08 September, 2008

About Popular Truth and Prevailing Opinions


Dedication


This Blog is dedicated to the memory of the writer and translator Mordechai AVI-SHAUL (1898 - 1988).

Drawing by his grandson Andras FORGACH, 1984








In a Free State

“That in a free state every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks.”

Spinoza 1670


Popular Opinion

“The single constant in my life has been my opposition to generally held opinions.”

Pierre Trudor, Canadian Prime Minister


On ‘Popular Truth’

“… Hence, even in revolutions of opinion, one part of the truth usually sets while another rises. Even progress, which ought to superadd, for the most part only substitutes one partial and incomplete truth for another; improvement consisting chiefly in this, that the new fragment of truth is more wanted, more adapted to the needs of the time, than that which it displaces. Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation; every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended. No sober judge of human affairs will feel bound to be indignant because those who force on our notice truths which we should otherwise have overlooked, overlook some of those which we see. Rather, he will think that so long as popular truth is one-sided, it is more desirable than otherwise that unpopular truth should have one-sided asserters too; such being usually the most energetic, and the most likely to compel reluctant attention to the fragment of wisdom which they proclaim as if it were the whole.

John Stuart Mill (1859): “Of the liberty of thought and discussion”


The Fallacy of "prevailing opinion”

"The appeal is to popular emotions, prejudices, and beliefs. People generally like to conform. We tend to shrink at the thought of speaking out against prevailing opinions. This tendency to view the majority opinion as automatically correct is used with potent effect in the 'join-the-crowd' fallacy." (From a Jehovah's Witnesses Newsletter.)

Most of the following Readers Letters challenge 'Prevailing Opinions', such as:

On the Wehrmacht: “The Wehrmacht was composed of mainly decent people”. That is true, of course. It is, however, also true that without the victories of the Wehrmacht there would have been no German conquest, and hence no Holocaust.

On Wagner: “The Nazis used Wagner’s music for their propaganda purposes”. The other part of the truth is that Wagner died 50 years before Hitler assumed power. And that our own Theodor Herzl too, was influenced by Wagner‘s Tannhäuser

On Germany: Our collective posture towards Germany is absurd. We visit Germany and romanticize about the Rheinland and the Weinstraße. We gratefully accept gifts and grants from Krupp & Thyssen and their ilk. We wine and dine criminals like Doktor Herman Abs and fawn to them without shame… All this, while (encouraged even by Yad Vashem) we continue to boycott the music of Richard Wagner…

On Terrorists: There is no distinct borderline between a Terrorist and a Freedom Fighter…

On the Occupation: “The problem did not start with the ‘occupation’. They simply don’t want us here…” If (Heaven forbid!) we had been in their place, we would doubtless have resisted the occupation even more forcefully…

On the Peace Process: Our collective memory recalls the Three Noes of Khartoum of 1967. Subsequent Arab proposals for a Peace Agreement, starting in 1970 and to this day, were consistently disregarded, dismissed and ignored by our leadership. There has been no noticeable Israeli Initiative. The ongoing settlement enterprise casts doubts upon our sincerity.

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