Every once in a while, I come across an essay or commentary that hits me across the cerebral cortex like a brick. This particular piece helped me give substance and structure to an argument I’ve always found frustrating: “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.” Well sure they are, but does that mean we can all just spout off whatever we want and demand others give our opinions any weight or respect? No, absolutely not, and that’s the argument that this short and powerful essay makes.
There are things we know, things that are certain like 1+1 = 2 or, one I’d never heard before but find wonderful in its visual descriptiveness, there are no square circles. Anyone who chose to argue against the truth of these statements would rightly be thought a fool, or something worse. But what about statements that are uncertain or can at least be argued about? Well, there are statements of choice or preference, which the author argues are trivial to argue about, like whether chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. But when it comes to issues of common belief, issues that affect most people like politics, religion, science, technology, education, etc. we can all have opinions, and can claim that right, but what we can’t claim is a right that everyone else must respect our opinion or give it serious consideration as the truth. For that, we must be prepared to defend our position with logical arguments, and evidence-based positions.
If I were to argue that the Earth was flat, I’m certainly entitled to believe that, to hold that opinion. But I have no right to expect that others give my opinion any merit. I can claim to believe that the Earth is very young, perhaps as young as 10,000 years, but in order for that belief of mine to be given any serious consideration as being truthful, I must be prepared to argue it on the merits. If I cannot, I’d be much wiser to keep that belief to myself, although wise isn’t a particularly apt description if I really believed in a young Earth. Take any issue of political importance, like economic policy around taxation and its impact on job creation. How many heated debates have taken place over an issue like this, with every person claiming a right to an opinion, and arguing it vehemently? These are healthy debates to have and we should have them, but you cannot, in fact you must not, rely on your right to have an opinion as the only argument for your position. If you can’t support your opinion with facts and evidence, you must accept that your opinion will not carry any weight with others, despite the passion you may bring to the discussion. In fact, and this is the most difficult proposition, if you cannot defend your position as being a serious candidate for truthfulness, you should probably abandon it.
I hope you will read the essay I’ve linked here and that it will give you something to reflect on and think about. I know for a fact that I will use the information I’ve learned from just my first read of this short piece often in the future. But more importantly, I’ve learned which of my opinions I can claim rightly deserve to be heard and considered, and will work hard to support them with pillars of evidence and reasonableness, logic and thoughtfulness. After all, I don’t want to ever claim there are square circles and expect anyone to listen.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”– Plato