It seems to be par for the course with internet discussions these days: Someone states an opinion on an issue, someone else refutes what they said with verifiable evidence, and the opiner responds with, “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.”
No, you’re actually not. That’s not how this works.
You are entitled to an opinion about personal preferences, like favoring chocolate over vanilla ice cream or preferring the ocean over the mountains. You are entitled to liking one thing over another or believing that one thing is better than another for personal reasons.
You are not, however, entitled to an uninformed opinion that flies in the face of logic, reason, and verifiable fact. You can’t say that you think or believe something, have that belief contradicted with clear and irrefutable evidence, and then say, “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.”
Well, you can say that — you are entitled to free speech — but you can’t expect that opinion not to be challenged. You can’t use “it’s just my opinion” as an excuse to say what you want and end the conversation.
You also shouldn’t expect people to give your thoughts equal weight to others just because you’re couching them as an opinion. Not all opinions are created equal. An opinion that can be backed up by logical argument and evidence is vastly different — and yes, superior — to one that cannot be.
Opinions come in various forms, of course. No one can argue with you about your love of chocolate, since the only person who has proof of that one way or another is you. But if you offer an opinion about something not so subjective, where the facts refute your opinion? You have two choices in that case: Either admit that you are clinging to an opinion that contradicts reality, or alter your opinion to fit reality.
Or you can create “alternate facts” so that your opinion makes sense in an alternate reality.
Just kidding. *sigh*
Reasonable people can and do change their opinions in the face of contradictory evidence and logical arguments. And that’s what people should do if they want anything they say to be taken seriously. That’s what we’re hoping for when we teach kids critical thinking skills — not to convince them to share the same opinions we hold, but to help them weigh arguments and evidence and form their own intelligent, informed opinions based on those things.
Opinions should not be set in stone.
Deakin University professor Dean Stokes tells his philosophy students on the first day of class, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” In this case, “argue” does not mean digging in your heels and saying you’re right louder and longer than someone else. It refers to the first definition of “argue,” which is to “give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” To argue an opinion means to defend your position with evidence, facts, and reason.
Let’s say you think that breastfeeding a child past a year isn’t good for them. Are you entitled to that opinion? Only if you can back it up with something other than, “Because I think so,” or “Because I know someone who breastfed for three years, and their kid is weird.” Anecdotal evidence is not reliable evidence, folks.
If that’s all you have, then you technically have an uninformed opinion. And if someone were to point out the multiple scientific studies showing that there are no detrimental outcomes from breastfeeding past a year, and you still insist that it’s not good for kids without offering a comparable body of counter-evidence, then you officially have an uninformed and willfully ignorant opinion and should expect to be called out for it.
This is even the case when you say upfront that you’re stating an opinion. Take, for example, a recent tweet from our current president:
It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
He states that it’s his opinion, but he does not clarify what he’s basing that opinion on. He offers no evidence, simply states his opinion. Of course, the 140 character limit is, well, limiting, but you can always put a few dozen tweets together to make a full statement.
Regardless, saying you think something is true does not make it true.
And considering the fact that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism outlets routinely vet their sources and don’t publish fabricated lies that they make up themselves (journalism 101, folks), the evidence does not appear to be in favor of backing up this opinion.
If your opinion comes with no argument of proof, and the majority of readily available evidence doesn’t support your opinion, then frankly your opinion is crap.
Are you entitled to a crap opinion? Technically, you’re entitled to have it. But you are not entitled to share it without having it challenged and without people telling you your opinion is uninformed, ignorant, or illogical. That’s not judgment; that’s simply telling it like it is.
IMHO, of course.