Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Validity of Opinion

I often hear two statements bandied about that are taken by most as equivalent. They are:

Everyone has the right to his/her own opinion.

Everyone's opinion is as valid as everyone else's.
The first is something with which I strongly agree. The second is something with which I couldn't disagree more.

Let me explain.

I don't think I have to spend too many words to let you all know why I think that everybody has the right to an opinion, whatever that opinion is, and however repugnant it may be to some. Freedom of expression is fundamental to our ideals as a nation, and to mine as a person. But beneath that freedom of expression is the freedom to hold whatever opinion it is you want to express. For some, maybe that goes without saying. That's probably true. I just wanted to make it explicit.

As for the second claim, though, that everyone's opinion is as valid as everyone else's, I don't just disagree with it. I don't think that anyone agrees with it, regardless of whether or not they say it. Everyone necessarily priveleges certain opinions over others, in their view, by adopting them as theirs.

For instance, it's my opinion that High Fidelity is one of the best movies of the last decade. Now, people certainly have the right to disagree with me, and think that High Fidelity was a big steaming pile of crap, but from my standpoint, I don't have any obligation to consider that opinion as equally valid as my own. I have considered all of the same evidence as the person who despises one of my favorite movies, and I've come out on the opposite side. If I truly think that High Fidelity is one of the best movies of the past decade, it would sure weaken my argument to concede as equally valid an argument that High Fidelity is one of the worst movies of the past decade.

I don't by any means advocate disrespect, or mischaracterization of others' positions. I don't advocate character attacks, or false inferences drawn from opinions of others with which I don't agree. For instance, if I said that somebody who didn't think that High Fidelity is one of the best movies of the past decade is the 21st century equivalent of those Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s who burned the great books of our past, I would be dead wrong, and I would deserve to be called on it.

What I do advocate, though, is a forceful expression of opinion, without the need for concession to opposing opinions with which you truly don't agree. Every time somebody starts an expression of their opinion with something like, "I understand why some people would think High Fidelity is the worst movie of the past decade, but..." the whole argument is undermined. It may seem like it's a bit thornier with more serious issues than movies, but it's really not. All I'm saying is that we have to have the courage of our convictions, and we have to express them with poise and confidence.

To do any less would be a disservice to ourselves and to those whom we would seek to convince.