The 'In My Opinion' Defense
January 25, 2009 § 1 Comment
Having just watched the film Amadeus (which I would recommend anyone see) I decided to check out the imdb entry for trivia to see if anyone else had anything interesting to say about the film. While I was doing this I caught this petty exchange in the forum:
The most pretentious and boring of musical art forms. The operas they chose weren’t very interesting either. Too bad they couldn’t have focused more on his symphonies or piano works.
It might be nice if you prefaced your remarks about opera with an ‘in my opinion’, Morbius. One or two of us here rather like it.
You wouldn’t believe how often I hear this being said, usaully at me for expressing some kind of assertion or belief on a topic of interest; and every time I do hear it I become a little more annoyed for the next time someone boldly flings this tautology at me.
Is it really necessary to preface every opinion we make with an ‘In my opinion’? Are we really that afraid of another’s perspective challenging our world-view that we encourage them to recognise the irrelevence of their opinion before they even advance it? If I were to make a comment similar to the OP’s example above for someone to come back to me saying something in the way of “that’s just your opinion” I would respond “Yes! Of course it is my opinion, whose other opinion could I possibly be qualified in expressing other than my own!”
And this leads me onto my second point: using “in my opinion” as a defense against all potential criticism. On the other hand of the spectrum you see, especially in forums, that people will frequently use the ‘In My Opinion’ defense to safeguard their own opinion against all possible attack. The idea goes: if I point out my assertion is subjective then no one can criticise me because I have already advanced that this opinion has no claim to an objective truth, and therefore you have no need to take it seriously, and you yourself may offer up an alternate opinion without it being regarded as ‘wrong’ or incompatible with my own. We can be both be happy in that nothing has been said which challenges the other since both are subjectively right.
This is pure cowardice, it is almost as if saying “my opinion has no real value, and I am so uncertain of it that I preface it with a defense which almost states something to the effect that this assertion expressed by myself is an opinion, has no real objective validity about it and therefore neither challenges your view and cannot be challenged itself because of its subjectivity.”
This is where these people go wrong: subjective opinions can be challenged on the matter of coherency. It doesn’t matter how many ‘in my opinion’s’ you put before your statement; if your opinion is totally incoherent, doesn’t make any sense or just doesn’t match with the facts then your opinion is wrong.
Opinions are an expression of subjective truth that we may or may not choose to advertise, but to abandon them so quickly because they have no truth value from an objective standpoint would be to abandon a part of ourselves: of who we are and what we believe in. Opinions are valuable precisely because they are subjective, because they are personal and belong to us and we should defend them and protect them to this end.
Of course it can come down to personal taste where it truly is a case of no one being right or wrong. For example, I might say “I like jam; you don’t like jam.” And that would be perfectly fine; there is no need to further qualify that statement. When it comes down to the most basic sensory experiences this is often the case. Of more important interest though, is that while discussion over art can often take the form of rational arguments essentially it can boil down to somebody just not getting it, and then that’s about as far as you can go on the subject. It can often come down to individual feeling and things so subtle that often no further discourse can be had. For example, if you look at a film like Sin City you could have two contrasting perspectives, one positive; one negative and both can be entirely true. One person may say that they loved the comic-book style, the monochrome visuals matched with splashes of red gore, the melodramatic dialogue and the cliched, archetypal characters. Another may say that the whole thing is a shallow and banal affair; a strong case of style over substance in a film if they ever saw one. What it comes down to here is someone just not getting the style, while the other does.
Sometimes it’s just a case of you say to-may-to; I say to-mah-toe. Let’s call the whole thing off.