Monday, June 15, 2009

The Myth of Flip Flopping

I was recently flipping channels and overheard one talking head accuse another talking head of being a flip-flopper. This is a disturbing trend that has become somewhat prevalent in our society, applying a fictional nonsensical label of flip flopper against the character of an individual. The most notable use of this label occurred during the 2004 Presidential Election against the Democratic Candidate John Kerry. What is unfortunate is that those who applied this label to Mr. Kerry were doing so without applying any sufficient level of logic.

Flip-flopping is commonly defined as having a different opinion to a single issue or question at different points in time. Such rationality makes no sense because it implies that no one should be able to change his/her opinion regarding any issue without the new opinion being chastised. Overall there really is no such thing as flip-flopping and the word itself should be removed from the lexicon of human language. Flip-flopping does not properly describe the circumstances behind a change in opinion.

There are two primary explanations for a communicated change in an individual’s opinion. The first is the individual acquires new information regarding the matter at hand. Analysis of this new information leads the individual to draw a different conclusion. It is foolish and inappropriate to contend that a person is weak or flimsy when adopting a new opinion on an issue when that new opinion is derived from fresh analysis of new information or a more accurate analysis of old information. To highlight the irrationality of this thought-process suppose a young boy that previously concluded that 2+2 is 6 learns how to correctly add and changes his opinion to 2+2 is 4. For some this individual would be viewed as a flip-flopper. Instead of condemning this boy as wishy-washy and weak we should commend him for identifying and correcting his mistake. Often matters are made worse by individuals stubbornly refusing to accept that their original opinion was incorrect.

The second explanation is the individual may just be changing his/her opinion to suit the viewpoint of another individual or group. When no new information or analysis is utilized when changing an opinion, such action is not flip-flopping, but simple pandering, telling the audience something they want to hear in order to be viewed more favorably. These individuals should not be labeled as ‘flip-floppers’, but instead ridiculed as agents that do a significant disservice to society by misrepresenting their actual beliefs. Such misrepresentation is unfortunate because it reduces societal clarity regarding available information increasing the probability that some individuals make decisions they otherwise would not make.

This characterizing feature of decision-making is why it is important to know how individuals come to the decisions that they do. When asking questions to prominent individuals, to whom phantom flip-flopping is more frequently attributed, these questions need to demand details to the methodology the individual used to come to his/her conclusions instead of simply scratching the surface for a quick sound bite.

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