May 14, 2012

Demanding Respect for Ridiculous Opinions

My OpinionScott over at Atheism - That's for ME! captured my attention with a recent post about one of my pet peeves: the expression "Everyone has a right to their opinion." When I hear someone say this, I nearly always drop what I'm doing and get myself in an argument. I know that is silly of me, but it is like nails on a chalkboard.

I usually point out that people may have a right to their own opinions but not their own facts and that it is a mistake to expect unsupported opinions to be given equal weight to facts. This nearly always seems to be what motivated the speaker to say this in the first place - they were confronted with facts that contradict their opinion and are trying to get away with maintaining their opinion anyway. It is as if they really think their opinion is every bit as valid as the facts contradicting it.

Scott nails exactly why I find this expression so aversive in the first place.
Now it seems like if you have an opinion, no matter how crazy or lacking in factual support it is, you get to demand respect, time on TV and equal standing with those who actually know what they are talking about.
As Scott correctly points out, much of this ends up being about religion. In many domains, our progress continues to be retarded by ancient superstitions. When science conflicts with religious dogma, as it so often does, many people cling to their dogma and insist that it be exempt from criticism. Just take a look at how evangelical fundamentalists are howling about how they are being marginalized because most of us have become tired of their treatment of the LGBT community.

I'm not saying religious belief is responsible for all irrationality; the human mind is subject to all manner of irrationality and would continue to be so without religion. But again and again we see religion provide a shield from critical inquiry. It is not about truth; it is about tradition and the maintenance of power.

And the political windbags featured on cable news are not much better. They capitalize on our irrationality by playing on our emotions and feeding us heavily edited sound bytes, sometimes taken completely out of context, to inflame us. They know full well that it is difficult to be reasonable when one is extremely angry, and they use this to their advantage.

So yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion no matter how inaccurate it may be. But reality is not a democracy. Nobody is exempt from criticism, and the louder one is, the more likely it is that criticism is warranted.

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