Wednesday, September 09, 2009

HTKWAP/PDBWTAS: #1 Swaying Opinions

This entry started with the post “Back to School Politics.”

“How to Know When a Pundit/Politician Doesn’t Believe What They Are Saying.”

Guideline #1: If one’s opinion depends on knowing the party involved, one doesn’t believe their own opinion.

Corollary: If one’s opinion changes based on knowing the party involved, one doesn’t believe their opinion.

Example: “Presidents should never be allowed to address students! Wait, you’re talking about Obama and not Bush? I mean Presidents should always be allowed to address students!”

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about being suspicious based on those involved.

For example, if my sister Mary says, “Hey, Sean, have some chocolate chip cookies. I made them just for you!” Naturally, I dive into the cookies.

But if my brother Mark says, “Hey, Sean, have some chocolate chip cookies. I made them just for you!” Of course I should approach with due caution.

Emphasis on my being suspect of any cookie that Mark made “just for me.”

However, if I am eating a cookie, and you ask, “Hey, Sean, how’s the cookie taste?” And I say, “I don’t know – is this one of Mary’s cookies or one of Mark’s cookies?” Then this rule applies.

You might tell me, “Mark made the cookie,” and as a result I might say, “It tastes awful.”

But I don’t believe it.

The cookie might indeed taste awful, but I am not saying that the cookie tastes awful. I am saying that I don’t trust cookies that Mark makes just for me.

And if you say, “Oops, I meant Mary made the cookie,” I will of course tell you, “This cookie tastes great!”

Because, again, the taste of the cookie is irrelevant. My comment may sound like I am referring to the taste of the cookie, but I am only referring to my faith in the source of the cookie.

My playwright professor Howard Stein drilled this into me in a seminar on play criticism.

I had to read a script (actually, five at a time) and discuss it with him. He would always include one script without any cover: so no author listed.

Might be written by Arthur Miller. Might be written by a student who flunked out of a playwriting class.

Point was, I had to evaluate the play based on the content, not on my pre-conceived notions about the author.

Because, as I soon learned, Arthur Miller is capable of writing a bad play now and then.

And every once in a while, one can be surprised by a good coming from an unexpected source.

Oh, by the way – Mark is capable of making some really yummy cookies.

Who knew?

Just my thoughts,


Follow up Real world example:

A certain entertainment cable network said at one point, (I paraphrase) “Tea Party demonstrations are by definition Anti-American. It’s just an excuse for a bunch of whiners who can’t handle losing an election to attack their legitimate government; they should shut up and get over it, or move out of the U.S.!”

The same exact people also said, “Tea Party demonstrations are by definition Pro-American. They are a time honored way for groups of patriots to bravely voice their opposition to oppression just as our founding fathers did; they should be publicly praised as national heroes.”

The difference between these two seemingly contradictory opinions?

Four years and one change of power in Washington.

Truth is, they were never talking about the patriotism of Tea Parties. They just wanted to make you think they were.


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