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Yesterday the question Why did the Orcs bother with the Elves at all? was closed as opinion-based. I voted to reopen it, and commented that I believe there is a definite (quote-supported and fact-supported) answer. Edlothiad, it appears, disagrees with me.

There are a number of questions on the site that don't have direct answers in a text or script, but for which pretty firm answers can be deduced based on the materials. A question on the nature of interpersonal relationships in Middle-earth is one example. I believe this is another such. The question asks why the Orcs of Middle-earth did, or did not, take a particular military strategy in their dealing with other races. There is enough material in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to mount frame challenges to different assumptions made in this question. I'm reasonably sure that a frame challenge is an acceptable answer type here.

Comments made on the question center on whether the Orcs were managing their own strategy or not. Even if this were an issue for an answer (and I believe it isn't), I don't see that the objection is tantamount to there being no factual answer to the question. I don't see any discussion of whether or not different readers might have different interpretations; I don't see anyone mentioning that someone else might have a different answer than theirs. I do see some people hinting that the question might need more focus, but there are clarifications offered in comments by the OP which I think focus the question enough to provide an answer. I mentioned in one comment that I have the framework of an answer (not simply an opinion): a frame challenge, a coherent answer I can support by quotes from the texts.

I don't understand why the closure reason was "opinion-based"; I don't particularly believe the question should have been closed at all.

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    Your question seems very opinon-based to me. You might also ask why the Orcs didn't overthrow Sauron or decide to become a free-love collective. It's because the story wasn't written that way.
    – Valorum
    Apr 2 at 13:38
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    You might also note that while Edlo was particularly vocal in comments about his reasons why he felt that the question wasn't good, users amflare, Alarion, LogicDictates, TheLethalCarrot, DavidW, and Buzz all voted (unanimously, it seems) to close it or keep it closed, so I'm not sure that it's helpful to call him out by name in your question.
    – Valorum
    Apr 2 at 13:40
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    @valorum It's not my question. But I think there's much more to it than "the story wasn't written that way." Of course it wasn't written that way - but the question arises, I think, from a misunderstanding of what the Orcs were doing in Middle-earth and why, and I think that's perfectly answerable in-universe using quotes from the text. Apr 2 at 13:42
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    As far as why I called out Edlothiad by name, that's because he was the only one who responded directly to the comment I reference above. Apr 2 at 13:44
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    In my defence, not once did you mention the word "frame challenge" in the answer. Although, frame challenges aside, my issue with this question wasn't that it was opinion based. It was deeply unclear and the problem that the OP had hoped to solve was non-existent, even when prompted to share it. 100 different answers could've been written on 100 different interpretations of the question. You'll note my initial comment was trying to guide the OP into writing a clearer question, and to suss out the problem they were having, but that proved impossible.
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 2 at 19:53
  • Fair enough, I should have mentioned "frame challenge" probably. I did think it would have been reasonably assumed, considering others seemed to think the OP's assumptions were mistaken. But that's water under the bridge. More important, I thought the comment "My question is more about why the Defeat in detail [with link to the Wikipedia article] military strategy was not used by the orcs"clarified things enough. Perhaps I was wrong there. Apr 2 at 21:40
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    In my opinion, Why did the Orcs bother with the Elves at all? is a bit of a mess. It asks about the strategy followed by the orcs, but that doesn't really make sense because Morgoth and Sauron set the strategy. I asked the OP to clarify, but (s)he refused. If the question isn't about Morgoth and/or Sauron's strategy, then I don't know what it is about. Apr 4 at 16:49
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    @Ian I don't think it's entirely correct to say that. It's certainly very clear that the Uruk-hai of Saruman were completely loyal to him. It's just as clear, I think, that the Orcs of the Misty Mountains were quite independent; and Sauron's Orcs seem to be somewhere in between. (They're prepared, for example, to deal with deserters, and they can envision a future without a Big Boss.) Further, they don't seem to be consistently micromanaged. I think it's completely reasonable to consider them to have a strategy of their own, or at least a general group or span of strategies. Apr 4 at 18:10
  • @MattGutting --- If the orcs had an underlying strategy distinct from those of Morgoth and Sauron then that's a very interesting point to discuss. It's also very subtle, so the need for clarification in the question would be even greater. However, if this really is the subject of the question then there is another problem: the Orcs of the Misty Mountains tended not to get involved in pitched battles unless provoked. Thus, the orcs who had a choice didn't 'bother with' the elves to any great extent (Celebrian aside). Apr 4 at 21:38
  • @IanThompson - what does "the asker didn't understand some fine point of the work" have to do with idiotic "this question will lead to opinion based answers" VTC? Just for reference, my question that literally has 3 WoG answers, got "opinion" VTC vote today. Apr 6 at 1:31
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A lot this may not matter any longer as the OP seems to have deleted their account.

