I believe that when I hold an opinion on a debatable issue, somebody who knows more about it and is more intelligent than me, holds the opposite view. I can also find a more intelligent and more knowledgeable person who agrees with me. This tells me that I am often wrong, but that I am in good company.
Part of my problem is that I use intelligence and knowledge not to select opinions but to defend views that I select by other means. I first observed this process 20 years ago, when a group of friends were discussing the indiscretions and lies of then presidential candidate Gary Hart. My friends vilified politicians in general, and I searched for something original to say. So I volunteered the opinion that politicians are more honest and behave more morally than the people who vote for them, because they are so exposed in the public limelight. I did not convince any of my friends, but I did convince myself. To this day, I am one of the few people in this country with a very favorable opinion of politicians.
The belief that it is easy to pick a view for the wrong reasons leads me to delay as much as possible forming opinions. I want to give myself more opportunities to get information without filtering it to support my preconceived notions. So at this point, right after the Pennsylvania primary, I still like equally well Clinton, McCain and Obama. This helps me get over my disappointment at being wrong on who the last remaining three candidates would be. Back in December, I predicted that we would have a three-way race between Giuliani, Clinton, and Bloomberg. Now I see that this prediction was probably influenced by preferences that manifest themselves in my favorite sweat shirt (which proclaims “I Love New York”).
Since there is high chance I will pick up opinions for the wrong reasons, I have elected to bias them deliberately to help me have a cheerful outlook. I look for the positive in any personal, local, national, or international development. I focus on those that are considered bad by most others. For example, many of my friends are distressed that President Bush has not done anything about global warming. They bemoan his failure to sign the Kyoto agreement, to set ambitious targets for fuel efficiency, to support solar and wind power. I believe that these failures, along with the war in Iraq, contributed much to the huge increases in the price of oil. The high price of oil, in turn, will help counter global warming more than any US president could have done.
While I may be wrong in this, as I often am, I believe that having a sunny disposition is more important than any small increase in my chances of being right. So I strive to be Mr. Silver Lining.
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