Monday, June 11, 2007

A short critical defence of opinion

Quote of the day:
".... opinions are like arseholes - everyone's got one, and I don't want to hear any of them."
In the case of newspaper columnists, I'd largely agree, though one value of published comment is that commentators sometimes present bits of information by way of telling us what their conclusions are.

And, in doing so, they provide information that their employers no longer bother providing - having sacked most of their reporters in order to hire more tedious commentators.

In fact, for the most part, I'd agree with S&M's general disdain for the inflated value placed upon opinion.

However, I don't understand the objection to people who have been elected being given the latitude to act upon their opinions.

I'd accept the argument that British Prime Ministers are able to do so without having to justify their decisions sufficiently - but surely the cornerstone of representative democracy is that we select people to exercise their judgement on ...
  1. what is best for their constituents,
  2. what is consistent with their duty to offer coherent government,
  3. what is - according to their conscience - the right thing to do?
Point one involves doorstep work, a bit of research, and an occasional resort to the dark arts of opinion sampling. But mostly, it involves the illiberal pursuit of deciding what's good for other people, no matter what they think.

Point two, above, is covered by a critical adherence to the policies of a political party, and surely, point three guarantees the quality of government - it's thoughtfulness, decency and creativity as well as the usual mumbo-jumbo about distributed intelligence being a good thing.

For this reason, it is surely vital that we support the right of elected individuals with relatively few resources with which to draw conclusions to gainsay the dictates of their political parties? This can only happen if the public are given more exposure to individual MPs (and other elected politicians) at the expense of party mouthpieces.

Now, I would argue that the correct role for non-elected individuals in a representative democracy is that we should co-operate to create a valuable evidence-heavy civil conversation that elected representatives can eavesdrop upon before they legislate on our behalf.

This can only happen if there are more opinions being voiced. The question is not whether these opinions should be voiced, but how do we filter them - and why do we have to read the same old arseholes spouting on fresh topics every day?

I move that newspapers should stop paying for opinion and start spending their cash on more reporting. That would solve this problem completely.

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