Opinions are as numerous as grains of sand in a desert. And about as indistinguishable and useless when considered individually and in isolation. Why then should you bother to read on with today’s blog? Well for the obvious reason, which will be confirmed once you get to the end, that my opinion is correct!
Seriously though, the fact of the matter is that opinions, qua opinions, are frequently problematic, individualistic expressions of a perceived reality that bears little or no connection to the empirical facts or adherence to the rigours of reason, logic, or even common-sense. Because we hold our opinions dearly and closely from the I/me perspective, their veracity is obvious [to us at least] and ultimately irrefutable [again, to us as owners]. In this modern world we find ourselves in, the inevitability and now increasing frequency of conflicting issues and ideas lends itself to a protective, fortress-like defense of our own cherished opinions.
Fair enough you might say, so what is the issue. The issue as I see it is that not all opinions are equally valid. There I’ve said it! Mistaken notions of what equality means in this context have tended to simplify the equation to assertions and expressions like “I am entitled to my opinion” and “it’s correct for me” or “truth is not absolute” as if that then equates to all opinions must therefore be equal, or furthermore to justifications based on some notion of reciprocity, e.g. If you let me hold to my opinions, I will do likewise for you. None of these statements or several others like them confirms the accuracy or legitimacy of the underlying claim –“my opinion necessarily equals the truth”.
The problem with this viewpoint that all opinions are somehow equal is greatly exacerbated when there is a conflation of the word opinion into belief. Now that defense takes on the image of a force field bubble wherein the whole I is somehow under threat and must be protected at all costs. Counter opinions are perceived as direct challenges, not to the particular opinion(s) expressed, but rather more ominously now as direct assaults on one’s cherished beliefs. This rapid slide from discourse into enmity has all the gravitational pull of a black hole. Escape [back to discourse] is nigh on impossible.
What was lost in this quick descent was a more reasoned nuance on the word opinion. Yes we all have them, let’s get that out of the way up front. Opinions are first and foremost individually held preferences for or judgments of something. I like single malt Scotch. Raspberry sorbet is the best. The Wire was the best TV drama of the past decade. These reflect my opinions and concern matters of taste. Some or all might even be shared by some of this audience. There is no strength in numbers bonus to these opinions of mine/yours because they are all unverifiable outside of the ‘fact’ that we choose to hold them. Holding such opinions is neither right nor wrong. Where the problem arises is from the all to easy expansion of our opinions on such things through the gamut of everyday concerns, like politics and culture, economics and social matters, beyond into areas of scientific and technical and educational expertise. Lines between experts and non-experts become quickly blurred or even erased by the creation of a false equivalency. [I won’t even touch the thorny issue of why it is that oftentimes experts disagree amongst themselves!]
The ubiquity of social media sources empowers and emboldens everyone to have their say, which is okay as we are definitely tool-users. This does not mean however that your opinion is instantly validated. When your opinion is actually a misconception, contrary to empirical data, reason or common sense, it no longer can lay claim to being a truth [of any sort]. If you believe for example that vaccines cause autism, sticking to your misconception will not move it into the realm of valid opinion. Making provocative statements like “there was no Holocaust”, “all aboriginals are lazy”, “Muslim immigrants are all terrorists” as expressions of your opinion, even if shared by many others, again does not move them any closer to legitimacy.
What then makes my opinion(s) correct, or any others for that matter? The simplest answer is that opinion which is informed by evidence that can be demonstrated and substantiated. Nobody is exempt from possessing opinions that are after due scrutiny and reflection revealed to be uninformed, ill-conceived or just plain wrong. Continuing to hold onto them and espouse their veracity is stubbornness in the extreme and tantamount to sheer arrogance, and no one, least of all me, owes your viewpoint any further respect. And no, this is not somehow disrespecting you and intended to hurt your feelings!
I am reminded in closing of Plato’s [yes that ancient dead Greek!] pronouncement to get off our arses and ascend out of the cave [check here for more: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html] A modern similar example might be to take the red pill… [Check out this reference from the movie, The Matrix]. No one said it would be easy!
If you have read to this point, well done and I thank you.
Remember to please feel free to start a conversation by going to the comment field below.