Thursday, November 15, 2012

The failed brain-to-mouth filter

I have this folder on my computer of finished blog posts just sitting around to be published. I don't publish these posts for different reasons. This post is one of those posts. It's been sitting on my computer doing nothing for a while now, and I finally decided I'd publish it. I had my reservations, because I think this post is a bit personal, but it deserves to see the light of day, so I'll get over it.

So here it is, my erstwhile rejected post:

So, I have in the past labeled myself as a Torah-Observant Christian. Whether I still am now is neither here nor there for the purposes of this post. It is necessary to acknowledge that “Torah-observant Christian” is something I have called myself, because this post involves a dialogue surrounding this belief system.

I do enjoy frequenting forums, though I have not frequented them as often as I used to. During my more active forum days, I noticed that when debating with Christians online (as opposed to in-person. People seem to actually have a brain-to-mouth filter in real life), once people discovered I follow Torah, their default argument against anything I said would be, “Well, do you follow such-and-such law in such-in-such scripture?” I do believe that the suppressed premise in such a question is that if I do not follow such-and-such law, then my entire argument is bunk. Because it makes complete sense to base an argument’s validity off of the failings of a simple human being (that was sarcasm).

While I did learn to tolerate such asinine questions (that is not to say I appreciated them), there are still specific questions that I find completely inappropriate, and I am not sure why any person would think it is okay to ask such questions. In order to explain what I am talking about, I will present you with a common scenario.

Thread Title: Are Tattoos sinful?
My answer: Yes, because Leviticus 19:28 tells us not to tattoo ourselves.
Response to my answer: Well, do you follow all of the Torah, or are you just picking and choosing verses in order to form an argument?
My answer: I follow all of Torah that applies to me as a woman.
Response to my answer: Oh yeah? Well do you put sticky notes on chairs during your period to let people know not to sit there?
My answer: [no reply]

Other questions include: “Do you immerse yourself in a Mikvah after your period”, “do you not hug people while on your period”, and then a question about my sexual practices during my cycle that I think was the rudest and most invasive of them all. Do keep in mind, these were questions asked by Christians.

Basically, people seem to think that it is suddenly okay to ask me personal questions about my life just so they can prove a point in an argument. At first, I would answer such questions, because I was stupid. But then I realized I was not obligated to answer such invasive questions, and I no longer do. It is not the business of some random person online what sort of personal habits I have during certain times of the month. The only person whose business that is, besides mine, is any doctor I visit that needs to know such things for medical reasons.

I am not certain what is going on inside a person’s head when they ask such a question, because it is not like people just generally go around asking women “What personal practices do you have during your menstrual cycle?” That’s obscene and rude. No one has ever asked me such a question in real life, and, odd note of fact, the only people that ask me online are men. No woman has felt compelled to ask me that in order to try to prove a point in an argument. So… why on earth do men think it would be okay to ask me that?

So, the point of all of this is to discuss how tactless and rude people can be. Maybe in some circles it isn’t rude to ask women private questions about things that happen behind closed doors, but in my world it’s not acceptable. It seems to be a very pervasive problem, even beyond my little sphere of men online asking about my private practices. I read a blog recently where a woman was complaining about some stranger asking about her alleged tattoos she had underneath her clothes. The blogger said it was such a rude question, because people should not be asking strangers about private tattoos. It’s like asking about their underclothes.

In today’s society perhaps such interaction is acceptable. I do not know. I may be behind the times, but I would like to think there are still private subjects in this world that people simply are not entitled to know about and have no business asking about.

I really do think it is partially because people lack a brain-to-mouth filter. They were most probably never fully taught how to filter what is prudent or imprudent to say. And so they will say what comes to their mind without thinking it through first.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not in this anything-goes society, there is certain social etiquette by which you need to adhere. Just as it is rude to say to a fat stranger with a look of disgust “You’re morbidly obese,” it is also wrong to ask someone personal questions about what goes on behind closed doors, what they have tattooed to themselves underneath their clothes, what they are wearing underneath their clothes, and anything relating to their private members.

Which reminds me… I should make a rant about men and PMS comments

Monday, November 12, 2012

Using "Opinion" in Arguments

Warning: long post ahead (2,329 words according to Word)

Before I start, it is necessary for people to know what sort of “argument” I am referring to.  An argument is a conversation between two or more people where something is either trying to be proved or rebutted. This can either be a civilized discussion where people are simply debating a point, or it can be an angry exchange of words that ends in a shouting match. Either way, arguments require opinions to be exchanged. Rarely does any conversation between two humans consists entirely of fact.

Now, I have noticed a horrible tendency in arguments for people to throw around the word “opinion” as the ultimate kill-all for arguments, as if inserting that word in the conversation wins them the argument.

It doesn’t.

It only frustrates people, and causes them to avoid arguing with you in the future, because you’re perceived as being unreasonable.

