TED Conversations

Sanjay Sharma

Ex Director, Maastricht University India Institute, Maastricht University

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Is it constructive to attempt arguing convincingly (forming opinion) about something not yet known or clear?

The issue in question is the opinion formation on the recent sex scandal involving the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. While so far no details are out, a French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has already written in favor of Strauss-Kahn ( http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-16/bernard-henri-lvy-the-dominique-strauss-kahn-i-know/full/ ) whereas Laila Lalami, an associate professor at the University of California, defends the accuser of Strauss-Khan ( http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-05-17/laila-lalami-defends-dominique-strauss-kahns-accuser/full/ )

What is your take on both approaches?

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    May 19 2011: general title, specific topic inside ...

    i'm going to go with the title. i find it troublesome that people seem to always choose their truth, and never admit they don't know. there is some irrational fear of being uncertain, so we quickly join to one side. how to overcome it?
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      May 20 2011: Agreed. Great overall question for a broad look at sociology regardless of the topic. Although our own individual perception is the only truth we know, it does seem that either our culture or nature has developed a callous over the evolutionary uncomfortable intake of corrective hindsight for a "one day vindicated foresight"...but then again, such overbearing public speculation isn't punished near as bad as it used to be. I would say that our human community is evolving accordingly. The town crier still serves his purpose. Some gather at the pedestal and some just keep walking and talking about the crazy man on the rock. But really... Trying to gauge the overall future constructive effects of their opinions is like taking Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle and questioning it from the particles perspective. Good Forum Sanjay.
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    May 19 2011: I heard about that today, As usual, new news is the same old story. ALWAYS Self Indulgent or propelling speculation... What would good old mankind be without it? No one ever would have heard of Salem...or Science... or other fun examples.-sidethought- Lets put every presidential candidate on the same stage next year and ask them your exact same question.See who really wants the job.
    Yeah..It's constructive. Not always agreeable but constructive. Though it's really just as constructive as someone saying that it's not constructive. We all paint the world as we see it through our opinions. 7 billion colors, one at a time and all at once all of the time. We're like pixels on a screen. No clue what the picture is but we just shine anyway.

    P.S. Hey TED! Hows about a Sex Scandal Channel for an idea!!! All the sleaze you'll never need in HD3D on the SXSC!!!
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    May 19 2011: I am not very patient anymore with public sex scandals. They appear to sell lots of papers and the purient interest in them detracts from the issues of sexual exploitation of women. I have no opinion and I don't think I really should. I have no first hand knowledge and I would simply be engaging in speculation and repeating gossip.
    These are lives of two human beings and I would prefer to see a swift and efficient system of justice that recognized that.
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    May 19 2011: Bernard-Henri Lévy writes: 'I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.'

    Under US law, DSK is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; the burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused. I would expect a philosopher, or a journalist, to understand this important difference. I'll accept that a friend would choose to ignore it. But for that reason, I have to dismiss Lévy's opinion.

    Laila Lalami doesn't defend the accuser directly; her article is a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Lévy's article. I found it a pleasant antidote to the first article, but with no opinions relevant to the actual case.

    We've formed opinions based on what we know of DSK, the IMF, French politics, and (most significantly perhaps) how the story is reported. Sometimes we mistake these opinions for fact. We need to keep in mind the full context: it's a serious charge which, if true, is a serious offense. The court of public opinion can have no bearing on the outcome.
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      May 19 2011: Hi Tom, I have not read the articles in question but is it possible that Bernard- Henri Levy is writing from a French legal perspective?. I think I am right in believing that their justice system requires the accused to prove himself innocent.
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        May 19 2011: Debra, if you might know that much about the French legal system, shouldn't a 'leading thinker' in 'international affairs' - words in his biographical description - know at least as much about the US?

        He may be writing from a French perspective, but he's directly and specifically indicting the US legal system. Prior to that comment, he presumes to know "the habitual practice of New York's grand hotels". So (in my opinion) he misrepresented the facts.
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          May 19 2011: Hi Tom, You may, of course, be right. He might just be reacting in the knee jerk way that the citizens of many countries react with when they feel that a fellow citizen is beinig mistreated by another nation. Some country's citizens are famous for it -my country(man) right or wrong (very light on the wrong)- facts or proof be damned.