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The democratisation of opinion

By Ken Wolff

With the rise of the internet and social media almost anyone can express their opinion to an audience in the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, no longer just to a circle of people who are physically present to hear the opinion. While that provides the democratisation of opinion, it also has a more sinister side. It has led to a widespread view that in this new democratic world all opinions are equally valid.

There is no doubt that all opinions are valid but only as personal opinions. It does not make an opinion true (that is, matching the evidence) nor does it mean that the opinion has any validity beyond its expression as a personal point of view. And yet in this democratisation of opinion, we see people maintaining that not only do they have a right to their opinion but they have a right for their opinion to be considered valid in all circumstances, even when a range of evidence refutes it. It is much like saying my opinion that 2 + 2 = 3 is as valid as the alternative that 2 + 2 = 4. No-one would argue that proposition would they? — these days the answer to that question is not so clear.

What is the opposite of opinion? — probably truth or facts. Without getting into a philosophical argument about what is ‘truth’, it is possible to employ scientific method to arrive at conclusions that are true, or most likely true. That is because scientific method is based on observations and drawing conclusions that explain the observations and that has been done for hundreds of years. It is possible to say that science still forms opinions, or what are called theories or hypotheses, based on those observations but science will change its theories when observed facts do not match the current theory.

For a long time people thought that the sun went around the earth — and why not? After all, even though we are spinning at 1670km/h (at the equator), travelling around the sun at 107,000km/h and spiralling with the sun around the Milky Way at 792,000km/h, we feel nothing but we do see the sun rise in the east every day and set in the west. Based on that latter observation alone, it is logical to assume that it is the sun that is moving not the earth. But astronomers watching the stars and planets saw something which that model could not explain: at certain times the other planets appeared to go backwards in the heavens. Eventually that, and other observations, made it clear that it was the earth moving about the sun that explained what the astronomers were observing. And so we have advanced our knowledge using that model. It is not as though science plucks its theories out of the air. They explain what has already been observed until a new observation suggests it is time for a new explanation.

And it is not just scientists who use this method. There are many anecdotal stories of farmers knowing more than scientists in particular situations and proving scientists wrong. But that is not based on some random opinion of the farmers but their own observations over many years of local weather, soil, and crop and livestock results in varying situations. Their opinion is often proved right because their set of observations is over a much longer period than those of experts who arrive for a field trip that may last no longer than a few weeks. Even though the experts are trained in their discipline they do not have the range of observations that the farmers have that are relevant to the local circumstances. The farmers’ observations may not be recorded but retained in memory, or even family tradition for observations over longer periods, but their opinions are based on long term observations. Scientists are acknowledging that history of observation and drawing it into the scientific process, just as they are now recognising Aboriginal knowledge in the management of fire, flora and fauna is based on thousands of years of observation, even if that knowledge is expressed in a different way. These days the scientists are trained so that they can apply their knowledge over a range of circumstances, whereas the farmers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have more detailed knowledge and opinions based on decades or millennia of observation but it has most relevance only to their local conditions.

Opinions have some commonality with the scientific use of observation. Almost all opinions are based on some level of observation but the real difference between the quality of opinions is probably the extent of observations drawn upon to form the opinion. In the recent Brexit campaign in the UK, some experts were warning of the economic consequences of the UK leaving the European Union but Michael Gove, campaigning for the ‘leave’ side, suggested that people were tired of experts and, by implication, would ignore such advice. The observation that led many people to that conclusion concerned the rules coming from the EU technocrats in Brussels which many Britains saw as undermining their traditions and control of their own country. Based on that observation alone, they could validly form an opinion that questioned the experts but it should only have been the experts issuing those rules. Instead, one observation can become a wider dismissal of expert opinion.

Thus we have the questioning of the science underpinning anthropogenic climate change or even questioning climate change itself. People are perfectly entitled to have an opinion rejecting climate change but that does not make their opinion true. For their opinion to be true it would also have to be based on a set of factual observations and some of the observations used by the deniers have been shown to be false or, at best, built on a foundation of quick-sand. When by far the majority of observations support the occurrence of climate change and the probability of it being ‘man-made’ is 90% or more, then some very strong alternative observations would be required to change the current scientific consensus. The deniers have not presented such observations but still insist their opinions are not only valid but true.

I worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs for many years and so I often came across people who held negative stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I would be asked why should they have houses when they only break them down for firewood. I knew there had been such instances, although rare, so I would not deny their opinion based on that observation but answer with a broader and more positive range of observations: all of the people who did not burn their houses but lived normal lives in them; the range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses; or even that many problems in housing arose not from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander misuse of the dwelling but from shoddy workmanship by the original construction contractors. I don’t know how many opinions I managed to change but at least I had presented a new range of observations for them to consider.

