An Opinion on Opinions: Because I’m Entitled to It
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
-Daniel Patrick Moynihan
This is a cliche topic to bring up, but it is important for the direction of this blog. The misunderstanding and misappropriation of this quote (usually due to people stopping at the comma) has empowered people to be willingly ignorant to fact and knowledge gained by others.
I have presented two articles that I believe accurately dissect the way this phrase is used and misused. I encourage you to read each article but I will highlight key takeaways from each followed by my own perspective.
The first article I present to you is from a more religious background (posted on a Christian website) but nonetheless accurately describes the questions or thoughts we should have when someone wants to arbitrarily throw this quote around. The authors main points are that in modern America, this is a throw away phrase that is empty and not very constructive to anyone. We should be cautious about using it on ethical and moral issues. Any discussion of this quote has to start with the context.
Few people will debate whether, at least in the Western world, people have a legal entitlement to their own thoughts, opinions, or speech. If someone wants to honestly believe the earth is flat, that’s their business. The distinction made is that your opinion isn’t entitled to be right and treated as fact. People can and should ask you to go further. Asking questions and probing someone who claims they’re entitled to their opinion on an important or technical matter may open someone to a discussion where they get new evidence that disproves their uninformed opinion. I believe the author did a good job of not being too dogmatic when it comes to categorising spiritual, moral, and ethical concerns. For a healthy society, we do need to be able to hold people accountable on their opinions on matters that are important to themselves and others. My only real caveat to this article is the disregard for relativism when it comes to ethics and religion but that’s a topic for another day.
This second article accurately explains most of my perspective on this topic. Early on, the author makes the distinction between opinion and fact. A further distinction is made between personal taste opinions to ones that affect many people, such as politics, to ones that require technical evidence like the sciences. When saying everyone is entitled to their opinion, there’s a trivial surface layer that falls back on free speech and thought as stated previously. What really resonated in this article is in relation to how we can treat each opinion as a candidate for truth.
The lay person sometimes seems to think that because they haven’t seen research or gone and done it themselves, they are entitled to get equal airtime on things that are absolutely or nearly absolutely false (or at the very least not backed by any evidence). The author talks about the pressure journalists get to be fair to all viewpoints, but that shouldn’t be the case if some of the viewpoints have no valid backing on why it is more than an opinion. This partially goes back to the idea of modern tolerance. But in important and technical subjects, we shouldn’t be giving 10 minutes of airtime to people or organisations who specifically monitor, research, or actively work on a specific issue, then give 10 minutes to some person of no experience.
The Take Home:
These were a sample of the kind of discussions that go on about entitlement to opinions. I am going to add my own perspective to the mix:
- People should be taught from an early age how to distinguish types of opinions and facts. The way one is raised may stunt their ability to take on new information.
- Opinions can be dangerous since they tend to guide action. One shouldn’t honestly be able to not believe in homosexuality or transgenders because they are part of reality. They exist and you can actually talk to them or hear testimonies about their equally diverse, human lives. Having an opinion that a whole section of society’s identities don’t exist is dangerous. If your opinion is that they are in a sinful existence, that opinion alone will not do anyone damage directly.
- Third, we should be aware of how dangerous opinions are carried into the public space, especially in politics. When people become law enforcement, educators, and other influential members of society, they should not be allowed to treat dangerous opinions as fact. The law should not encourage dangerous opinions as fact either because law is suppose to protect and serve all people. Global warming should be publicly debated by people that have systematically explored it. If the conversation then becomes about the cost of something or how it affects the general person’s lifestyle, more people are qualified to have a valid opinion because it is about taste and preference.
- The healthiest type of opinion is one open to change, especially when there is external evidence that can support or falsify it. I can have opinion about a demographic of people that I don’t encounter much. Clearly entitled to that. But I should also be aware that because there is a general truth about this demographic that may or may not even have to do with membership, my opinion may be entirely limited and quite frankly wrong.
This is by no means a complete discussion and I’ve tried hard not to conflate arguments. I hope you enjoyed the read (those of you who got through it all).
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Have a great week,