I said it again the other day, but then I had second thoughts. “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” I said, but is that really true? Have you ever thought about the full range of opinions we’re implicitly endorsing by saying everyone is entitled to believe whatever they believe?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that arguments should be settled by force, or that we ought to have some kind of thought police arresting people for believing the wrong thing. But let’s face it, some things that people believe are exactly that: wrong. They’re wrong factually, they’re wrong socially, and they’re wrong morally. To say that everyone is entitled to their opinion is to reinforce the mistaken perception that all opinions are equally valid, and that a firmly-held opinion outweighs any number of contrary opinions and even any contrary facts.
Think about it. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” In other words, sexists are entitled to believe that women were put here on earth for the sole purpose of serving and pleasing men. Racists are entitled to believe that having a darker skin makes you lazier, less intelligent, and more criminal than paler people. Adolf Hitler was entitled to believe that Jews were a subhuman parasite we’d all be better off without. We say everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but do we really mean these opinions are all equally valid?
Not all opinions are created equal. Some are ignorant, bigoted, and superstitious. Some are factually incorrect, delusional or deliberately dishonest. Some are downright malignant and destructive. We don’t want to implicitly endorse evil opinions by declaring them to be just as good as opinions based on facts, social justice, and sound moral principles. We need to remind people that opinions also carry moral, social, and practical values that need to be carefully weighed and judged on their real-world merits (or lack of merits).
I’m going to stop saying that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m going to start saying, “Everyone is entitled to their own preferences. Everyone is entitled to freely express their opinions. But not all opinions are good and not all opinions are valid, and you deserved to be judged according to the quality of the opinions you advance.” Say what you mean, and think about what you say, but expect to end up with the reputation your opinions deserve.