Politicians hoping to run the country shouldn’t operate from a limited range of observations but many do. They play up to their audience or constituency by presenting views based on a limited range of observations and ignoring those observations that run counter to that opinion — just as the church rejected Copernicus’s observations that the earth went around the sun. The Trumps and Hansons of the world are masters of this approach. While it may have some electoral appeal, it is not a basis on which to run a country. A government, almost by definition, must take account of a wide range of opinions (and the observations on which they are based) and either determine which are true or balance the conflicting views to come to a policy decision in the best interest of the country.

Governments often express an intention to follow ‘evidence-based’ policy, but we also have lobbying which is an attempt to convince policy makers to pay more heed to one set of opinions or observations rather than another. The big and unanswered question is whether members of government are well-placed to assess the varying observations supporting different opinions or whether they are also personally influenced by a limited range of observations. It is perhaps a belief that the latter is true that leads to public opinion that politicians are ’out of touch’ or, in other words, are not considering a broad range of observations but are overly influenced by lobbyists, a small number of interest groups, or personal opinions — each of which is focused on a limited range of observations.

Yes, we all have personal opinions that are valid as personal opinions no matter how few the number of observations on which they are based. If, however, I am willing to listen to, consider and perhaps accept a wider range of observations, then we can have a rational discussion, debate the observations (evidence) and perhaps reach a conclusion that changes my opinion or that of my interlocutor. Or we may mutually agree a different opinion that is new for both of us. If that was the way of the world, then opinions would be in their rightful place and open to change based on a wider range of observations.

Of course, there are some whose opinion will not change, who see all other observations through the prism of their own opinion or believe that the observations supporting their opinion are ‘true’ and therefore all other observations must be ‘false’. That has always been the case but with this so-called democratisation of opinion many more people now feel that their opinion must be valued as it stands. When all opinions are considered valued and valid, people defend them with vehemence as we see on blog sites and social media and do not open their minds to a broader range of observations. Instead of taking the new observations as something to be considered, they take them as a personal attack on their ‘valued’ opinion and attack in return. If this is democratic, it is a negative form of democracy — to use an old cliché it is ‘playing the man, not the ball’ and that is not truly democratic for it fails to recognise the democratic rights of your fellow citizen. Yes, all opinions are valid but only if our minds are open to consider a broader range of possibilities that may change our opinion.

And yes, this entire piece is my opinion. So now over to you for your opinion and revelation of broader observations for my consideration.

What do you think?

Do people form opinions based on only one or two observations because that is easier than considering the implications of a broader range of observations?

Or do we have different opinions because people draw different conclusions from the same set of observations?

And if so, how can all opinions be valid?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. DisablednDesperate

    Thank you thank you thank you!!
    You’ve been reading my mind (not literally lol but near as). So glad you have written this.

  2. Michael Jones

    “While that provides the democratisation of opinion, it also has a more sinister side. It has led to a widespread view that in this new democratic world all opinions are equally valid”.

    This key premise of your article is in my opinion wrong. I see no widespread expectation that opinions should be considered equally valid, only that they have a right to be heard. It is up to the person hearing or reading the opinion to decide on their validity. If collectively enough people are convinced by an opinion to influence governments to change policy then that is democracy in action.

    The only people who would find this to be sinister are those who are inherently authoritarian, and therefore are threatened by alternative views which may convince people not to follow their agenda. It is the only thing that is really authoritarian. If you are unable to persuade people with the power of logical argument, the right thing to do is to accept that you have lost this one and move on.

    There is too much attempted bullying and coercion to try and restrict free speech these days, all it does is to make people dig their toes in and fight back. It certainly does nothing to enhance the quality of debate, in fact it is incredibly divisive.

  3. The AIM Network

    “This key premise of your article is in my opinion wrong.”

    How can an opinion be wrong?

  4. Matters Not

    Or do we have different opinions because people draw different conclusions from the same set of observations?

    Interesting question. And my short answer is yes. But.

    As for the same set of observations. That’s problematic in itself. They don’t generate themselves, do they? An example, I am focussed on counting the colour of objects around me.? Those coloured ‘inchworm’ or ‘fuoco’ have a particular fascination. Accordingly I ‘observe’, and engage in extensive analysis (etc), and develop data sets with incredible detail. (To which I give ‘meaning’). That no-one else is slightly interested is beside the point.

    The point is that the generation of some ‘sets of observations’ (at the expense of other potential sets) is problematic in itself. Why do some people develop certain sets but not others. What ‘drives’ them to so do? Perhaps they think that some ‘data’ is more important than others? And if so, then why?

    Take ‘climate change’ as an example. If Roberts was ‘driving the bus’, would he fund the development of any set of observations related to do with Carbon Dioxide levels? I suspect not because he ‘believes, that the (rising) levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere are a source of joy and certainly not harmful. Why fund that which is not harmful? When there’s so many ‘threats’ on the horizon.

