That’s just, like, your opinion, man

Here are some questions. I’ll start us off with an easy one.

1) Is everyone entitled to an opinion?

Yes.

See? That was easy. Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion on basically anything. I personally try to be a little circumspect about my opinion on certain things, for example abortion or homosexual marriage, since I am neither pregnant nor gay (for the record, I’m basically in favour of both if the people who are pregnant or gay [or both at once, which would seem to be a perfect time to have a very strong opinion on both issues] want them). I will at least allow those people affected by the issue to help me to inform my opinion of it. That brings me to the second question.

2) Are some people’s opinions worth more than others’?

Yes.

Sorry, this is probably sad news for the We’re All Unique Snowflakes With Invincible Eternal Rights lobby, but it’s true. Ignorance is never equal to knowledge. If you are educated in a certain issue, your opinion is worth more than that of a person who is completely ignorant of said issue. You both have an equal right to an opinion, but an informed opinion is better than a dumbarse one. It’s better.

Just better.

Better trained, better equipped, better … better. Just, just better.

In the same way, a renowned biologist could probably land a couple of juicy government and university grants to research and develop a cheap and effective anti-fungal cream. I might manage a couple of hundred bucks from a kickstarter or other crowd-funded effort, mainly due to the humour value of seeing me flail around in a white coat with athlete’s foot growing in my eyes. We can both talk about fungal infections, but the biologist’s going to get the credence. And rightly so. The amount of cash each of us could get behind our idea, respectively, is a crude illustration of the value of our opinions on this particular issue[1]. This is perhaps exemplified by the anti-vaccination lobby, and my third question.

[1] No, it doesn’t become automatically true of a person’s opinions about everything across the board, no matter how educated he or she is. I’m not going to pay much attention to a physicist’s opinion of a video game if he or she has never played it or indeed any video game of any kind. Now, if he or she had an opinion about how “something like that would go in real life”, I would of course give him or her the benefit of the doubt over some swamp-arse gamer with two-thirds of a philology degree … but only insofar as that one mildly-interesting facet of the game was concerned. And it is easily countered by “well, game physics. Go get a job with the Playstation crowd and fix it if you have a problem, poindexter.”

3) Should some people just shut up about their opinions?

Mmm … eeeeehh … yes?

This is a tough one. Of course the short answer is “no”. No, nobody should shut up and keep their opinions to themselves, because of question #1. Everyone has a right, and it is our responsibility as opinionees (or “those who are having an opinion inflicted on them uninvited”) to distinguish the valuable opinion from the ignorant-arse one, as per question #2. Everyone has the right to be heard, it’s entirely up to us to decide whether someone deserves attention.

The other short answer is “yes”. Yes, everybody could stand to shut up about their opinions a bit more these days. Especially all the dumbarses who disagree with me.

The problem is, an awful lot of us – smart and stupid – pay attention to some people way more than we should. Human nature. We’re a social ape and that means we instinctively admire and – well – ape the behaviour and tastes of the alpha apes. Sometimes it’s down to their charisma, glamour, popularity or other hypnotic effect. Sometimes it’s just because of the way their words and deeds get publicised and shoved in our faces to the exclusion of all else, every day, incessantly.

We might agree with them, in which case we’re going to pay attention and share the word, perpetuating and reinforcing the myth – or we might disagree with them, in which case we’re going to groan, and ridicule, and perpetuate and reinforce the myth. In those cases where we agree with someone in the public eye, we become more inclined to agree with or even just listen to them on other issues, and before you know it they’ve become a latter-day prophet of Utter Truth. In the cases where we disagree, it soon gets to a point where they could say anything – anything – and we would hate and disagree with it just because this pointless douchebag came down on the other side.

So. Celebrities with absolutely no training in medicine weighing in on what immunisation does to children and humanity in general? Sure. Under question #1 they have their right to an opinion. Under question #2 their opinion is essentially worthless. Under question #3 they should be aware that their worthless opinion is going to be spread to a huge number of people and have huge consequences, to such an extent that it tends to overwhelm the “everyone is personally responsible for screening the opinions of others for bullshit” rule. Because the celebrity opinion on an issue is going to be fed through news media, public opinion, spin doctors, PR gurus, and the lobbies actually involved in said issue. It might end up being nothing like what the celebrity said originally – or nothing like their intent. Or exactly their words and intent, but definitely blown out of all proportion. And celebrities should be used to this.

No, it’s not their fault, and I would much rather live in a world where everyone takes responsibility for what they believe when they see, hear or read it rather than a single person (regardless of fame level) having to smother his or her opinions. I don’t think this utopia is ever going to happen, but it would be wonderful. This is just my lowly opinion (there, I said it … indeed this is most likely an ignorant-arse opinion too, although not one coming from a famous person) of something that might help. Please note, above, that I said people in the public eye should be aware of this effect, and act accordingly – I didn’t really mean that they should shut up before even starting. Just … once they’ve voiced their opinion, they could a) acknowledge that it’s an ignorant-arse one[2], and b) stop going on about it continually thereafter? It’s basically the same standard we should hold everyone to, but with the added intensity that comes from these people being alpha apes. Being a role model means setting an example.

[2] And I know, this is unreasonable to expect, especially when it comes to the really grey areas where an earnest belief that you are saying, doing and thinking the right thing and helping people will oblige you to defend your opinion. And an objective knowledge of right from wrong is a complete fantasy.

I guess what it boils down to is pre-screening your own opinions for bullshit before expecting others to do it for you (and then rejecting their judgement, naturally).

So. Homosexual married celebrities weighing in on gay marriage? Perfect. George Takei is the Velociraptor Batman of the Internet, and should be an ambassador for Earth if we make contact with aliens in the next, ooh, let’s be optimistic and say twenty-five years. And he seems to know when his opinion is essentially worthless – or, if he offers it anyway and it gives offence or otherwise proves him to be ignorant, he is admirably ready to step up and educate himself, eat his words, explain his position and amend his statements. Because he knows that millions of people are propagating them across the globe.

These are two very opposing cases, of course. You have what seems to be an utterly ignorant flake spouting off about something and being demonstrably wrong on one side, and an urbane and high-integrity member of society voicing an opinion about something he has irrefutable life experience with on the other. And this summary says as much about my opinions as it does about theirs.

What about murkier waters, like immigration debates, cultural clashes, religion?

I wish Ricky Gervais would shut up about religion, but that’s just because I think he’s not funny. I agree in principle with almost everything I’ve seen him allegedly-say about the subject, in MS Paint screenshots and image macro viral share-fests, but he’s so grating it makes me want to disagree.

Ricky Gervais in silent film

Although he had a real “silent movie” thing going on when he was a young lad.

These questions act something like Asimov’s laws of robotics. If you are in a position where question #3 comes into play, you have an obligation to fulfil question #2 to the best of your ability. Only then can you freely exercise your right under question #1.

But this is just one man’s opinion.

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6 Responses to That’s just, like, your opinion, man

  1. aaronthepatriot says:

    Bravo! And of course the media realizes the enforcing quality of having one’s opinion validated by those one looks up to, hence Fox News’s success, and to a lesser extent MSNBC. But not CNN. No one looks up to Wolf Blitzer. Not really. And not because he’s not very tall, though that isn’t helping him.

  2. dreameling says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    And you should stop dissing Ricky Gervais. He’s funny. “Thank you to god for making me an atheist.” Brilliant.

  3. Pingback: Interlude: The Sad Case of Nathan Pyle | Hatboy's Hatstand

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