There is a correct way and wrong way to use the word “opinion,” and like salt, it is best used sparingly (also, the bigger the pot of stew, the more salt that can be used –the longer the argument, the more the word “opinion” can be thrown around).  Also like salt, there are some times it simply is not good to use it. Sometimes it is also best to use it in secret (no one wants to know salt is used in cake. That sounds gross).

So, what does all of this mean in real-non-food-related terms? Well, I am about to explain that to you, obviously (after you have gone to find a dish to eat with some salt, since we’re all wanting a little salty food now. Salt and vinegar chips, if you please)

Proper Use of the term "Opinion:"
(1.1) In conversation, it is helpful to sometimes preface statements with “In my opinion.” This helps a conversant to know you are not trying to pass your opinions off as fact. This is helpful if the person is not already familiar with you, and thus does not already have a basic grasp of what you do and do not believe, and how you argue. It is also helpful in writing at times, such as online or for papers, where the reader does not know you at all.

Two caveats:
(a.) It is not necessary to say “In my opinion” before every statement of opinion. It is not necessary for me to say “In my opinion, Salt and Vinegar chips taste better than Sour Cream and Onion chips.” It is quite obvious that is an opinion, and it would be just as well if I said “Salt and Vinegar chips taste better than Sour Cream and Onion chips.”
(b.) When trying to present a strong argument for a school paper or public debate, it is best not to salt your argument with “In my opinion." It makes it seem like you are unsure of yourself, and weakens your argument. This is something I have had to amend over the years in college, as my secondary school teachers instilled the horrible habit of prefacing every opinion with “In my opinion.” As it turns out, my high school and middle school teachers helped me to get good grades on FCAT papers but not college essays, because it is not helpful to tell people it is my opinion. As one professor wrote on my paper, “I know it is your opinion. You do not need to tell me that.”
 This is also dependent on what sort of speech or paper you’re presenting. I was a political science major. We try to avoid using “in my opinion" too much, because political science is pretty much all opinion. It would be excessively unnecessary to point out every opinion.  In other subjects, it may be more necessary to point out opinions. You wouldn’t want a doctor saying “Take this medicine. It is the best” if it was just his opinion.
(1.2) In conversation, it is sometimes necessary to say something along the lines of, “It’s just my opinion, calm down.” This can also be used in defense of someone else “It’s just a/his/her/their opinion…”

This can be used when talking about something trivial that can lead to rather asinine debates over inconsequential things (we can all get caught up in these type of arguments at times, though some of us are more guilty of such arguments than others). In which case it is helpful to calmly assert that it is just an opinion being expressed, and the offended party needs to calm down.

For example:
“The ninth doctor is better than the tenth doctor”
“No way! David Tennant is a million times better than Christopher Eccleston, you half-breed donkey mutant!”
“Dude, calm down. It’s just my opinion, and Doctor Who is not even that serious.”
For an explanation of when it is not okay to use “It’s just my opinion, calm down,” scroll down to 2.3 (a)

Improper Use of the Term "Opinion:" 
(2.1) Any phrase along the lines of “That is just your opinion.” Yes, the person stating their opinion is well aware of the fact that it is “just their opinion.” Stating that does not negate the fact that they have put forth an opinion and would like a legitimate response. If you do not have a legitimate response, it’d be best if you said nothing (yes, I am all for people keeping their mouths shut if they have no intention of adding anything beneficial to an argument).

Aside from which, when someone says “that is just your opinion,” they are generally trying to win the argument by devaluing the legitimacy of someone having an opinion. If anyone has ever taken a Logic 101 course, they know that most arguments are not deductive, but inductive. Most arguments are formed based on opinion. To try to end an argument by saying “that is just your opinion” is ridiculous. The whole reason people tend to argue so much is because there are so many opinions, and people that argue feel their opinion is the right one, and are trying to convince others to share that "right" opinion with them.

If you realize something someone is saying is an opinion(no great realization in that), and you wish to argue the point, then you do not do so by saying “that is just your opinion.” You do so by rebutting their opinion with your own opinion, or even with facts.

A caveat:
It is okay to point out something is just an opinion when facts are needed to back up the opinion. However, it is necessary to tell the person facts are needed. Otherwise it will sound dismissive to simply say “It’s just your opinion.”
For example:
"9-11 was an inside job, and the government could have prevented it.”
“Mkay Sherlock. That’s just your opinion until you’re able to show me some concrete evidence to back up what you’re saying.”

(2.2) Any phrase along the lines of, “Everyone has an opinion, and I was just sharing mine.” This phrase is usually used by a person who wishes to withdraw from an argument for whatever reason.

The issue I take with this statement is that it comes off as a serious cop-out. It usually follows a strong, controversial opinion that someone responded to, and it makes it seem like the original conversant realizes they don’t actually want to defend themselves so they say the phrase above to avoid having to defend their position.