    Perhaps, it’s not the ‘observations’ that’s the problem but maybe the reasons why some (and not others) is/are generated and after that (and only after that) do opinions (or meanings given) become of fundamental importance.

    (But don’t mind me.) ? ?

  5. Matters Not

    see no widespread expectation that opinions should be considered equally valid,

    Correct me if I am in error, but isn’t that the basis of ‘democracy’. You know letting the people (citizens) decide. (In theory) One vote being as good as another.

    It is up to the person hearing or reading the opinion to decide on their validity.

    Can only agree. But look above re the no widespread expectation that opinions should be considered equally valid . Do you see a logical disconnect? If not, then why not?

    As an aside I am all in favour of ‘logical argument’. I am just waiting for same. ?

    Just jokin …

    Now If Pauline is reading …

  6. Jeffrey

    The main flaw in democracy; mob rule.

    Opinion values differ in relation to the source of the observation or data set.

  7. Michael Jones

    “How can an opinion be wrong?”

    Go to a poor doctor for a serious illness and you will find out.

  8. Michael Jones

    “Correct me if I am in error, but isn’t that the basis of ‘democracy’. You know letting the people (citizens) decide. (In theory) One vote being as good as another.”

    I suppose in elections to that is true, but I think the article was more referring to expressing an opinion in general discourse than a a situation where people vote.

  9. Michael Jones

    “The main flaw in democracy; mob rule.

    Opinion values differ in relation to the source of the observation or data set.”

    That assumes that “the mob” doesn’t have a better idea and better data of what is good for it, than elites in ivory towers.

  10. Jaquix

    Roberts has come out of nowhere, and looks set to entertain us for a while to come. He reminds me of a cocky little sparrow.

  11. Michael Taylor

    MN, I can see you having fun with this bloke. Be gentle. ?

  12. Jeffrey

    Should those that are lacking comprehension of a political party and its policies have a right to vote?

    But is the level of comprehension suitable for a reasoned vote?

  13. Matters Not

    Go to a poor doctor for a serious illness and you will find out.

    Can only agree. But, are you suggesting that certain ‘principles’ can be ‘universalised’ but others can’t? Like, one shouldn’t go to a ‘quack’ with a ‘health’ problem while on the other hand one should seek policy/ political ‘solutions’ via voting for a … a ‘policy’ moron?

    Or are you suggesting that her ‘unconstitutional’ solutions are worthy of a vote? If not, then why did you vote for her (and Roberts)? Perhaps you went to a ‘poor doctor’ who recommended that cutting off your nose to spite your face was a good policy/political option?

  14. silkworm

    I saw Roberts being interviewed on Lateline and he came across as a real effwit. Am I allowed to say that?

  15. Matters Not

    Silkworm, only if it’s valid.

    So fire away! What with 77 valid votes, he’s now an ‘authority’, an ‘expert’, a ‘Senator’ no less. Then there’s Lambie …

    Ain’t our democratic system wonderful?

  16. Michael

    “There is no doubt that all opinions are valid but only as personal opinions.”

    Is this what is meant? – my interpretation:
    (a) There is no doubt that all opinions, once made/expressed, exist but
    (b) only as opinions made by an individual and
    (c) are subject to validity by testing against other criteria.

    Validity: the quality or condition of being valid.
    We can’t be sure of the validity of this statement because there is no [or not sufficient] evidence offered.

  17. Michael Jones

    “But, are you suggesting that certain ‘principles’ can be ‘universalised’ but others can’t? Like, one shouldn’t go to a ‘quack’ with a ‘health’ problem while on the other hand one should seek policy/ political ‘solutions’ via voting for a … a ‘policy’ moron?

    Or are you suggesting that her ‘unconstitutional’ solutions are worthy of a vote? If not, then why did you vote for her (and Roberts)? Perhaps you went to a ‘poor doctor’ who recommended that cutting off your nose to spite your face was a good policy/political option?”

    Nah, I just wanted to vote for somebody who was going to stir up some shit and kick the group-think out of the political establishment. Her team are just Senators, they don’t get to make policy unless the government agrees, all they can do is block legislation if Labor and the Greens do the same. So they can’t do any harm by themselves like a bad doctor can.

    What they will force the Coalition and Labor to do is to listen to the people who voted for her and come up with policies that address their legitimate concerns. I think that enfranchising the disenfranchised is a noble thing, don’t you?

    Of course the added bonus is that Pauline and Co will have pompous hipsters choking on their lattes and complaining how embarrassing it is to be an Australian in Europe these days, for the next six years. Having had to listen to so much unadulterated shit from lefties, I find the prospect of you all having to listen to Malcolm Roberts’ shit opinions on the world enslaving climate change cabal to be quite delightful. Pass the popcorn please :-).

  18. michael lacey

    Main stream corporate media are very aware of what is presented to the public in order that opinions do not stray too far from their instructions any opinions that do are quickly marginalized.

    The media have also fueled the climate debate and nurtured the denier camp!

