This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009 - defend your opinions!

I subscribe to various Google services. When I log into one of them, I get quotes of the day. They're usually pretty funny.

Take this one: "An opinion should be the result of thought, not a substitute for it." - Jeff Mallett.

I just finished reading a very fine historical work, "From Redstone to Ludlow: John Cleveland Osgood's Struggle Against the United Mine Works for America," by F. Darrel Munsell, professor emeritus, West Texas A&M University. I'll be interviewing him for our Authors @ Douglas County Libraries TV show. Both Redstone and Ludlow are in Colorado, and of course, the Ludlow Massacre was an important event in the history of labor relations. (Seven of the Ludlow miners were even tried in Castle Rock -- and acquitted.)

Although I've written a book myself, I have to admit that I just don't have the academic rigor on display here. If Munsell makes an assertion of fact, it's footnoted. The source is clearly identified. If it's impossible to say what actually happened -- for instance, who fired the first shot at the Ludlow Massacre -- then he says flat out that there's no way to know for sure.

Munsell also does a fine job of digging into piles of historical documents, and coming out with a clear, intelligent summary of what happened. He draws some conclusions at the end, and those are backed up with lots of supporting evidence.

In short, he seems to take Jeff Mallett's advice: Munsell's opinions rest on a scrupulous examination of the facts.

That's rare. Like everybody else, I've been reading the newspaper about town hall meetings, and sampling websites and opinion pieces and reports about the health care debate. I make an effort to sample things on both sides, too. I've learned that no one source of information is consistently correct.

I've read misleading, and sometimes (I suspect) deliberately distorted information from everybody: conservatives and liberals, religious and secular, private versus public, you name it.

And why is that? Well, I think it comes down to this: human beings aren't as a class particularly good at telling the truth. We're good at telling stories.

The way our brains work is that we gin up a reasonable enough explanation for something we've seen or heard. Usually, that information is a little scanty. But once we buy into the opinion, we tend to ignore any information that contradicts it.

It takes real, often laborious work to catch ourselves in our premises, then to open our minds enough to consider the alternatives.

The process is made worse, particularly in political debate, because it so often becomes personal. Few people say, "Ah, I see why you think that. But I ran across this information and it made me see things in a new light. Let me know what you make of it."

Instead, they say, "what kind of idiot would believe this! You're biased, wrong, evil! You should just shut up!"

All of which tends to cast plenty of heat, but very little light.

I did a little experiment about this. Last week, I posted my own piece about rising health care costs on the library website. (My columns are there anyhow.) But this one was a little different. I posted it to cycle through the library's front page. And I turned on the ability for the public to leave comments. (After leaving it up for a week, I've turned OFF the ability to leave new comments.)

That was a little risky from a data security standpoint. Almost immediately, we tracked the attempt of hackers to insert malicious code into our website. I think (I hope) we caught it all.

But I did get some comments on the article. Only one of them provided a link to information of his own. Most folks just made a host of political assumptions, and went on the attack.

As I noted in my own responses, libraries are advocates for free speech. The library website might well serve as a public forum to help everyone in the community to explore issues of the day. That might be useful.

But that exploration seems to mean this: we'll probably spend more time defending our opinions than trying to form better ones.

LaRue's View are his own.

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