Arseholes. Everyone has one. The difference being that most people have more than one opinion and many will defend their opinions, loudly and proudly, no matter how misguided.
I have a right/am entitled to an opinion.
How many times have you seen this line or variations on the theme? Opinions are a right. No matter who you are, you are entitled to have one. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, it doesn’t matter what the relevance is to your own life or experiences and it doesn’t matter how much you actually know about a subject; you believe you have the right to comment on it. Anyone can voice any view they like, no matter how ill-formed, factually incorrect, offensive, derogatory, hateful or ridiculous. Wading into just about any debate, you will notice that this belief is everywhere; perhaps you even believe it yourself. Plenty of enlightened and clever people do; they will sigh and refute a terrible opinion, but preface it with an acknowledgment.
“You’re entitled to your opinion, of course, but…”
Not All Opinions Are Created Equally.
Imagine an oncologist, consulting with a patient on the best course of action for their treatment. Could I wander in, listen to the plan, then interject with my disagreement? Could I say to the oncologist that, although I respected their right to an opinion, they should also respect my opinion? Could I then offer suggestions of diet changes, like I’ve read about online? Perhaps I could tell the patient that I had studied aromatherapy and would like to make them a helpful oil blend in place of chemotherapy? Am I really, as a non-medically qualified person, entitled to an opinion here? People without medical qualifications can certainly become educated, but when the opinion of an educated lay person differs greatly with medical experts, why should we feel they hold the same weight?
When Opinions Are Dangerous.
There will probably never be a time when all people agree on every topic, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, some opinions do more harm than good, and I’m not sure why we defend the apparent right of anyone to speak them. Some people hold the opinion that vaccines cause autism, despite this belief being proven, over and over, to be incorrect. Some are of the opinion that homeopathy is an effective alternative to modern medicine, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Some people hold the opinion that abortion is always wrong or that immigration is wrong or that religions other than their own are wrong. Should we be defending anyone’s “right” to voice such opinions? Opinions that may cause serious harm, that may incite hatred or that may lead to someone’s death? What value do these opinions really add to anything?
Some Opinions Are Nothing But Hate Speech.
Some opinions are nothing more than hatred and prejudice disguised as a legitimate position behind those all too common words: “Well, it’s my opinion and I am entitled to it”. Dive into the comments section of just about any article on Filipino boxer and congressman, Manny Pacquiao, for example. Pacquiao is well known for his outspoken homophobia which he attributes to his religious beliefs.Gay couples should not marry, because Leviticus. Or just recently, gay people are worse than animals, because animals aren’t gay. That kind of thing. No matter how hateful his comments are (not to mention, factually incorrect- check out this list of animals that display homosexual behaviours), people will defend his right to have them, even if they also disagree with him.
While public figures engage in expressing opinions like this, what hope have we of combating serious problems like the disproportionately high levels of depression, self-harm and suicide experienced by LGBTIQ people, in particular LGBTIQ youth? I can’t help but feel that having influential people express harmful opinions legitimises similar opinions to some extent. Much like celebrity anti-vaccination proponents or racist politicians. Pacquiao isn’t the only one who hides his hatred behind the veil of opinion but when his opinions are so ill-informed and impact negatively on others, why are we still endorsing his “right” to express them?
We Should Expect More.
When it comes to offering an opinion, I don’t accept that everyone has a right to give theirs on it’s own.
I think that we all have a right to ask questions, to try to learn more and to express what we do know. However, I think if we want the right to an opinion, then we must accept the responsibility to back it up. For example, if your opinion is that vaccines cause autism and you insist on expressing this opinion in a public forum of any sort, be it in the comments section or in a conversation, then you must be prepared to qualify that with evidence. That means addressing every one of the dozens of scientific studies saying otherwise. If you are of the opinion that seeking asylum in Australia is a criminal act, you should be prepared to address the human rights organisations and international law that say otherwise. If you are of the opinion that abortion should be outlawed, then you should be prepared to justify it and address the fact that outlawing abortion does not reduce the rate of abortion– it just makes them more dangerous. If you hold an opinion that same-sex marriage is wrong, why not keep it to yourself? Unless you have actually been the first to discover a valid, factual argument that does not rely on a centuries old book that not everyone consults when living their life.
“It’s my opinion!” is the catch-cry of racists, bigots and anyone else trying to defend their views against those calling them on what they’ve said; views that really have no valid defense.
“It’s my opinion; I have a right to an opinion!”… Your opinion, in isolation, is not an explanation or a reason. If this is your only defense of something you believe, it’s just not good enough.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess.