250 - Matters of Opinion

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Recently three friends have separately expressed opinion and then been shouted down. I think this is wrong, and explore here quite what I mean.



Phil, for example, was talking about watchable sport, sport with which he would engage, and offered the opinion that this failed to occur whenever what one party did had no effect upon the other players. So golf, darts and athletics (field, track sprints) fail to qualify as ’sport’, unless one can observe that there is interaction. I’ll happily agree and am on record as making a similar declaration, in my case for playable sport - if it doesn’t get me sweaty, I’m not interested in playing it - and an example is cricket, for the most part. I discard sports where the sweat is nerves, which might include sailing (though I enjoy being sweaty crew). What sport I am prepared to watch is a quite different list.

So the detractors, generally didn’t listen to the preparatory definition, the bit where Phil of myself indicate the use of the adjective watchable or playable and indicate that this is personal. So the shouting down is wrong, clearly. I suspect that the listening is faulty and the declaimers chose only to hear criticism of ‘sport’.   I suspect that spectator-sport has grown into an activity of itself confused entirely with other meanings of sport. Soccer hooligans, for example, might describe going to a match as ‘a bit of sport’, perhaps meaning going to look for an argument, preferably a violent one with alcohol subtexts.


I think it was Wesley (on Facebook) who suggested that football is a ‘bad’ game. He was certainly shouted down, but again once he was allowed to explain what he meant, I understood and agreed. I’ll express this as my own idea then: a sport is a bad sport if and when it encourages behaviour that as a society we should not be encouraging. So in the case of soccer, finding it acceptable to grapple other players, pull shirts and so on;  that is against the rules as I understand them (and as explained to me recently), so this is wrong. Subsequently deciding that this behaviour is acceptable if the match officials don’t see it is encouraging the population at large to try to ‘get away with’ other transgressions. This is not good, so it is bad. Similarly, ‘playing for a penalty’ may or may not be part of the game, but a question whether that sends the right message and whether it is actually good for the game. Where a common practice in teh game is spoiling the game, then the game needs to change to move the game (the set of rules that govern the game) in the better direction. Where by better I mean in a direction that helps move our acceptance of what is acceptable in a helpful direction.
So for example, is it a good thing to set up situations in which someone else breaks the rules because of your behaviour? Is that not a form of incitement? Is it being an agent provocateur? Is this healthy for our society? I think not.

Yet again, many of the detractors simply were not prepared to accept criticism in any form. A soccer game might be ‘bad’ but the wonderful game itself cannot possibly be; this is the stuff of heresy. yet even promoting football to the status of religion does not deny that religions themselves undergo intentional change. Some cosmetic and some doctrinal. 

I’d pick on football (I’d rather call it soccer, so as to distinguish it from other foot ball games) as perhaps needing to review what it is that makes it fun to play, fun to watch and therefore what could be done to make it even better. Rugby puts a good deal of effort into trying to improve the game by changing its rules and one of the principles of rugby is that the referee is respected. For me, the lack of respect to the soccer officials makes me want to not watch. In the same way, what is clearly entirely normal behaviour, such as claiming every ball out of play to be ‘mine’ rather than ‘yours’, that every decision made by an official is automatically wrong - i find these habits to be ‘bad’, as in bad for the game and what the game represents. Worst, to me, it encourages this same behaviour in its supporters. Which goes quite some way to explaining why I might have played the game, but I won’t go to watch it. 1



Alan had a different sort of opinion and shouting down. Alan went to the Durham Miners’ Gala 2, playing with his band. From a bandsman’s viewpoint, this is a ‘good’ day, promising quite a bit of playing and a number of beers.  On this occasion, the gala was a bit more political than usual and there were, he says, many stickers declaring a political position, which were summarily added to uniforms. Alan suggested this was in some sense ‘not on’ and was shouted down. There were a number of issues raised across several facebook messages and I have edited my own contribution to that discussion.

* The band is engaged and the band is apolitical (else you either have abstentions or a restricted customer / member list). That the Miners Gala might itself be political is almost a different issue - one might say the same about Pride marches, but I suggest it depends on the nature of the politics being pushed. Then there is the band engagement issue - maybe the band has a problem with being associated with political messages - clearly it could do.
• Theres the issue of being physically labelled with stickers; here I am offended by the interference when others do it. However, whether a bandsman can /cannot choose to support a movement needs to be thought through (Pride, again, is a yardstick). Adding to my uniform,I think I need permission from the band as a whole. Having things added to my uniform by those outside the band needs to discussion in advance.
• 
Getting pissed in uniform is quite clearly wrong; one should change clothes. But again, there may be a collective band decision that this is okay. It probably depends whether someone goes too far. Once that happens, the band will quite possibly disown the over-indulger.


