Is it better to have no facts about a topic and thus no opinion, or have access to a few “out of context” facts and thus a misinformed opinion?
TL;DR: Either start learning about issues you care about, or stop caring about them so much. It’s more honest, less mental effort, and is less likely to ruin Thanksgiving.
You can’t be well-informed on every topic; It’s just not possible. That’s why world leaders have advisers. Yet somehow, if you look at anyone’s Facebook account, you don’t have to try too hard to figure out their view on any political issue.
Over the past year, I’ve started to realize how much nuance there is to the headlines we see. When I read an article that ruins the image of a company or individual, I always wonder: What information could the author be omitting? What view could the other side have? What outside information is the author conveniently using to make a point?
I try to avoid getting emotional until these questions are answered. I’m guilty of having basic gut feelings on unfamiliar topics, but these feelings aren’t strong enough to start an argument. I talk about issues I’m informed about, and listen (with a grain of salt) to others talk about issues I’m not.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for lots of us. Instead of admitting we are uninformed, many of us form an opinion after we read the headline, and most likely don’t update it after skimming the article with said headline. We are even less likely to look for an opposing take, as that requires we scroll outside of whatever feed we are browsing through. Some people don’t even use the news to form opinions: They just accept the opinions of their friends or family as “obvious”. As someone who accepted the outcome of the 2020 presidential election without looking into the claims of fraud, I’m guilty of this too.
We then take this opinion that a) isn’t ours and b) took less than 10 seconds to form, and carry it into the foreseeable future, not even considering the idea that there might be more we don’t know.
What’s wrong with admitting that we don’t know enough to judge a topic or event? Do we really think we have enough context and facts to make sound judgements on all our beliefs? Do we really need to hold an opinion after every scandal? Why can’t we just say “This is a side of a story” and move on?
Take Google’s firing of Timnit Gebru for example:
- I read a headline about Google firing a researcher that criticized the company on a mailing list. I didn’t need about any more drama in my life, so I didn’t read further, tucking this away in my mind as “researcher fired from Google”.
- Google responded with something along the lines of “she was using an email list in such a way that was improper for her position”. I still didn’t need the drama, so I kept it in my mind as “researcher fired from Google”.
- I still hold no strong positions on this specific topic and don’t plan on learning more about it. Like in most “scandals”, there’s a lot of “he said, she said” going on, and I don’t need to spend time figuring out who is right.
If I wanted to hold an opinion on this event, I’d need the following details to start:
- The code of conduct for Gebru’s position
- Other alternative methods Gebru could have used not in violation of the Code of Conduct if her actions violated it
- The contents of the email
- Verbose arguments from both sides refuting each other’s points if possible
- Evidence of Gebru’s claims
As someone who does not work at nor plans to work at Google, this just isn’t worth my time, so I don’t form an opinion. There are other things to worry about.
TL;DR (again): Either start learning about issues you care about, or stop caring about them so much. It’s more honest, less mental effort, and is less likely to ruin Thanksgiving.