In Your Opinion, and Why it Sucks (IMO)

(Note: In case there are any misunderstandings -- which I do not believe there will be, but you never know -- this is in no way directed at anyone connected to theO or OB. I have actually wanted to write about this topic for a long time but have never been compelled to do so before this moment, for reasons that are beyond me.)

Internet debates can be hateful and frustrating. Everyone knows this. For every person who swears to be even-tempered and respectful during message board debates, there are another two or three people whose idea of a subtle argument is yelling in all caps and ripping off 50 jokes from 4chan. It is sad, yet true.

For various reasons, people like to dodge arguments when they fear they are under fire from their opponent. There are many tactics available for those situations, but there is one in particular that has always infuriated me more than most.

It is something I like to refer to as the My Opinion Rule -- that is, every opinion is incorrect and invalid in debates, unless it happens to be your own.

I sincerely hope it is not so, but perhaps this scenario is familiar to a few of you: You spot a thread on message board that catches your interest. Let us say it is a thread about The Simpsons, and there is a debate about the quality of the most recent seasons. Maybe you do not like the show as much as you used to, but the comedy could still strike a chord with you. In this thread, there is a diehard, old school Simpsons fan who proclaims the never ending superiority of the early seasons. You respond to this person, saying that while the early seasons are definitely better in terms of overall quality, there is just something about the newer episodes that keeps you laughing, even if the plots are not as well written and conceived.

In lieu of a response that actually takes more than a single brain cell to articulate, this person simply responds with three words: "IN YOUR OPINION."

The first time I received one of those gems, I stared slack-jawed at my computer screen. The only thought running through my mind at the time was this: "Well, no shit, Sherlock. Of course it is my opinion! What does that have to do with anything?"

From what I have gathered over the years, the basic idea behind this brilliant refute is opinions, because they are not always backed up by hard facts, especially when arguing about fiction, are not valid arguments. The person on the other side of the Internet posts this because, presumably, you presented an opinion as if it were a fact. This of course ignores the fact that the person pulling this trick probably argued purely on the basis of opinion before you posted, but hey, nobody's perfect!

If you are going to argue about intangible values such as the worth of the Doctor Who season finale, or how good a game Halo is, then opinion is ultimately what you have to go on. You can back your opinion up with "facts" such as a surprising plot twist, worthwhile character development or intense battle sequences, but opinions are value-based statements. For the most part, they are not provable one way or the other. People may come to a consensus about certain opinions, but that is as far as it goes. This is not a difficult concept to understand.

Why, then, do people need some sort of Internet modifier such as "IMO" to separate statements of fact from statements of opinion? The difference is astoundingly easy to spot. "Sacramento is the capital of California." Fact. "Sacramento is a crappy town and anyone who lives there is a bum and smells like cow turds." Opinion. Facts can be verified; opinions are value judgments, whether or not they are based in fact. It's one thing if someone is being obnoxious and stubborn about an argument, but I have seen this garbage pulled on people making reasonable, opinionated arguments, as well.

(Side note: Just as bad is when people hide behind the veil of opinion. "It's my opinion, and you can't prove it wrong!" they say. That is just pathetic. Why bother sharing your opinion in the first place if you are so concerned about people thinking it is wrong? It is just a waste of time if a person drags an argument out to ridiculous lengths and then curls up in the Internet fetal position, hoping the big, bad poster will just lay off his or her precious opinion. Grow a pair and stop whining. Opinions are not absolutes -- instead of crying about it, actually reflect on why you hold your opinion and come to a better understanding of what you believe is correct.)

That is the crux of why I hate it so much -- it is not only lazy, but it is monumentally insulting to the person who has taken time to craft an argument. On the rare occasion I get into a debate on the Internet, I treat the posters with as much respect as I can muster. I try to understand their arguments as well as I can, and if I disagree with them, I counter the points in a way that does not warp the original intent of the argument. Or, if I think I disagree with the statement but am not entirely sure what the person's exact point is, I ask for clarification rather than jumping the gun. I do not stoop to name calling or pointless bickering -- I am simply interested in knowing what other people think about things and then sharing my views in return. (This is part of the reason why I rarely get into debates. It takes me way too long to make counter-arguments, because I over think my replies.) It is just common courtesy; even though many people do not deserve it, I was raised to treat everyone with respect unless they gave me a reason to do otherwise.

Is it too much to ask others to do the same? If I am giving out respect, then of course I want to be treated with respect in return. I am not infallible by any means (I am actually more fallible than I would like to admit). If someone believes my opinion is incorrect, then that person should call me on it and get some discussion going. I do not take challenges to my opinions as personal affronts or insults. As long as people are reasonable and respectful, than I am only too happy to debate my opinion. Especially in the world of fiction, there is more than one possible point of view, and I am interested to know how different people interpret things. Hell, that is the reason message boards exist in the first place. I could not care less about my Internet rep or "winning" or "losing" debates. I just want to know what people think.

So, please, if you debate someone on the 'net, don't be disrespectful. Don't dodge arguments because you are afraid of being incorrect. Don't stubbornly cling to your views and refuse to accept the potential validity of other views.

Don't be an asshole. Thank you, and good night.