    The media only highlight one economic philosophy above the rest!

    The art of directing public opinion has been delivered for a long time! Americans entered the first world war because of a successful campaign of changing public opinion its called propaganda, they later named it public relations sounds better!

  19. helvityni

    Michael Jones says:”There is too much attempted bullying and coercion to try and restrict free speech these days…”

    Much of this free speech is often nothing but BULLYING.

    The ‘lovable’ Leyonjhelm spread his wisdom on Insiders; when abused by this so called free speech, it’s up to us not be hurt or to feel insulted. So now we all have to toughen up and become INSENSITIVE.

    That’s not what my mum told me….

  20. Michael Jones

    “Much of this free speech is often nothing but BULLYING.

    The ‘lovable’ Leyonjhelm spread his wisdom on Insiders; when abused by this so called free speech, it’s up to us not be hurt or to feel insulted. So now we all have to toughen up and become INSENSITIVE.

    That’s not what my mum told me….”

    I agree that sometimes free speech can make groups feel bullied, for example that filth that Bernardi said in Parliament, equating homosexuality with bestiality. Abbott’s response in that instance was appropriate, sacking him from his ministerial job and sending him to the back bench. The comments had no basis in fact, were in poor taste and poor faith, and I think people have a right to not have somebody who had expressed views like that in a position of responsibility.

    However, I still think we need to be more circumspect about some of the witch hunts that we have seen in recent times. Sonia Krueger was the prime example, she expressed an opinion arising from reality based fear of terrorism, and thousands ganged up and tried to destroy her for it. If people disagree with her that is fine, but I don’t know why they can’t just use logic to refute her argument. That is b the sort of bullying that I object to.

  21. Ken Wolff

    Thank you for your responses.

    Michael Jones, in your opening comment you suggest that if an opinion is widely accepted that is democracy at work and that all opinions have a right to be heard. I partly agree but the rider is that in that circumstance the opinion should be ‘true’. Otherwise, you are saying that an opinion based on a lie (false observations or evidence) is a basis for democratic decision making. If such opinions are not questioned or simply allowed to spread unchallenged then we are describing the rise of Hitler.

    MattersNot – your comment regarding drawing different opinions from the same set of observations is valid and something that I also considered. My article actually raises a number of wider issues which I simply did not have time or space to go into. Perhaps in future there coiuld be a longer article exploring some of thoise issues in more detail.

  22. Ken McGrath

    Hi Ken, as a philosopher I agree that everyone is entitled to their opinion so long as it remains a personal opinion. Once you step out into the public sphere you are not entitled to an opinion but only what you can argue for, to make your case and to provide good reasons why I should believe you. If as we hear all the time that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and each is equally valuable than by that reasoning each is also equally valueless. There is over 5 billion adults in the world each with a personal opinion which means that any single opinion is worth exactly 1/5 billionth of the collective world opinion ie worthless.
    Cheers, Ken.

  23. Michael Jones

    “I partly agree but the rider is that in that circumstance the opinion should be ‘true’. Otherwise, you are saying that an opinion based on a lie (false observations or evidence) is a basis for democratic decision making. If such opinions are not questioned or simply allowed to spread unchallenged then we are describing the rise of Hitler.”

    I think that we are furiously agreeing Ken, in my first post I said that people don’t have to accept an opinion and should feel free to try to refute it with logic. It is the use of bullying and coercion, like we have seen with Sonia Kruger, which I object to.

    I do however think that we have to accept that people in a democracy will draw different conclusions about the right course of action, even if they have the same source of information. For example, some people might have a very strong aversion to a society like Japan, which has an apparent strong preference to remain mono-cultural and almost mono-racial with very little immigration. I think that those Japanese people who would prefer to live in a more multi-cultural and multi-racial society should have every right to express that through free speech, but if after the facts have been debated the majority of Japanese people still prefer to live in “Japan for the Japanese”, then that is the conclusion that everybody just has to live with.

    We see a few instances in our own policy debates where groups of passionate advocates simply won’t accept that the majority of the population has come to a landing on how they want a particular issue dealt with, and carry on forever and to no effect. Aside from being a bit annoying I don’t know whether a loud, powerless group is anything to worry too much about for the rest of us, but it certainly is a waste of their time and energy which could be used more productively on an issue they might win.

  24. Geoff Andrews

    The AIM Network (7th August, 8.23pm)
    You question the statement:
    “This key premise of your article is in my opinion wrong.”
    with the question: “How can an opinion be wrong?”

    As a registered & qualified pedant, may I respectfully point out that the subect of the sentence is “premise” and not “opinion”.
    You would, of course, agree that a premise can be wrong?
    As pointed out by Michael Jones, not only can doctors’ opinions be wrong but also barristers’ and economists’ opinions are accident prone as well.

  25. maxpowerof1

    Not to mention silencing someone, one way or another, so the prevailing misinformation or propaganda is the only information accessible.

