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

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