All of which indicates how very difficult we find politics in this country. We historically tend to avoid strong emotion in public (yet we drink to excess and go intrusively wild over football), which is largely why we keep our politics and religion private. Yet it would be healthy to discuss such matters.  

There is one other matter, public behaviour: we are no longer at all certain what is acceptable behaviour. A march in the 30s would have been very serious; marches in the 60s were still very much so. A march now is much more variable in behaviour - is this because we've lost the tradition, or perhaps because whatever determines 'acceptable' behaviour is itself changing?


What goes wrong is that discussion fails mostly because people don’t want to actually listen to anyone else’s opinion. The result is that we tend to be dramatically uninformed and we have no practice at listening to a different view - so we don't know how to explore whether either view might be modified. You’d think that with the immediacy of access to information these days, we could have constructive informed discussion.  

I deplore this situation. How have we becoem so intolerant that we are not prepared to listen to an opinion? How is it that my opinion is so important that i am not prepared to listen to a differing one? How is it that we get ourselves into a state where we cannot recognise how it was that we reached any opinion, it just is? Could it be that the instant rage is partly because we know we cannot defend our opinions? 

Yet I listened to several interested observers of the World Cup soccer, each with an opinion on the play they’d watched, rarely agreeing but quite happy to spend time sharing these opinions. Was this acceptable behaviour because it came from a common source—they had watched the match they were discussing— or was it simply because this is acceptable football behaviour? Behaviour that doesn’t translate to other activities.

 Mind, I’m not saying they were listening to each other. But it looked as if they might be open to the opinion of others. 


A fourth chum of the same general type went on one of the anti-trump protest marches. Andrew is articulate and reasoned and I am hoping he will explain to me what he think was achieved by his attendance. I agree with the many Brits who are offended by his presence in our country. I come to the conclusion that each time he spouts material that is wrong we are then even more offended with the part of the message that we might well agree with. That suggests that the part that is untruth offends us so much that we are unable to listen at all. Yet some of his messages are correct, even though the detail is way off target. For example, see this article from Matthew Parris in the Times, where I copy this part:

Donald Trump doesn’t care to think too much before he speaks and has a habit of saying what he thinks. And the trouble with us, not him, is that what he thinks is what plenty of more genteel and considered folk do actually think, but don’t like to say.

Trump’s right, isn’t he, about the European end of Nato not pulling its weight in defence spending? His criticism of Germany for free-riding has been heard in European corridors of power for decades, but more quietly.

He’s right, isn’t he, about the dangers of European reliance on Russian gas? It’s all very well to murmur that if Germany needs to buy, Russia needs to sell — but look at the way western reliance on Middle Eastern oil has skewed world politics for half a century.

He’s right, isn’t he, that China is not offering the world a level playing field in terms of trade. Perhaps brinkmanship here is needed. Nor is he necessarily wrong about America’s trade terms with the EU. It does not suit Brexiteers to admit, but it’s true, that the EU conducts its trade negotiations with “third countries” in a pretty muscular way. So they should, in all our interests, but let’s hear less European whimpering about US threats to raise tariffs, when Europe levies tariffs too. What’s needed is for both blocs to negotiate tariffs down.

He’s right, isn’t he, that British politics is in “turmoil”? And he’s right, isn’t he (fellow-Remainers, you wince, but you know it’s true) that Theresa May’s white paper Brexit proposals will turn the United Kingdom into an economic satellite of the European Union?

Matthew Parrish is good at causing one (well, me, that I know of) to look again at something you abreacted to, which is why I value his input and why I call it excellent.  Which in turn makes it clear what the large demonstrations are actually about, I think. We were going into the streets in unison to demonstrate objection to the man—not the title—and to the behaviour far more than the content. It is Trump to whom we object, not POTUS. If you were to look at the photos and read many of the placards, you’d see the underlying British humour; we laugh at ourselves.  Try the Letters to the Editor.  

I wrote to a couple of American friends as follows in blue.

 We don’t like the way he does things and to a large extent any untrue content (let’s be exact, any content perceived as untrue) causes outrage here that directly disregards whatever correct content there might be. One lie undoes all manner of truth, here. This goes a long way to explaining our disenchantment with politics and politicians; their work is centred on compromise, but what they are quoted as having said is always the tiny piece that is binary in nature, because our press, even the ‘intelligent press’, has declared us all to be very stupid. This means that what we hear from any politician is undone very soon by their actions – and that is our measure of attributes such as trustworthiness, that your actions accord with what you have said. 

