Of opinion and online conversation

2009 has already been quite a crazy year just a little more than a month into it. The consequences of such dramatic events and the increased connectivity of the world is that more information but also more opinions and rumors are readily available to our inquiring minds.

Evidently that is not true everywhere. From my restricted point of view, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people weighing in and participating in information sharing and conversations about the sad events in Madagascar.

Despite mainstream media ( radio and tv) being restricted for various reasons, access to events were still possible thanks to on-site netizens doing live reporting.

There were also more than reporting going on on the web. People died, the economy is heading for a plunge and the political scene is still a bit confusing.
So people want to understand and possibly point fingers at who is to blame for all this.
Many also drew parallel to the Gaza situation. In my opinion, it was an inappropriate comparison to make but it reflected the fact that innocent people in both regions were scared and angered, victims of decisions they didn't not agree with.

I was glad to see the massive online participation but it became clearer than it would become difficult to sort information from rumors, willingness to debate from insults and shouting matches.

That is true regarding crisis in Madagascar and I don't need to tell you this but it is also probably true regarding the Gaza crisis.

I was discussing the state of the global blogosphere with ketablaogy, who is among those who are very skeptical of the benefits of increased participation online (many governments are also leaning towards restricting access now).

I told her that 20 years ago, all of us felt helpless about events around us. We had 1 TV station and we all knew too well that it was a propaganda machine. Now, if you do not agree, you can articulate your argument and let people decide if you it's a load of crap or not. Obvious argumentation on my part; hey that is what I truly believe otherwise I should instead close this blog and have fun Michael Phelps-style. (I still might do that).

Ketabloagy thinks otherwise. She thinks that less is more. Let the experts explain what they were trained to do. To illustrate this, she quotes the philosopher Serge Carfatan on " The Realm of Opinions":

It is regarded as sound advice to tell someone progressing on the path of life : « you must form your own opinions » [...] This enables us to discuss of this, that and the other, give our point of view, make a comment[...] On the other hand however it is not enough to stick to opinions. What is the value of our opinions on technical matters on which we have no competence? Are we to have opinions ready for idle talk? Would it not be better to keep quiet? An opinion is a vague idea about something, it is not yet a founded conviction.

I am thinking: you really don't have to get mean and personal here.

He goes on:

"To understand is not to condemn and it is not about taking side. Yet we frequently tend to sort everything into neat categories via rapid judgments. Life cannot be represented in dual simplistic schemes, it cannot be reduced to alternatives such as “brill/rotten”, “it’s good/ it’s bad”, “I had to do it/ I couldn’t do it”. Because our judgment is freely decided, because it belongs to us, it is possible for us to avoid precipitation and prejudice through suspending our judgment. This is called epoke. Thus it is our responsibility to avoid the mistake that consists in assenting too quickly to ideas that after all are rather muddled. To give one’s opinion is therefore to make an intelligent and rational use of one’s freedom of choice, one’s free will."

I think I get it. The corollary to the ability to publish your thoughts publicly is that you at least think twice before you do so. A Malagasy colleague said so perfectly as the crisis was at its peak.

Yet I am ten times happier to have the chance to sort through the numerous opinions out there that to have the sad sight of censored opinions. And even if I am not the most qualified to fully comprehend the crisis in Gaza or in Madagascar, I certainly think I am not only entitled but compelled to express outrage at the reports and images of innocent people suffering.

Images and reports that would not have been available to us in real-time if not for blogs and bloggers.

And that when used properly, it might even be another tool for global diplomacy.

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