally categorize things to help structure language and facilitate communication. We refer to things as “good or evil”, “right or wrong”. However, these things are really just concepts and categories. They facilitate communication – they do not actually exist in the real world. There is no “right or wrong” in the world".

    I think what you need recognize is that this philosophy of life is simply your opinion, not an objective statement of fact. In your opinion, "good" and "evil" do not actually exist. You mention the "real world", by which you mean the material world. Whether the material world is the "real" world is simply your opinion, nota statement of fact. From a spiritual perspective, "good" and "evil" exist primarily in a realm which transcends the material world (which you think is the real world) but manifests itself in the material realm. 

    If good and evil do not actually exist then these are constructs simply intended to control human beings and deny them full self-expression from which we can simply choose to rid ourselves. Sounds much like the ‘original lie’ in the Garden of Eden.  We are simply being ‘judgemental’ to say that Hitler was evil. After all, evil does not really exist.