    Sadistic fascism.

    Aka jeffrey fyi

  26. Ken Wolff

    Ken McGrath: I am not a philosopher so I thank you for your comment and the logic of it. If only more people could take such an approach. I had a comment to this article on TPS which suggested that opinions are like arseholes — everyone has one! I think that degree of cynicism as regards opinions is healthy.

    Michael Jones: You make the case against the bullying caused by extreme opinions but what of the bullying of all Muslims based on the actions of a few. Would the same people making those statements, also consider that all Catholics or all Irish people should have been banned from Australia during the IRA campaigns because that meant that all Catholics were potential terrorists (I acknowledge 2353NM for making this point in a recent article on TPS). If not, then there is something else underpinning the argument/opinion, not just the threat of terrorism but people will not come out and admit what that additional ‘something else’ is. Until they explain the real reasons for their opinion, then they are basically peddling a lie. The logic of the current approach would suggest that all men should be placed in internment camps because, otherwise, they are likely to commit rape or domestic violence. I have heard no-one arguing that (at least not yet) and we accept, as a society, that we have other ways of dealing with those issues, just as we have other ways (than banning all Muslims) of dealing with potential terrorist threats. So consider those observations as well.

    Also a belated thank you to DisablednDesperate for your ‘thank you’.

  27. Harquebus

    “I have opinions, but they’re just that, opinions, and opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one and they usually stink.” — Curt Schilling

  28. Ken Wolff

    Sorry, a couple more comments appeared while I was in the process of writing my last comment.

    Firstly, Geoff Andrews: as a pedant, your comment is valid but it depends whether the original comment is referring just to that sentence, in which case ‘premise’ is the subject, or to the article as a whole which I make clear at the end is ‘my opinion’. So perhaps I would accept that I have not made a completely logical argument but I hope you can forgive that in a short article such as this. As I suggested in an earlier comment, a longer, more philosophical article about ‘opinions’ could be warranted.

    Michael Jones: there appears to be a slight disjunct in our arguments but that is only to be expected in making short comments like this. While we are in general agreement that democracy will lead to generally accepted conclusions, you also write “but if after the facts have been debated the majority of Japanese people still prefer to live in “Japan for the Japanese”, then that is the conclusion that everybody just has to live with.” The key issue here for me is the word ‘facts’. It should be the polticians (or other leaders) role to ensure that the debate is based on facts (or opinions that can be shown to be true or most likely true). Otherwise the people are being misled, a little like a conman selling someone the Harbour Bridge. So there is a fine democratic line regarding ‘truth’ that needs to be considered.

  29. Matters Not

    Ken Wolff, as Gramsci observed:

    Everyone is a philosopher, though in his own way and unconsciously, since even in the slightest manifestation of any intellectual activity whatever, in ‘language’, there is contained a specific conception of the world, one then moves on to the second level, which is that of awareness and criticism.


  30. Jaquix

    I was lucky enough to grow up in a country untainted by Murdoch !! Yes, they do exist! This was New Zealand, and even now, as far as I know, he has no presence there. I therefore escaped the brainwashing that 3 generations of Australians have suffered at his hands. It explains to me a lot about Australians and the way they vote – frequently against their own interests.

  31. Kyran

    “It is much like saying my opinion that 2 + 2 = 3 is as valid as the alternative that 2 + 2 = 4. No-one would argue that proposition would they? — these days the answer to that question is not so clear.”
    That’s the part that confuses me no end.
    “2+2=4” is a fact. Inarguable, irrefutable, undeniable fact. A bit like climate change.
    “2+2=3” is not an opinion, it is a delusion. Inarguably, irrefutably, undeniably delusional.
    Whilst we all have rights to our opinions (a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge), we cannot expect others to value our opinions if our opinions are based on nothing other than our delusions.
    There was a ‘story’ on BBC World Service played on RN yesterday. About some bloke called Spinoza. Seems to me, this is the same discussion. I haven’t been able to find a transcript, but there is a podcast. Well worth the 1/2 hour.


    Or there is his wiki


    His conundrum was in the 1600’s, yet we have moved no further. Thank you, Mr Wolff. My recollection is that Ms Lee can assist with math and reason. As for delusion, good luck with that. Take care

  32. Michael Jones

    Ken Wolff, I think you will find that there is nothing which interferes with polite discourse more than fear of death, which is what is undoubtedly prompting the more extreme suggestions in relation to people’s fears of Islamist terrorism. And people’s fear of death by Islamist terrorism is based in reality and suggestions that it’s root cause comes from the literal interpretation of Islamic beliefs look strongly supported by anybody who actually reads the Koran, as I have. I don’t accept your comparison with Irish terrorism, it was largely isolated to the UK and Ireland, Australians were not the target of it and it was more driven by tribalism than anything inherently from the Bible.

