American Elephants

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” by The Elephant's Child
April 5, 2021, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , ,

Back when I was just another corporate worker-bee, I had occasion to notice that our chief executive received a thin little magazine that purported to inform him of the important news of the day. I don’t remember but perhaps he left it on the table in the lunchroom. What I remember was being shocked at the paucity of what the magazine considered necessary reading for chief executives, who theoretically may have to take actions on what is happening in the world. And of course today we have a lot of chief executives speaking out on things they know little, if anything, about.

What brought this to mind is, of course, the “outrage” by executives about Georgia’s new “racist” voting regulations. Major league baseball pulled out of Georgia because of it. Delta airlines considered moving their headquarters. President Biden was outraged, Coca Cola was outraged. Yet no one, apparently, had even bothered to read a single paragraph of the State of Georgia’s new voting regulations, which simply required that voters show I.D. in order to vote.

The bill actually expands weekend voting, and makes Sunday voting law, and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason.Strange to talk about when the teachers unions mostly have our public schools shut down. I suppose one’s attitude depends on whether or not you liked school when you were there. Those who had called in for tickets to be held for them at the stadium, had to show I.D.s in order to purchase them.

ADDENDUM: The picture was chosen because I wish my den looked like that. Doesn’t and not going to happen, but I can dream….

So Do You Have an Opinion about Opinion Polling? by American Elephant

Democracy and Its Discontents is a revision of some lectures that Daniel Boorstin, the late former Librarian of Congress, gave in 1972, and his chapter on “opinion” caught my eye. After all, what those of us who blog deal in day by day is “opinion,” not just our own, but everybody’s. And a conflicting , contentious  bunch of opinions they are.

“In the beginning”, Dr. Boorstin said,” “opinion” was a synonym for uncertainty — for a notion grounded in personal preference (rather than fact), and hence was thought likely to be the pathway to error.”

“Until the rise and triumph of liberalism in Europe, “opinion” was closely identified with error, and to say that something was “mere opinion” was a way of saying the notion was hardly worth taking account of. ”

By the late eighteenth century, “opinion” acquired a different tenor. “Opinion” began to be accompanied by such qualifiers as common, general, or public. Christof Wieland, a German man of letters wrote in 1798 that:

an opinion that gradually takes root among a whole people, especially among those who have the most influence when they work together as a group.  In this way it wins the upper hand to such an extent that one meets it everywhere.  It is an opinion that without being noticed takes possession of most heads, and even in situations where it does not dare express itself out loud it can be recognized by a louder and louder muffled murmur.  It then only requires some small opening that will allow it air, and it will break out with force.  Then it can change whole nations in a brief time and give whole parts of the world a new configuration.

One could only hope!  In 1801, Thomas Jefferson referred gratefully to “the mighty wave of public opinion which has rolled over our republic” and which had brought him the Presidency.  Since then, only a few American politicians have dared not to defer to and praise the wisdom of Public Opinion. So how did we get from individual “opinion” which was not to be trusted and not worth taking account of to “public opinion?”

It is the modern Democratic process that has turned private opinion into public opinion at the ballot box.  Democracy meant a new opportunity for citizens to express their wishes, and for other citizens to know other people’s opinions.  Public Opinion was becoming a notable and mysterious new power.

One thing followed another, and mass opinion sparked the rise of a democratized economy:  mass production and mass marketing made it necessary for everyone to know the preferences of everybody about everything.  And out of that came Opinion Polls, and sophisticated scientific sampling.  And that sampling was used in politics by candidates and journalists on every question, public or private, of possible interest to anyone.

By the late twentieth century, Dr. Boorstin says, something had come into being in the United States which he calls “Big Opinion.”

Just as large-scale organization, concentration of capital , and new technologies brought into being “Big Science,” so it was with the machinery of making, forming, shaping, testing, assessing, and organizing opinion.  A whole new technology of polling and sampling became the basis of a prosperous industry.  Opinion pollsters formed themselves into professional societies, they produced  learned journals, and trade journals….When opinion measuring and opinion making had become big business, the power and prestige of Public Opinion had reached a new stage.

So now we have Big Opinion, opinion pages in the newspapers where pundits write  important opinions.  We have blogs, where others comment with their opinions of the opinions of the blogger, and going even farther we have Facebook where one can collect friends to offer their opinions and Twitter where one can tweet in a limited number of words.

And yet we have reached a point where the unthinkable has happened:  American politicians have dared to defy Public Opinion, ignored the wisdom of Public Opinion, and gone so far as to sneer at such opinion as meaningless, unimportant and misguided.  The premiere role of Big Opinion is at the ballot box, where it chastises the careless, the greedy, and the crooks, and brings down governments in conflagrations that echo around the world.

It’s not nice to ignore Big Opinion!

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