Saturday, May 26, 2018

When, if ever, is it safe to discount an opinion?

John Rentoul, the principal political columnist for The Independent and someone for whose views I have a lot of time, has an interesting piece this weekend,

"The top 10 cues to disregard an opinion."

He lists ten words and phrases which are often used by people with closed minds and worldviews, the idea being that if an article or opinion piece has one of these ideas it is not worth listening to.

My initial reaction was sympathetic and there are certainly good points in the article: for example, he rightly says that the expression "trickle-down economics" almost always indicates a "straw man" which has been put up to be knocked down and bears no resemblance to what anyone actually believes.

(A lot of left-wingers think that people who believe in free market solutions support "trickle down economics" but as Dan Hannan argues here this is at best a complete misunderstanding and at worst a gratuitous distortion of what advocates of the market actually believe.)

The trouble is, isn't refusing to pay any attention to any idea which comes from a particular direction just about the perfect exemplar of a closed mind and worldview?

I have lost count of the number of times I have been on the verge of reaching the conclusion that a particular politician or newspaper columnist was the perfect contrarian indicator who could be relied on to always be wrong - and then they would suddenly come out with something completely sensible

If you will forgive a religious metaphor, the late Cardinal Basil Hume once said that "since we are all made in the image of God, and we are all different, each person can tell you something about the nature of God which no-one else can."

Just as even a broken clock is right twice a day, any human being who is capable of stringing a sentence together will occasionally produce one which is worth listening to.

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