    But of course reasonable people don’t want to make the lives of anybody, including peaceful Muslims, more difficult. So, we need to find a way of allaying the concerns of the broader community, while allowing Muslims in this country to live in peace. Simon Birmingham showed the way to deal with that beautifully on Q and A on the episode where he appeared with Pauline Hanson with this part of his response to a Muslim woman talking about her fears about the rise of Hansonism,

    “Our responsibility, I think, is of course how we reconcile that to make sure that you continue to feel that this is a country that you are free to practise your faith in, respected while practising that faith but that others, equally, feel safe and comfortable that the Government is not only doing everything possible to protect them but is being successful in doing so …”

    The key here is of course that the Government continues to be successful in preventing major terrorist attacks in this country, which it seems to me to have been thus far. However I would say that if there are major terrorist attacks in this country like we have seen in Europe, any consensus on how to deal with this issue will break down, people will demand stronger action.

    Under those circumstances I do think that people have the right to question whether core Islamic beliefs are motivating terrorist attacks and whether those beliefs (note I don’t say people) have a place in our society. After all, Muslims say they worship the same God as Christians, Jews, Bahai. Therefore, why should non-Muslims accept that they absolutely must follow the words of a seventh century Arabian warlord, who adapted Christian and Jewish beliefs to inspire his people to be conquerors and who advocated violence against all that opposed Islam? I would have thought God was the central character in Islam, not Mohamed, so if Mohamed’s teachings prove to be central to the danger to the rest of us then as far as I am concerned Muslims who want to live here can convert to an alternative existing Abrahamic faith, or come up with a new one that doesn’t include the Koran and its message of death for the rest of us.

  33. jimhaz

    [It is not as though science plucks its theories out of the air]

    Well they do sometimes, for example the concept of singularity is absurd. Umm, in my opinion.

    [Or do we have different opinions because people draw different conclusions from the same set of observations?]

    Yes, when it comes to predicting the future, using abductive or inductive reasoning, we draw different conclusions from the same set of observations. Assuming the exact same set of observations, then this would be due one of more of the many logical fallacies.
    Deductive, abductive and inductive reasoning and the logical fallacies/biases really need to be taught in depth at school from Year 7 onwards.

    I presume they are not and the reason for that would be that those involved in religion have not wanted people to think logically so they resist it being taught at school.

    The ego determines how experience data will be assessed. We always need to view the ego like a computer operating system with a hierarchy of many lower level programs and routines that can interrelate to each other. The ego is simply the top level set of programs that determine overall desires and dislikes as they appear in one consciousness – I think of it as being a motherboard capable of reprogramming itself.

    Our brains work by assigning positive, negative and neutral values to both new and repeated experiences. A memory (including those not able to be recalled) consists of an abstract image of an event + a negative or positive value + an index to first level related memories + a program to induce set actions. The stored value is determined in relation to related memories, and the depth of value assessment and re-evaluation of existing memories relative to the emotional strength of the experience. Each “conceptual thing” such as a muslim is stored in many ways – the concept would have indexes that automatically link to people, immigrant, danger, terrorism, halal, refugee, government etc. This is why so much of the brain is active when thinking or dreaming. Only thoughts are linear, memories are non-linear.
    Once a value is in place then it is likely confirmation bias will reinforce that value the next time the event is experienced (and importantly an event can be a thinking event such as reflection on past experience). These stored value assignments against memories are necessary to allow us to act as quickly as possible against potential dangers or advantageous situations. They tell us what emotions should arise – flee, fight, be open, be gentle etc.

    This is why it is so hard for people to change their mind on issues such a global warming. It is not just the facts it is the reinforcement of existing memories each time an issue is thought about without any powerful new experience.

    The stronger the emotions involved in the event, particularly with first time experiences, the more polarised the recorded value will be. Ie What we ate last Tuesday for breakfast if standard has virtually no effect on existing memories and we will struggle to recall it. 911 however was a novel and strongly emotional event as great harm was caused by Muslim terrorists, so our brains place a negative value on Muslims (or middle eastern people). Every subsequent event we read about involving Islamic terrorism, though they may create new synapses, adds to the strength of the value previously recorded. The categorisation of Muslims=bad will remain just that until such time as a series of positive and neutral experiences relating to Muslims/empathy to others/non-discriminatory teachings are stored, and that set of stored experiences have high enough values to negate the existing negative value set of memories.

    One of the most interesting examples of this system in play is the attitude of many Greens voters to opening up Australia for more refugees. They appear to value the more generalised idea of sharing resources and aid to a higher degree than the actual unknown number of lives that would be lost by removing contemporary government deterrent policies.

  34. Freethinker

    Regarding opinions, many of them are based on scientific observations and methods and in the case of climate change and human intervention.
    I just wonder how many of those that support the science and facts are backing their opinion with actions changing their life style.
    Are those really believe in that facts/opinions or just “go along with them?
    On the other side are those that dispute science and facts and based on that see no need to change their life style.
    I have change mine what about you?

    just an opinion, sadly based on facts. Rejection on the CT come to my mind……..