For example:
“Homosexual marriage is wrong,” John said.
“I think everyone has a right to marry the person they love,” Adie responded.
“Yeah, well everyone has an opinion, and I was just sharing mine.”
There really is no way for Adie to respond to that without coming across as combative. The general urge is to say “Why exactly did you share the opinion if you don’t feel like defending it?” Everyone has an opinion. Usually you should not share an opinion you know is controversial if you are unwilling to defend that opinion.

For example,
If you're in a room full of people who voted for President Obama, don't say "Obama sucks" if you aren't willing to deal with the repercussions of saying such a thing. 
(2.3) “It’s just my opinion.” Aside from people sometimes using this phrase when they do not feel like defending their positions, such as in (2.2), I find two major ways this can be used that are very obnoxious.
(a) They use it to try to defuse an argument: “It’s just my opinion, so calm down.” If your opinion is beyond the pale idiotic and insulting, saying it is just your opinion isn’t going to calm a person down.
For example,
Yancy looked at the black man standing down the hall, turned to her friend and said, “All black men are pigs and idiots. I can’t stand that guy.”
“Why would you say that? That’s really racist, Yancy. There are plenty of black men who are neither pigs nor idiots.” Maria said in horror.
“Dude! It’s just my opinion. Calm down.”
          A caveat:
          It is sometimes necessary to say “It is just my opinion, calm
          down.” See (1.2) above. 
(b) It is used by people in a joking manner to get them out of being perceived as the ignorant imbecile they are for just spending an inordinate amount of time defending a position that only heartless humans would. A flippant tone is usual used in this one.
For example,
John Doe just spent thirty minutes arguing for the mandatory infanticide of all babies born with Down Syndrome, claiming they won't ever lead a productive life anyways and will be a drain on society. Upon realizing he has be an ignorant imbecile, he says "It's just my opinion" to try to end the argument.  
(2.4) (This point is for Americans specifically, and the term "opinion" is not actually used in this one, but I felt it should be thrown in because it addresses the same issue.) Any phrase along the lines of (a) “I’m just exercising my first amendment right to freedom of speech” or (b) “It’s sad that so many people don’t understand what freedom of speech means.”

These are two similar yet different phrases.
(a) This is a phrase usually used after an American has to deal with people disliking an opinion said American just expressed. 
For example,
If  person says he doesn't like Obamacare, he might say "I'm just exercising my first amendment right to freedom of speech" when someone responds by explaining why Obamacare is good thing, and saying the man is ignorant if he doesn't realize this.
This phrase is basically the same as saying "It's just my opinion," but it adds a patriotic flair to it that makes the person responding to the American seem like an unreasonable fellow that doesn't respect a person's first amendment right to freedom of speech. This is, of course, a fallacious tactic, as one's view on the Bill of Rights has little-to-nothing to do with arguing against a person's opinion on a matter. 
Further, it is a pointless comment, as it proves nothing you have said. Saying you have the freedom to express your opinions does not make your opinions right. You can express your opinions as much as you want, but everyone else also has the Constitutional right to argue against your opinion. 
(b) This phrase is used in much the same way at the above phrase is used. It is obnoxious because it gives the impression that you can share your opinion, but when someone argues against it, then  that someone is hindering your freedom of speech. What people who use this phrase do not seem to realize is that all Americans have just as much of a right to rebut an opinion as Obnoxious Americans have to say it.  It is not infringing on one’s freedom of speech for me or anyone else to respond negatively to that expression of freedom of speech. 
For example,
There was the huge Chick-fil-A snafu where Dan Cathy expressed his personal opinion on the matter of homosexual marriage, and then the LGBT community and those who support them decided they'd boycott Chick-fil-A as a result.  As a result of the boycott, people were saying "It's sad that so many people don't understand what freedom of speech means." This was not so much an obnoxious thing to say, as it was ignorant. Dan Cathy can give his personal opinion on things, and people can give their personal opinion on what Dan Cathy has to say. There is no misunderstanding of freedom of speech here. The only misunderstanding is in thinking people are wrong to boycott Chick-fil-A because they don't agree with the CEO's personal beliefs. Boycotting is a form of freedom of speech. Individuals responding to individuals: no infringement of freedom of speech there. Boycotting a business because you don't agree with the owner's personal opinion doesn't mean you want to take away that owner's right to freely express his opinion. It simply means you don't agree with the opinion. 
Now one can say the politicians who made official comments on the matter were infringing on freedom of speech by attacking a business for a personal comment an owner made outside of his business's policies, but that is a different discussion entirely, and one that has been discussed to death already when this all unfolded months ago.

In conclusion, when tempted to throw the word “opinion” into an argument, take a moment to consider how you’ll come across if you use the word. Will your use of the word “opinion” make you seem like a reasonable human being, or will it make people want to avoid future arguments with you, because you are seen as unreasonable and unwilling to legitimately discuss different points of view?

As a finishing caveat:
In the right context and tone of voice, all of these phrases can become either proper or improper to use. This is just a generalized guide for people. 
# of caveats: 4
# of examples: 8