Avoiding foolish opinions

The internet is awash with foolish opinions and fake facts. A troll through facebook will deliver you thousands of opinions on Covid 19 from people with no scientific or medical training. It will deliver you screams of rage and hate on matters of politics and public administration from people who have never run for, let alone held, any office in their lives. They are fools; but we don’t all have to be like them

The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was not just that; was a pretty good psychologist. He knew no-one is free from error: but you can take some simple easy steps to avoid making a fool of yourself. We are going to look at a few of his thoughts below. But first a thank you to the website FS, which we link below, wherein you can read the whole thing for yourself. Go on, try it.

1 If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself.

The world is full of people with dogmatic beliefs about things that someone else told them. Check your facts, and check the biases of the people who are telling you. Have they left something out?

2 If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do

Remember what we said about cognitive dissonance? This is why persecution is not used in arithmetic, but is in theology. In arithmetic, there are only facts. Theology is opinion.

3 Make yourself aware of opinions other than your own

We thought that this was crucial:

 seek out people with whom you disagree, and read a newspaper belonging to a party that is not yours. If the people and the newspaper seem mad, perverse, and wicked, remind yourself that you seem so to them. In this opinion both parties may be right, but they cannot both be wrong. This reflection should generate a certain caution.

If you find yourself disagreeing with something written in the Daily Mail, take time to prove why it is wrong. It’s just as good for mental exercise as a computer game!

4 Be wary of opinions that flatter your self esteem

Both men and women, nine times out of ten, are firmly convinced of the superior excellence of their own sex. There is abundant evidence on both sides. If you are a man, you can point out that most poets and men of science are male; if you are a woman, you can retort that so are most criminals. The question is inherently insoluble, but self esteem conceals this from most people. 

Gentle readers, Russell is one of those few philosophers whose writings really do bring moments of calm reflection. God knows we need them. We invite you to try, starting with the link below.


#bertrandrussell #fakenews #culturewars #seeingbothsides

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