Of Opinions and Men ({{commentsTotal}})


Paide was once the place where four ancient Estonian kings* gathered, but at the end of last week, 4,000 free citizens met there for the Festival of Opinion Culture, which could be considered a verbal rock festival or an opinion fair - both views are justified. It was in this, the second year, that the festival found its true identity and caught up to its Nordic role models.

It's inevitable, once you're at something called an opinion festival, that one should ask what the essence of an opinion is, anyway. Who should do the opining? What should people opine about? Are all opinions really equal and is there such a thing as a true or false opinion?

I've exchanged thoughts on this topic a few times with Mihkel Kunnus, a good media colleague of mine. Mihkel and I disagree about this and our thoughts diverged as well in a special edition of the "Jüri Üdi Club" held on the air, so to speak, on the ERR stage at the festival in Paide.

Mihkel's position is clear-cut: having one's own opinion is the lowest common denominator, perhaps even crass; every fool is capable of having an opinion but a truly smart person realizes his or her limited nature and instead of an autonomous opinion relies on ideas of others, of talented people who have dealt deeply with a subject.

As the opinion editor for ERR online, I can't totally agree with Mihkel, as for one thing it would call into question the necessity of my very job. The point is, I do admit I'm standing on the shoulders of giants but I don't agree that that rules out the right to hold an independent opinion, to say nothing of opining as an activity.

After all, even the biggest opinion skeptic paradoxically does hold an opinion on something - even if the opinion is that people shouldn't have so many opinions. Besides direct opinions, there is much that is indirect - starting from the fact that in purely the philosophical sense, avoiding a position is also one of the forms by which a person subscribes to an opinion, all the way up to choosing which giants' shoulders we choose to stand on.

In other words, we all do have an opinion, no matter how much we may rely on the great figures of the past or present in the course of that opinionation. The question is whether all opinions have a right to life.

That right there is actually an extremely important question in today's world with its faith in relativism.

Life has shown that anyone can claim based on a "study" substantiated by "certificates" bearing official seals that their opinion is based on fact, has supporting evidence and proven. But just like not all banana republic generals who wear epaulets and and a 50 cm-high tin hat are really generals, not all studies are really research, not all science is science.

The key question for each study, the researchers and the opinion shapers is what is their motto, where are they coming from: are they on a quest for the Truth (through error, missteps and reevaluating their position if need be) or do they want to prove dogmas they have settled on, trying to force-fit more and more claims to their argument, the whole enterprise being to feed an already corpulent entity named My View. 

An Irish proverb tells us not to trust a man who doesn't drink. But I would say we need to be cautious with people who are convinced their positions are infallible.

The measure of a man is not how strongly he doubts in others' opinions but on the contrary: whether he is able to doubt in his own convictions.

* They were set up and murdered by Teutonic invaders in 1343 - Ed.

Translated from the piece on uudised.err.ee

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