Opinions and Insight

There’s an interesting dichotomy of opinions on opinions: half the time people are intensely interested in what everyone else’s opinions on things are, and half the time everyone’s nodding in wry agreement to comments such as “opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one”. This difference is also found in the reaction to government polling: sure, it’s great to be in a democracy and get to vote in your leaders, and it’s great to be able to get a rough take on what everyone thinks about an issue via professional pollsters, but as well as being responsive to the electorate, we want our leaders to have their own principles and provide, well, leadership to match.

What’s the difference here? It’s not simply a matter of getting annoyed when people have opinions that are diametrically opposed to yours; at the best of times, those can be the most fun, and conversely, having everyone be mindlessly agreeable can be pretty obnoxious too. I’m inclined to think it’s one of opinion versus insight.

Everyone has an opinion on most issues: they’ve got whatever facts they’ve picked up on the topic, their life’s experience, and common sense, and if they’ve got the time and the inclination, they’ll happily put all that together for you, stir, simmer, and serve up as the canonical take on events. Such are the standard dishes of talk radio, and taxi cab conversations.

By contrast, depending on how well informed you are already, it might be difficult to find someone that has any additional insight to offer. On most topics, most people are about equally well (or poorly) informed. On most topics, most people’s backgrounds aren’t relevant. And common sense is called that because, mostly, it is pretty common. Certainly, if you’re poorly informed on an issue, or you’re talking to someone who’s in a position to be much better informed than you are, you can gain some insight rather than just another opinion, and similarly if you’re talking to someone who’s older and wiser, or better at putting two and two together.

Unfortunately, if you just poll for opinions, it’s very easy for the insight to get lost amongst the assholes.

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