Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"In my judgement ..."

I read a comment the other day in a weekly that noted how politicians often use phrases that ‘real people’ never use. One of the examples given was “In my judgement …”. The comment was obviously put critically while not offering any actual critique. Perhaps the implication was that such an opening to a sentence unduly inflated the statement which followed.

Whatever the un-stated reason for the writer’s antipathy, I want to suggest, in contrast, that we (‘real people’) start using this little phrase more. It should be brought in for the far more popular “in my opinion …” which is caught in an unhappy paradox. First off the statement acquires an unchallengeable, absolute status; you may dislike or reject my opinion, but you can’t criticise it. Any attempt to offer criticism can be dismissed as merely your opinion. In other words the paradoxical other side of the coin is the sheer relativity of opinion. The result is that “my opinion” escapes any responsibility precisely because it is mine, and over what is mine, so the liberal assumption goes, you can have no say. Giving ones judgement suggests that your point is being made after some thought which could be challenged, revised or rejected. It deliberately puts ones views under the scrutiny of others, exactly where politicians, but also ‘real peoples’ views should be. Opinions, on the other hand, are private affairs; while you are free to reject them and have your own, it is in bad taste to challenge them and suggest they might be wrong.

It seems to me that a good start in combating the almost ubiquitous relativism that characterises modern liberal societies would be to start taking responsibility for the claims we make by prefacing them with “in my judgement …”

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