Mr Trump has offended large swathes of Britain by his visit. What offends is the reported twitter—in all senses. His use of language is incoherent, awfully repetitive and contains far too many untruths. Yet the message as a whole is often correct – or contains an underlying truth.


An example that is relatively unpolitical would be NATO. It is true that several party nations are not delivering their agreed share of funding. I think UK is the only other country to meet its agreements, but it is difficult to establish any truths. Contributions are based on gross national income but criticism is based on Gross Domestic Product. Diagram included. 

Which is odd, because we declare internally that our total defence spend is 2% of GDP. And the MoD tells us all the time it ain’t enough, so that the solution is to change what gets included in the list - so for example we’re moving cyber-issues to a different budget, and I think military pensions and support costs will be moved next.

I still have to discover what this has to do with NATO and whether this 2% target is what it says, national spend on defence - and then what that has to do with funding NATO, which looks like it may come within the same budget but be calculated on something else. As if, perhaps, there is direct and indirect funding. I may explore.


I find that Mrs May has a horrible job; no-one wants it but too many want her to fail in any regard. The Conservative party is historically made up of Whigs and Tories from before the creation of the Labour party and it is (I think) the Whigs of history that wanted no part in the European experiment, have nagged and narked forever to have us entirely independent - and who fail completely to provide any meaningful argument. But in so doing they make wonderful visceral copy, so our Press succeeds only in whipping up uninformed sentiment and does nothing to cause us to understand. I try to read the internet comments of different papers to discern reaction and the ‘popular press’ has nothing to recommend it - nothing of content anywhere, only ‘what I want’. Indeed, often sailing quite close to what is disallowed as free speech.

Now that is opinion; mine. It is open to debate, in the sense that if you have content that disagrees with where I reach, I want to see it.

Yet if we surround ourselves by people who accord with our thinking, we in many cases prevent ourselves from new thought. It is reasonable therefore to want to hear a dissenting voice. But such voices need to be articulate, they need to provide reasoned content. For example, while I find the reporting of people such as Farage, Gove, Johnson deplorable, when I have gone to read what they actually said (not the biased selection they were reported as saying), I find a lot with which I can agree, even if their image of Britain and what it could be is well beyond what I want Britain to be. But I accept that their pull in a given direction might well be a good thing, provided we don’t move too far in their direction.  Trump is entirely different; when I go to read what he said I am confused by the internal contradictions, by the incoherence and the apparent inability to communicate. Certainly he does nothing to persuade one to join his opinion; you either already agree or you’re irrelevant.


So opinion is all very well, but unless someone is prepared to listen to you, it is a waste of breath. They are not going to listen to you for the most part unless you communicate in a way that helps them do so. To a large extent I am happy to have someone attempt to persuade me into a different opinion provided that discussion is articulate, intelligent and reasoned. During such events, rare as they are, I hope to learn about myself. I have very little problem with discovering how an opinion might be flawed; usually what I learn is that there were sources of information of which I had been unaware. However, for discussion to descend to argument (the red rage kind) simply requires either party to not be listening and, in consequence to not agree to disagree. It is largely wrong to force a position upon others, to demand conformity. I defend the right of people to make mistakes, especially from positions of knowledge.


DJS 20180716 
Top pic  from here




1 I watched and supported Benfica when I lived in Portugal. That was because on my very first day in the country, I was taken (a little forcibly) to a match and went ‘home’ afterwards in the team bus, spending the evening carousing with the then Captain. So the players were known at a personal level, however briefly that knowing, and that allowed me to go watch games. I would go further, I saw no deliberate misbehaviour on pitch and the fans were remarkably tolerant of opposing supporters. Mind, it helped that I was among the tallest of attendees, so there wasn’t going to be any trouble, was there?  I’ll record here that when I took the wife to watch Benfica v Liverpool in Lisbon I was supporting the reds. Fickle, me?

2 Durham Miners gala. Not a normal trade union march. traditionally would include the colliery bands (such as Backworth, that I played for in Tyneside). Bands representing the collieries would march from their village to the market in Durham and then to the racecourse where there is a platform and speakers. Speeches occur. There is a march to the cathedral (with a subset of bands, perhaps 5 rather than 25) and a service. So the political element, if there is one, occurs at the speechifying. Most of the day is celebrating the history.  Report on 2018 event.  and here.

 However, © David Scoins 2017