  35. Kyran

    Jaquix @ 1.19, thank you for reminding me.
    “I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. “That’s easy,” he replied. “When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”


    Unfortunately, that gormless git’s delusional opinion, however megalomaniacal, will influence others. Thankfully, his audience now has alternatives, which they are choosing. Take care

  36. helvityni

    “I was lucky enough to grow up in a country untainted by Murdoch !! Yes, they do exist!”

    Indeed Jaquix, they do exist, countries where you can become PM or President without Murdoch’s blessing, and where the MSM is not tainted by one senile capitalist. Why do people in Oz take so much notice of what the shock jocks say ,is also a mystery to me.

  37. Ken Wolff


    Say what! The psychological explanation is a bit much for me to take in quickly. But as I have said previously, there is scope for a much deeper exploration of the issues I raised in this article and the psychological explanation of how we form and retain opinions is one approach.

    I will say on the ‘singularity’ that whether it ultimately proves right or wrong, it is one explanation of current ‘observations’, even though in this case the ‘observations’ may be the result of mathematical models. While the mathematics is used to explain other observations, it also gives rise to the concept of a ‘singularity’. String theory arose in a similar way: the maths explained some other phenomena but worked best if there were more than four dimensions and, without going into a long explanation, that eventually gave rise to string theory. So these weird concepts are still based on some level of observation although in the case of the outcomes of mathematical calculations I would accept an argument that those observations are a step or two removed from physical observations. But as long as the maths continues to explain some phenomena, then these other concepts will remain in the mix. And I would also be amenable to an argument (perhaps your psychological one) that opinions could work in the same way — being retained if they continue to explain some phenomena, even if not others.

  38. Ken Wolff

    Michael Jones

    One last point. I would have thought God was the central character in Christianity not the words of Paul.

  39. Michael Jones

    Ken Wolff – True, but Paul didn’t tell Christian’s to kill people like so as an atheist, I couldn’t really give a rats what Christians choose to believe.

  40. jimhaz

    @ Ken

    I just get annoyed when some scientists speak as if their theories stem from deductive reasoning as opposed to inductive reasoning.

    Wiki: “Inductive reasoning (as opposed to deductive reasoning or abductive reasoning) is reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument is probable, based upon the evidence given”

    In cosmology documentaries, they often tend talk in terms of certainties rather than probabilities. I am convinced that there is something dramatically incorrect with the Big Bang model. The maths for singularities has been made to fit this model. It is my view that the model, though perhaps correct is only just a possibility. Why? Because of quite recent inventions like dark matter/energy/flow. Why? Because even the great Einstein included a cosmological constant as a “mathematical fix” to the theory of general relativity. Why? Because they have to invent other dimensions to make maths work for many of the quantum dynamics theories.

    Issues like this, and there are many others, all point to something being intrinsically wrong with the current theory set as it applies to the final conclusions, and should still always be talking in terms of probabilities.

    For global warming however, they correctly talk in terms of probabilities.

    I for one believe the universe grows from the “outside in” AND the ”inside out”, not just from the inside out as would be the case if the big bang began our universe from a singularity. I won’t actually try to explain as that would take 100,000 words – but the difference is that everything is unlikely to have come from a singularity (singularities being a non-explanation) – it came from a universe of which every part is growing and where form is created by continuous explosions with different timeframes (big bang explosions and subsequent implosions at all levels – eg our universe as a sub-universe, atom, string, quark etc). The universe requires a power source and this power is what everything is made of – “Time” viewed as an energy that expands. The end result is the same – an expanding universe where the expansion is accelerating, but where cosmic background radiation points to the expansion and explosion process everywhere, not to a solitary big bang. My type of universe is a bubble universe, so yes the big bang theory has relevance – but it was more of the nature of an implosion from a maximum size, that mixed up many bubble sub-universes of different growth ages, than an explosion from a minimum size.

    Just ranting. Feel no obligation to respond.

  41. Ken Wolff

    Didn’t he?

    And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [Romans 1: 28-32]

    No more. The standard of debate is slipping. You did not see the irony in my previous comment or chose to ignore it, so that’s it from me!!

  42. Michael Jones

    Oh well, I never claimed to be an expert on the Bible because to paraphrase Muhammad Ali, “No Christian ever plotted to blow me up”. If that becomes an issue I will also call for them to rewrite their Holy Book or worship something nicer.

  43. Michael

    Religion is a human construct and as such is subject to human de/re/construct – just someone (now grown to an institution level) else telling you what to think and do – your choice.

  44. Ken Wolff

    jimhaz at 3:43

    I like your style, except perhaps for the psychological stuff which it takes me too long to get my head around. I find your cosmological views interesting, with some hints of a ‘multiverse’ — string theory can also lead to more universes or at least ‘foetal’ universes. But here in the comments section on AIMN is not quite the place to go into a discussion of various cosmological theories.

