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Opinions are not lies, and lies are not opinions

By Scott Tibbs, June 13, 2017

We are far too quick with accusations of lies, especially when we are debating someone with a different worldview. I constantly see allegations of "lying" or "dishonesty" related to opinions on policy or ideology. It is a childish and immature way to view the world, in addition to being intellectually lazy.

Hypothetical scenario: Bubba says that sidewalks are made of cotton candy and you can just kneel down and start eating. This is obviously false, but is Bubba lying? Well, maybe. It depends. A lie consists of someone knowingly and intentionally saying that something is not true.

Bubba might be delusional, either through mental illness or being on some sort of hallucinogenic drug. His statement is factually wrong, but he is not lying because he believes it is true. Bubba might be teasing or joking. Satire and parody are not lies. If Bubba knows that the sidewalk is not made of cotton candy and he is nonetheless trying to get someone to believe it, of course Bubba is lying. If Bubba is delusional or joking, then it would be improper and uncivil to accuse him of lying.

It is even more uncivil (in addition to childish and intellectually lazy) to accuse someone of "lying" due to a different opinion. On HeraldTimesOnline a couple weeks ago, I responded to a comment that accused a guest columnist of numerous so-called "lies," including arguments that the Herald-Times editorial board's position "is the opposite of diversity" and "is the opposite of liberty."

Obviously statements like that are opinions, not lies. Opinions cannot be lies, because opinions are by their very nature subjective. One can believe that an opinion is totally wrong, but it is still not a "lie." When it got funny is when one of my enemies claimed without the slightest hint of irony that "Your debating posture is that you hold absolute truth, and therefore are correct by definition."

This statement was made by someone who was claiming an opinion is a lie, while I was arguing that opinions are not lies. I was taking a more open-minded position that recognizes the subjective nature of opinions, while my enemy was claiming that an opinion he disagreed with was a lie.

Now, let me clarify something: Opinions are not lies, but lies are not opinions. You are not permitted to make a knowingly false statement of fact and then whine that you are only "expressing your opinion" when called out on it. That only compounds your lie. Do not do that.

So what is the answer to this constant barrage of accusations that this person is "lying," followed by more allegations of so-called "lies" in response? It is simple, really. Calm down. Cool off. Chillax. Think more and feel less. Recognize that someone can be wrong without lying. You will never convince anyone of anything by constantly screeching "LIAR" every time you disagree with something.