It seems reasonable to close the question in first go-around, maybe not as "opinion based" but as "needs detail or clarity". There was definitely confusion in the comments about what was being asked and the OP seemed to be going around in circles.

However, I would argue that once a user (regardless of "status" on the site) claims that have an answer we should reopen the question. I know this benefit has been afforded to me a few times when I was able to dig something up in an obscure interview or context within the work. If the answer ends up being hogwash we still have the opportunity to close the question.

So at the time I write this answer, the question is open and should remain so.

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(I am answering this Meta question as someone who knows almost nothing about the work that the main site question is about.)

I have discussed this general topic in several previous Meta posts (e.g. here, here, here, and here). As you can see from those discussions, I think that there is, at times, a fundamental misapplication of the two close reasons that are relevant here — namely “Opinion-based” and “Needs details or clarity”.

To my mind, the purpose of these close reasons is to close questions that cannot be properly answered. In the former case this is because the question seeks opinions — the question can thus not be answered objectively, and there is no way to measure the value of the answers. In the latter case this is because we simply do not know what is being asked. Any answer posted may in fact be an answer to the wrong question, and there may not even be a question at all.

Where I think we sometimes run into trouble is in how to define “seeking opinions” and how to define “we don’t know what (if anything) is being asked”.

Taking the second one first, I think the most obvious level is where the question as written is simply incomprehensible (e.g. significant language or grammar issues, or no logical structure), or the post is simply entirely a statement with no question at all to be found.

The less obvious level is where the question is perfectly comprehensible from a linguistic and structural perspective, but makes no sense in the context being discussed. This may be because the questioner has no familiarity with the subject being asked about, or the questioner may be operating under incorrect premises.

In this type of situation we often find questions being closed, or at least voted to close, and often the comments indicate that it’s because the question is incorrect. However, I do not think that that is a correct use of a close vote. It’s not unclear what is being asked, the questioner is just wrong about something. A question may be nonsensical, wrong, or silly, but that doesn’t give us license to say “you obviously can’t mean what you wrote, so therefore we don’t know what you actually are trying to ask”. Such questions should be taken at face value, and answers should be posted (rather than just comments) explaining the incorrect foundation of the question. Of course if a question is based on a premise that can be trivially easily determined to be incorrect, the question may deserve downvotes for being uninteresting or for lacking research.

Returning to the first category, “seeking opinions” can also be subject to dispute. As I argued in some of the linked posts, a question is not seeking opinions just because it is possible to answer it with an opinion or because there is not enough known information to answer the question. Virtually any question can be answered with an opinion, so that is not a useful metric. A question seeks opinions when it is clear from the question that it is seeking opinions. This can be because it explicitly asks for opinions, or because it is formulated in such a way that it can only be answered with opinions (e.g. because it asks something inherently subjective, or uses vaguely defined concepts).

Put another way, any question with a tag about a particular work should carry an implicit introduction of “In the context of the factual reality as described in this work and related materials...” unless otherwise specified.

To take an example: Imagine someone posts the question “What is Harry Potter’s favorite food?” This can certainly be answered with an opinion by any answerer saying what they want his favorite food to be. But it should be self-understood that the questioner is not asking what you want Harry Potter’s favorite food to be; rather the questioner is asking about what Harry Potter’s favorite food factually is in the story in which the character appears. Such a question could be answered without any opinions, such as by finding that the book discusses characters’ favorite foods, or that the author has spoken about this topic. If there is no information about favorite foods then an answer can either present the argument that there is no information, or attempt to figure it out based on whatever clues/soft evidence there may be.

Essentially, then, there should be very few questions closed with this reason, as it is not very common for someone to explicitly ask for opinions or to ask a question that cannot be answered factually.