  45. wam

    there is ample evidence of what you read, see, hear, smell, touch and taste give an experience that is not what I experience.
    Important personal opinions are based on observations that differ, past history that differs and belief/faith/fear that has developed from experience. Open opinions are usually unbased repetitions of stereotypes, slogans, rumours misunderstandings, lies or simply devil’s advocacy. Is validity a factor???
    My opinion can only be valid in the part that fits your opinion and can only be changed by re-adjusting a base element. W

  46. Ken Wolff


    Whether or not an opinion is valid does become important, I think, when it crosses into the public arena. Then a debate about the opinion, and what it is based on, is required.

    I agree that those things you list can influence or even create opinions but that is almost the point. Because my opinions are influenced by a range of personal experiences unique to me, I need to be open to a wider range of experiences (observations) to test that opinion and not believe that my experiences (and opinion) are relevant to everyone else.

  47. Michael Jones

    Ken Wolff, your Bible quote about how unbelievers like me deserve to die piqued my interest, so I did a big of Google Foo on the Biblical view on war. Lo and behold I got this quote from your old mate Paul, in the very same book of the New Testament a few pages after your quote:

    “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NAS, Romans 12:17-21)”

    So it seems to me that while Paul thought that I deserve to die, he also thought that topping me was God’s prerogative rather than any person’s. Given that I don’t believe in God, I’m cool with that and cool with the notion that the many violent things done in the name of Christianity are the result of corruptions to the core message of that faith.

    In contrast, violence towards non-believers is central to the message of Islam in the Koran, and is evidenced by the fact that the first thing that Mohamed did upon establishing that faith was to conquer the entire Arabian Peninsula. His successors kept up the good work and had forcibly conquered and converted territory stretching from Spain to India within less than 150 years, they were hardly inspired by a peaceful ideology me thinks.

    Insomuch as that faith inspires terrorists to kill people like me, my family, my friends and my countrymen, I am definitely not cool with that. Like I said, if that becomes a problem here I think we should be strongly suggesting that Muslims demonstrate their peaceful intentions, by finding a non-Islamic way to worship their god.

  48. Michael

    MJ – does that mean that whilst I, a non believer according to an interpretation of the Koran, by virtue of my very existence and unbeknownst to a believer, pose such a threat deserving of nullification? = peace?

  49. Michael Jones

    Sorry Michael, I don’t really get what you are talking about.

  50. Ken Wolff

    Michael Jones

    Yes, quoting religious texts is always filled with contradictions – compare the New Testament to the Old Testament. The Koran also stresses peace and stopping your ‘brothers’ from doing wrong. Your interpretation of the Koran is also based on limited parts of it — just as is the interpretation used by IS. Just as fundamentalist Christians often focus on the ‘rules’ contained in the Old Testament. People tend to pick those parts that suit them and/or ignore the inconsistencies.

    And I do have copies of and have read major parts of the Bible, the Koran, Buddhist texts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, etc, so I do have some idea of religious proclivities, even if not religious myself.

    As to the history of Islamic conquest, consider also the history of Christian conquest (dare I mention South America!) and the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc. Something about ‘glass houses’ or ‘throwing the first stone’ seems appropriate.

  51. Michael Jones

    Ken, you assume a lot. I have read the entire Koran and the central message is very clear, Muslims are supposed to be in charge and can use force to achieve it, Christians and Jews get left alone so long as they pay extra taxes and anybody else gets killed.
    There is no comparable theme that I am aware of in the New Testament and from what I understand of the Old Testament the use of violence exclusively relates to the Jews ruling Israel, not really our problem in Australia.

    Aside from what is in that book for all to read, I just scratch my head at the stupidity of non-Muslims who defend those beliefs. It appears to be a cause that has been mindlessly leapt upon by left wingers, because it provides the opportunity to be a social justice warrior, stick one up the racist rabble in their own society and feel morally superior. Never mind that the contents of the Koran contradict everything that the left-wing purports to be about and if that religion was mostly practiced by white people, left wingers would want the Koran banned as hate speech.

    That is where these stupid attempts to create moral relativities over the actions of Christians hundreds of years ago or isolated instances in more recent times. Muslims are in conflict with non-Muslims of all types wherever they live around the World right now Mate, that hasn’t changed since the 7th century.

    So if you want to advocate the continued tolerance of a religion that is driving followers to kill non-Muslim Australians like you and me Ken, good luck to you, but I sincerely doubt that Australians in general remain as tolerant once we have our first large attack. That is why Muslims in this country would be doing themselves a favour by finding some other religion, that doesn’t pose a threat to the rest of us.

  52. Trish Corry

    A good article. It is a discussion that needs to be had. The dumbing down of Australia can stop today!

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