All opinions are equal
August 22, 2011 Leave a comment
This is one I’m getting kinda tired of having to harp on. It just seems to come up fairly frequently and it’s so obviously wrong I can’t believe I have to figuratively bash people over the head with the idea before they’ll begrudgingly admit I’m right.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion”.
This one is true. And it’s a good thing too. There may be times when it becomes frustrating or inconvenient to have idiots running about fully convinced (and worse convincing others) the world is flat, but we need that freedom to be able to pursue ideas that not everyone agrees with. We don’t want our thinking to become stagnant with the idea that just because it works right now doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. So as much as it sucks to have flat-earthers still running about, we need that freedom so that people can pursue outlandish ideas like String Theory.
“Everyone’s opinion is valid”.
Now this is where the problem occurs. For some stupid reason many people have started to equate the first quote as being equivalent to the second. That just because you are entitled to hold whatever opinion you like that this somehow makes your opinion just as valid, accurate and worthy as everybody elses. It doesn’t!
Just because freedom of speech laws entitle you to hold a belief doesn’t make that belief worth holding. Just because thought crime is an abominable idea doesn’t make you thoughts equal to everybody elses. It’s entirely possible your thoughts might be inaccurate, based upon false data or just plain crap.
So when does this apply, and when are opinions truly equal. Generally when we’re talking about our personal take on things. No, “My god is real” doesn’t fall into that category, and I’ll explain why in just a moment.
Ironically as I’m writing this my housemate just sent me a YouTube clip. One of those “Worlds biggest idiots” videos of people doing stupid things on camera and badly hurting themselves. I don’t find these at all amusing. For me, it’s a combination of cringe factor and just plain feeling sad at how dumb people can be. For me, not funny. But there are TV shows that are dedicated to this kind of crap, so obviously there’s a market for it. Obviously it’s not universally funny, or universally unfunny. It comes down to personal taste, and probably has a lot to do with upbringing and maybe even genetics.
Other examples include literally, taste. There are foods I can’t stand, a few I can eat but don’t enjoy, and the vast majority I love. And those food groups don’t always match up to other people’s tastes. Again, a combination of upbringing (being exposed to variation at a younger age) and genetics.
What we need to remember is that these opinions are based upon facts, in these cases about the individual. It is a fact that my taste buds are adapted in such a way that I really like chicken. On the other hand I have an intolerance for squishy things in my mouth, which is why I can’t stand raw tomatoes (the outer flesh is okay, just can’t stand the seedy gooey bit in the middle).
Now, I’d argue that all opinions are based upon data. It is impossible to formulate an opinion without data input. That data may be true (in other words facts), or that data may be flawed. If you have flawed data it’s likely you’ll end up with a flawed opinion. And flawed opinions have the potential to cause harm. Take our flat earther’s for example. By itself, a rather innocent belief, even if it is completely stupid. But what if NASA were to give this opinion some credit and launched a space probe. They wouldn’t calculate for the curvature of the earth and would try to plow straight through the atmosphere (rather than hitting it at an angle). Wave goodbye to a couple of million dollars, or worse, a few lives if it were a manned mission.
Clearly the above example demonstrates that all opinions are not equal. If one opinion can get people killed while the other can lead to success and keep people alive, surely one must be greater than the other?
This also demonstrates how we come to good, factual opinions. By testing them. Hopefully NASA has a few better testing methods before they start launching rockets, but the principle remains the same. People who have put their ideas, opinions and beliefs to the test are more likely to have factual opinions. Because those opinions can be used to achieve goals they are more valuable.
So how do we create stronger, more valuable opinions? By putting them to the test. How do we test them? Education. We put ourselves through school, college, TAFE, or University. We discuss our ideas with others (and not just those that agree with us). We read books. We test those ideas through experimentation to see whether they hold up to the real world.
So no, your ideas on cosmology aren’t nearly as valuable as Stephen Hawking. Your opinion on biology is not worth as much to me as Richard Dawkins.
And if you don’t go to church, haven’t read your Bible, haven’t ever had a meaningful discussion with an atheist or at least someone of an alternative faith, your passionate belief in your god is pretty fucking meaningless too.
If you don’t know a Muslim, haven’t read their holy book and get all your information off the fear mongering news programs labelling them all terrorists your opinion isn’t worth dick.
Don’t think that just because you’ve watched Al Gore’s ‘An inconvenient truth’ it sudden makes you an expert on global warming. Seriously, can we please leave this discussion to the people with degrees? The weather man can’t predict what will happen next week, what makes you think you can predict the next 50 years!?
Until you have earned the right to have an opinion on a topic, don’t expect me to treat your opinion with reverence just because you had the compulsion to have one. If you don’t know enough about a topic, keep your mouth shut. Or at least have the decency to be polite and ask questions, rather than shoving an unfounded and untested opinion in my face.
So, to come back to the ‘My god is real’ idea. No, this is not something that falls into the ‘everyone’s opinion is valid’ category. Remember, even opinions like “Chicken is delicious” are based on facts, those facts just happen to be subjective. Chicken is genuinely delicious to me and it’s because of the way my body is made up. It may not be delicious to you, again because of the fact your body is different.
But ‘My god is real’ is a dichotomy; a boolean operation. It’s either true or it isn’t. And again the opinion you hold on your god (or lack of god) is based on data. If that data is inaccurate it’s likely your opinion on a god will also be inaccurate.
So if we want to actually make any headway in this discussion we first need to get rid of this stupid notion that all opinions are equal. Yes, people are allowed and should be allowed to believe whatever they want. But that doesn’t make their opinion worth listening to. It’s the people who have taken the time and effort to educate themselves and test our their opinions who we should be giving more time to.
Seriously people, don’t think that just because you hold a belief it’s automatically worthy. Put that baby to the test! And not just to your standards. Your standards might be crap (because let’s face it, your standards are also based on your opinions). If it makes it through to the other side, great! If not, then hopefully you’ll have a new opinion that will be stronger than the last.
-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.