Now to apply this to the specific question at hand, let us examine what was asked in the main part if the post:

As we know the Elves are afflicted with sea-longing, which must have been known to the orc overlords. Why didn't the orcs just bide their time and perhaps even help the elves depart? They could have saved some resources this way and this could allow them to focus on other matters.

We can break this down into several components, and see if any of them run afoul of either of the potential close reasons. We begin with:

As we know the Elves are afflicted with sea-longing,

This is a factual claim about characters in the story. As mentioned, I have very little knowledge of this particular story, so I have no idea if this claim is accurate. However, it should make no difference if it is accurate or not. If it is then it is a useful foundation for the rest of the question, and if it is not then an answer should just point out that the question is based on an untrue premise.

The next snippet is the same:

which must have been known to the orc overlords.

Once again this is a mere factual claim, which is either correct and therefore helps lay the foundation of the question, or incorrect and therefore provides a starting point for an answer.

Then we have the beginning of the actual question:

Why didn't the orcs just bide their time and perhaps even help the elves depart?

While this may not directly follow from the two earlier premises (I wouldn’t know since I am not familiar with the work) or may be wholly unjustified in the broader context (again, I wouldn’t know) there is nothing particularly unclear or subjective about what is being asked. Of course, a reader who doesn’t know what an orc is might find the question unclear, but a reader’s lack of basic background knowledge is not a flaw in the question — if you don’t know what an orc is then you probably shouldn’t be posting an answer. Similarly, though the question doesn’t specify how orcs would help elves depart, or why they would want elves to depart, this doesn’t make it unclear or subjective. It could either be that these details should be basic knowledge to those familiar with the work (once again I wouldn’t know) or it could mean that the question is unjustified, which is not the same as being unclear or unobjective, and would be the basis of an answer.

Then we come to the final part of the question:

They could have saved some resources this way and this could allow them to focus on other matters.

This consists of another set of factual claims, and is thus subject to the qualifications described above. Again, the “resources” and the “other matters” are not specified, but this would also be either basic background knowledge or an opening for an answer to refute the claims.

In short, the question seems to be a straightforward inquiry about character motivation, and can be answered as such. It can be clear what a question is asking even if it is not clear why the question is being asked. Questions shouldn’t be closed for not being compelling, but for not being answerable.

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NO

(As in it should NOT have been closed.)

It happened because some people are authoritarian and want to close anything they don't personally like or understand (violating site rules, e.g. Good Subjective/Bad Subjective).

That was one of the reasons I chose to leave SFF.SE, FYI. People decided that they are the gatekeepers, and instead of simply ignoring questions that were too deep for them (that require analysis and not just searching a book for a keyword) and letting others enjoy the site they would force that very good content off the site for no good reason.

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  • ROFLMAO. Just for reference, my question that literally has 3 WoG answers, got "opinion" VTC vote today. Go ahead and mass downvote this, but everyone knows the truth. This site is full of people who simply don't know what they are talking about gatekeeping to have only trivia on it Apr 6 at 1:32
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    interesting that it getting one vote (by someone who may or may not be acting in bad faith) implies to you that the site is "full of people who simply don't know what they're talking about". I think you should save your conspiracy theories for somewhere else :)
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 6 at 7:22
  • You know, there are situations when I do ask myself: how do I determine if this is on-topic or if it's an invitation to opinion-based theories? The only times I don't ask myself that question is when it's a clear "I didn't understand this element of the plot" question (for Harry Potter for example).
    – Clockwork
    Apr 6 at 8:13
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    "WoG" means "Word of God"? It took me a short while to guess it out since I've been there a short time.
    – Clockwork
    Apr 6 at 8:15
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    @Clockwork - correct. Apr 6 at 15:33
  • Clockwork - that's easy... (re ask yourself): wait a day and see how many opinion based answers get posted. If you get 0-1 on the first day, any guess that it's "opinion" (vs. "good subjective" - which is on-topic) is likely wrong. Oh and if you're new please read about Good Subjective/Bad Subjective on meta Apr 6 at 15:35
  • @Edlothiad - "the site is full" is not from one vote, but from a long history I have on this site. The vote was just an illustrative example. Apr 6 at 15:36
  • You mean this one? stackoverflow.blog/2010/09/29/good-subjective-bad-subjective And, well, I've been there 2 years now. although when compared to you, I only have a glimpse of what this Stack Exchange used to be, so yeah, I guess I am new.
    – Clockwork
    Apr 6 at 15:43

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