Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cultural Myths - The Misconception of the Opinion

"We are all entitled to our own opinions..."

True statement, actually. You have the perfect freedom to like vanilla ice cream, as I do to prefer chocolate. Actually, I like vanilla better. So let's share opinions, shall we?

Before we go on, I'll need to define something. There are two main types of opinions - personal preference not based on absolute fact (I personally like vanilla better - not that it actually IS better), or an expert's knowledgeable analysis (like a doctor's medical opinion on which medicine we should take). In the first, all views have equal validity. In the second, validity is established by accuracy. I'm largely talking about the former.

So - we already know all about opinions. Nothing new. What misconception lies hidden?

The issue is when we begin calling things opinion that really aren't at all. In that way, we grant statements validity, and then use the same technique to disregard them at the same time.

In statements of fact, differing statements do not have equal validity. Reality decides which statements are true, and which aren't.

One major area that this comes into play is religion. You don't have to go far before someone will tell you that it's all fine to have a certain religious belief as an opinion, but one shouldn't try to force their opinion on others.
Problem being - religion isn't a matter of personal preference. It makes specific truth claims, claims that differ from others within the pool of religions. And if they're statements of fact, then they do not have equal validity.

Be careful. Don't try to discredit a statement that claims to be fact by labeling it merely an opinion, and watch for when others try to do it to you. Opinions are equal - truth statements are not. An opinion cannot be wrong - a statement of fact can.

And if it's wrong, there's nothing wrong with saying so.

One should respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
-Bertrand Russell

Cultural Myths - The Misconception of the Open Mind

"We all need to have open minds..."

Hear that a lot, don't you? They teach us the maxim when we are young and in school, and we never seem to forget it, taking it with us into adult life and forever reminding others to do the same.

According to the Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer, an open mind is one that is "receptive to different opinions and ideas". I like to define it as being willing to grant something the possibility of being valid and good, instead of disregarding it out of hand.
So, what's the big deal? It sounds good - and it is. We shouldn't mind hearing other's opinions and ideas. I know I wouldn't like to live in a world where the only voice I heard was mine.

The issue arises when someone attempts to subtly apply the principle to the realm of known fact. Should someone be receptive to something they know to be wrong?

Short answer - no.

If someone were to tell you that 2+2=5, you shouldn't be open-minded to it. You know it to be false - granting it the possibility of being right is a waste of time, and not mentally healthy. If you accept everything you hear and believe with equal validity, then you have bought into a much more dangerous lie - that there is no difference between what is true, and what is false.
In those instances, being close-minded is the best option. You don't have to be mean about it, of course, but unless there's a really good reason to take a second look, there's nothing wrong with tossing the errant postulation into your mental waste basket.

How does this affect normal life? Enter the misconception of the opinion.

"I try to keep an open mind, but not so open that my brains fall out."
- Harold T. Stone