Everybody is Entitled to an Opinion
One of the gratifying liberties we enjoy as citizens of the United States is the freedom to express our opinions without fear of jack-booted thugs kicking down our doors, spiriting us away in the middle of the night, and dumping our iconoclast bodies in the Pacific Ocean. As talk radio proves on a daily basis, we Americans cherish our inalienable right to spout off on any number of subjects, no matter how moronic or badly reasoned our thoughts might be.
Twice last night, at a dinner party populated by educated and angry people – intense people – we were confronted by individuals who supported their indefensible positions (Bob Dylan can sing well; Gene Kelly danced as though he was “light in his loafers” and was undoubtedly a homosexual) by invoking this rationale: Everyone is entitled to her opinion, and in matters of taste nobody is right and nobody is wrong.
Reasonable enough, one thinks. But dangerous, too. Because, on the one hand, while invoking the great egalitarianism that makes America a fine place to live, this ethos, on the other hand, devalues cogent argument, persuasive illustration, and clearly organized logic. It says that every opinion, no matter how nutty, has intrinsic value and, therefore, is worthy of respect.
This is wrong. The only opinions worthy of respect are those that can be defended, those that stand up to even the most rudimentary examination. The ones that are more like science and less like religion.
Sure, lots of ignorant consumers think Britney Spears is a great singer, and so maybe we’re the one who’s wrong in thinking she has .0000001% of Cecilia Bartoli’s musical talent. But we can explain why we think this, and we can do it without invoking the adolescent “because that’s just the way I feel.”
People who support their viewpoints with the platitude of “I’m entitled to my opinion, even though I can’t support it” are admitting their intellectual shortcomings. They have a propensity for arriving at conclusions based on factors other than a careful consideration of the evidence. For instance, if I were to proclaim “All Jews are a worthless tribe of dirty thieves who do nothing but suck the life and money out of hardworking people,” most reasonable listeners would more than respectfully disagree with me. They would forcefully argue down my idiocy, and every time I would try to support my hateful outlook with evidence, they would cross-examine me into oblivion. On the other hand, when someone told the woman who mistakenly ascribed feminine gayness to Gene Kelly, the dancer who revolutionized movie movement with his masculinity and athleticism, that she was mistaken (and probably was confusing Kelly with someone else), her grand defense was that “obviously you find it unattractive for a woman to disagree with a man.”
Not at all. What we find unattractive is weak minds incapable of defending their authoritative pronouncements with anything but the convenient (and empty) statement “everyone is entitled to an opinion.”