“The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” — Hubert H. Humphrey
The brouhaha over “Duck Dynasty” “star” Phil Robertson’s thoughtless and, in my opinion, groundless comments has been burning up the Internet, with many jumping to his defense — even if they disagree — claiming he has the “right to his opinion.” My response to this sentiment? Nonsense — they’re wrong. As the late Andy Rooney mused, “not everyone has a right to his own opinion. If he doesn’t know the facts, his opinion doesn’t count.”
What’s An Opinion?
So what actually is an opinion? In their books Crimes Against Logic by Jamie Whyte and Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze, the authors agreed that the phrases “I’m entitled to my opinion” or “I have a right to my opinion” are common declarations in rhetoric or debate that can be made at some point in an argument. When asserted for this reason, Deleuze wrote that “the statement exemplifies an informal logical fallacy of the type red herring.” Whyte went on to suggest that a particular entitlement or right is irrelevant to whether one’s assertion is true or false, and asserting the existence of the right is a failure to assert any justification for the opinion.
We can never expect to have a full understanding of other perspectives without effort. Every opinion is inherently biased towards its own interests. What transforms opinion into perspective is the considered application of information from all sides.
To illustrate my point, below are ten reasons why neither Phil Robertson or anyone else (that includes Sarah Palin and me) is entitled to their opinions per se.
1) Opinion and Speculation — Inconsistent With Logic: In a 2009 article called Philosophy and the Natural World, Chad P. Dawson and John C. Hendee said: “Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom — the knowledge of things and their causes, through reason and dialogue.” As Dawson and Hendee wrote, reason and dialogue is a way of comprehending “what is ‘real’ and what is ‘true’ by focusing on rational understanding and analysis, or simply what makes sense.”
2) The Bias of Propaganda: Studying only one point of view opens the door to becoming a victim of propaganda, mostly used to influence the masses. As Michael J. Behe, professor of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, once wrote: “The essential mark of an unbiased presentation is whether it addresses opposing views accurately, in their strongest forms. Propaganda, on the other hand, ignores or caricatures its opponents, or gives weak, watered-down renditions of their arguments.”
It’s important to remain aware that we don’t know everything and can often be proven wrong. If you don’t acknowledge and understand other points of view, you don’t know anything — and you might as well shut up.
3) Opinion is Irrelevant if Not Founded on Verified and Valid Information: In a thoughtful article, Smart Problems in Physics, Some Philosophy Behind It, Vladimir Shelest agreed that an educated person “has an opinion on any subject. The answer does not have to be exact…but a person must have some ideas to discuss on the subject.”
4) Fundamental Difference Between Argument & Opinion: In My Opinion is as Good as Yours!, Bob McElwaim said: “If reasonable people hold different views, then we are dealing with opinions, not facts. Given a need to act in the absence of fact, we have no choice but to act upon an opinion. But doing so does not convert the opinion selected to fact.”
5) An Opinion is Rarely Based on Corroborated and Verified Information: The value of an opinion is wholly dependent on the caliber of its source and not the caliber of the facts themselves. “The difference between fact and opinion matters,” continues Bob McElwaim in My Opinion is as Good as Yours!. “In the case of a hypothetical brain tumor, what is the worth of an opinion from a respected neurologist? As an opinion, it means only that a CAT scan is in order. A radiologist will examine the results, then be able to demonstrate whether or not there is a tumor. Either way, the conclusion is fact.”
6) Relativity: “In the language of relativity, everyone is correct ‘from their own point of view’. It may be that, from their particular point of view, everyone has some ground for believing that they have accurately determined the order of events. Nevertheless, it is not possible for everyone to be correct. If everyone has a different opinion about which is the best football team (based on diverse criteria), it may not be possible to determine conclusively who is correct; we’re inclined to say that they are ‘entitled to their point of view’. Entitled or not, the best team is by definition only one team, and the opinions of all but one football supporter are wrong.” (Source: The Rhetoric of Relativity)
7) Array of Opinions: All opinions are expressed in order to persuade or convince someone of an idea. This usually means that vital data that doesn’t support the idea will be discarded. Dismissing doubt without examining the evidence is what led mankind to believe for many years that the Earth was flat. It isn’t. Some would say it’s not really round, either, but a tetrahedron.
“Everyone does have (or should have) the freedom to hold their own beliefs,” said Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials, “and the freedom to try to persuade others of the truth of those beliefs. But not all beliefs can in fact be equally true. If I believe the Sun goes round the Earth, and you believe the Earth goes round the Sun, we can’t both be right…we don’t just shrug our shoulders and say ‘everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.’ We look at the evidence and facts and try to figure out whose opinion is actually right.”
8) Respect vs. Judgmentalism: We’ve all met people who seem to have an opinion — often negative — about everything and anything. They expect to be treated as if their opinions were significant and important merely because they belong to the human race. I don’t buy it.
The right to have your opinion respected requires you to prove that you’re educated and/or informed; until then, your opinion can never be appreciated or accepted. Earned respect means that the person has justified it in some way. You don’t respect someone unless and until the individual has done something to deserve it. (Source: And Just Exactly Why Should I Respect You?)
9) Theory: I agree with Daniel Quinn’s thoughts that opinions expressed to abate the truth are groundless, and the people who express them should not be taken seriously. The half-truths these kinds of people resort to in an effort to avoid objectionable facts are laughable. By subverting facts, they cease to be facts.
In Quinn’s Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, he stated that absolute truth begins with each of us admitting that none of us are consistently honest with ourselves and therefore not able to be honest with each other. “Because of our pride, to admit this can be a difficult first step, but it is well worth the initial discomfort. We’ve untruthfully labeled opinions as facts and allowed these pleasant sounding untruths to give us security.” As Quinn suggests, this is very similar to the attitudes of those who were on-board the Titanic, believing they were more secure than they actually were.
10) From The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell: “What we firmly believe, if it is true, is called knowledge, provided it is either intuitive or inferred from intuitive knowledge. What we firmly believe, if it is not true, is called error. If it is neither knowledge nor error, it may be called ‘probable opinion’. Thus the greater part of what would commonly pass as knowledge is more or less probable opinion.”
For those who still insist they are entitled, I suggest that I’m far more entitled to my informed analysis of the facts and perspectives gleaned from them than you are to ill-informed opinions. That said — what’s your opinion?
(Originally published on Huffington Post).
NOTE: Since the original date of publication, a few of the links I had provided became dead links. In the interest of fair play, I have removed them for the most part, but left intact the name of the source I quoted from.