Mike Parker: Upon what are your opinions ‘baized'?
In C.S. Lewis’ autobiography “Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life,” Lewis tells the story of his first meeting with the man who would tutor him to prepare for the Oxford admission exams. Lewis and his family called the old tutor, whose surname was Kirkpatrick, “Kirk,” “Knock” or “The Great Knock.”
As they walked from the train station, Kirkpatrick made a purely factual remark: “You are now proceeding along the principal artery between Great and Little Bookham.”
Lewis replied with his own observation. He said he was surprised at the “scenery” of Surrey; it was much “wilder” than he had expected.
Then the fireworks started.
“Stop!” shouted Kirk with a suddenness that made Lewis jump. “What do you mean by ‘wildness’ and what grounds had you for not expecting it?”
The Great Knock then proceeded to rip apart every answer Lewis tried to give him.
Lewis said a few passes sufficed to show he had no clear idea corresponding to the word “wildness.” In fact, “in so far as I had any idea at all, ‘wildness’ was a singularly inept word.”
“Do you not see, then,” concluded the Great Knock, “that your remark was meaningless?”
Lewis said: “I prepared to sulk a little, assuming that the subject would now be dropped. Never was I more mistaken in my life. Having analyzed my terms, Kirk was proceeding to deal with my proposition as a whole.
“On what had I based (but he pronounced it baized) my expectations about the Flora and Geology of Surrey? Was it maps, or photographs, or books? I could produce none. It had, heaven help me, never occurred to me that what I called my thoughts needed to be ‘baized’ on anything.
Lewis then wrote: “Kirk once more drew a conclusion – without the slightest sign of emotion, but equally without the slightest concession to what I thought good manners: ‘Do you not see, then, that you had no right to have any opinion whatever on the subject?’”
I have shared rather extensively from this part of Lewis’ book because it serves as an apt foundation for the point I want to make today. We often hear: “Everyone has the right to their opinion.” What these people are really saying is, “Everyone has the right to their knee-jerk reaction.”
I have seen people squirm when they have made an “observation” and I ask, “What makes you think that? What evidence do you have to support your opinion?”
The typical person is inept at offering anything remotely resembling evidence to support their “opinion.” But an opinion should be a reasoned conclusion based on the evidence.
Have you noticed people become offended when you ask them to justify a statement? In my experience, the typical person replies, “Well, that’s just my opinion.”
But the statement that person offered is not an opinion because the person has no evidence to support the statement.
When I taught at ECU, I constantly reminded students they had no right to have an opinion on any subject they had not carefully studied. You see – "carefully studied" is the rub. Careful study and investigation requires work. Most are too lazy to put in the work required to offer a real opinion.
What is even worse, we now run our political system on the basis of polls that do little more than record shallow, knee-jerk reactions to polling questions. What is even worse is the way pollsters can manipulate the way they ask questions to elicit the responses they want.
Once the pollsters have done their job of collecting “opinions” from the largely uninformed, the numbers are presented as facts about overall sentiment in this nation.
I wish people would take the time to educate themselves on issues before pontificating. I also wish people who really have not studied an issue would simply respond: “Well, I have not studied that issue, so I really do not have an opinion.”
When you are asked a question about an issue you have not investigated, remember the dictum of the Great Knock: “Do you not see, then, that you have no right to have any opinion whatever on the subject?”
Genuine opinions need to be “baized” on more than knee-jerk reactions.
Mike Parker is a columnist for the Neuse News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.