Here is pet peeve of mine: why is calling something “subjective” an acceptable way of not answering a question? In particular, with technical people, “subjective” seems to mean “not worth answering, because there is no correct answer”.
“Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!” (Stack Overflow)
Now I do not have a problem with the fact that in order to be successful, a site will need to maintain focus. And I have nothing against Stack Overflow, I am just using it as one example of the mentality where subjective somehow equates to bad.
What is “subjective” and what is “objective”?
“In philosophy, an objective fact means a truth that remains true everywhere, independently of human thought or feelings. For instance, it is true always and everywhere that ‘in base 10, 2 plus 2 equals 4′. A subjective fact is one that is only true under certain conditions, at certain times, in certain places or for certain people.” (Wikipedia)
I appreciate the importance of striving for objectivity, but if this is the definition of objective in day-to-day discussions, then I don’t think I would want to read very many objective answers.
If “objective” means “true everywhere”, then whatever can be said about the world in objective terms is likely to be very boring. If this is the criteria for objectivity (and presuming objective is the opposite of subjective), then an objective question with an objective answer is one where there is only one answer to a particular question.
The better part of the world is subjective
Grouping “subjective” with “argumentative”, “requires extended discussion” and “a question that cannot be answered” is just wrong.
How often do you see discussions in which all the necessary criteria for objectivity are filled? The number of interesting, relevant and really cool things to discuss for which any answer is bound to be true “only 1) under certain conditions, 2) at certain times, 3) in certain places OR 4) for certain people” is enormous.
Nevertheless, we are still very hypocritical about this, pretending that the difference between subjective and objective is clear-cut and black-and-white. Many textbooks that tell you “avoid subjective criteria in doing X”. What they hopefully mean to say is “don’t ignore the facts while doing X”. Don’t just do whatever the hell you want to do, do something reasonable. Which is far away from “objective”.
“It’s subjective” is just a cop-out
You can weigh different factors and think about the possible consequences of doing something. But in the end, the decision is subjective. You need to make a judgment call, because you never have all the facts nor do you have complete certainty. Therefore, given sufficient complexity, whatever you decide is bound to be only true under (at least) one of the four conditions above.
Sometimes various weighting and decision criteria are used to come up with a “objective” approach. But who came up with the criteria, the weights, and would they always apply? Don’t call it “objective”. Perhaps consistent, or transparent. But not “objective”.
Why binary thinking tends to dominate among technical people
It’s a false dichotomy – subjective/objective is a continuum. There may be good criteria for “objective”, but they cover so little that we are mostly dealing with varying grades of “subjective”. This reminds a lot of something Eric Sink said about why it is difficult for technical people to spot business opportunities:
“All of our training and experience happens in a world where there are no grays. A digital bit is either one or zero, on or off, nothing in between. This binary thinking tends to pervade the way we look at everything, including business opportunities. But not everything in the business of software actually works that way.
When we discuss the potential of a new product idea, we tend to believe that the product will either sell it or won’t. But markets don’t work that way. We ask ourselves, “Will people buy this product?” Instead, we should be asking, “How many people will buy this product?” The difference is pretty important. I claim that every well constructed product will be purchased by someone. The only question is how many people will buy it every year. “