Entitled to an Opinion

Numerous times on social media I have read the statement “I am entitled to my opinion”. And truthfully, that fact is really a fundamental right of a free and open society. It could easily be argued that the right to hold, and to express, that opinion is the bedrock of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution with three different clauses protecting “the freedom of speech”, “of the press”, and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”.  Do you know what is not protected though? Freedom from the consequences of expressing that opinion by fellow citizens and private businesses. Those rights to free speech protect u from the wrath of the government only.

That being said, somewhere along the way, people seem to have confused “opinion” with “fact”. They are not the same thing. Not even close. Many people today choose to express their opinion that the earth is flat. No matter how loudly or often they express that opinion, our spherical home will never flatten into a disc. The earth is, in fact, a spheroid. We reached that conclusion after years (okay, centuries) of scientific study and analysis, topped off with actual photographic evidence, and firsthand visual evidence as millions of flyers have circumnavigated the globe in airplanes and numerous astronauts have viewed it from space. The process to reach that conclusion required a plethora of evidence in physics and mathematics, thousands of hours of discussions, calculations, and presentations, hundreds of thousands of pages of written formulas and explanations. Today we refer to that process as peer reviewed science. We adhere to that process because we have found it to be extremely reliable.

In the January 21, 1980 edition of “Newsweek”, the esteemed science educator and prolific science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote a column titled “A Cult of Ignorance”.  He penned a rather poignant statement: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” Another jewel was “We have a new buzzword, too, for anyone who admires competence, knowledge, learning and skill, and who wishes to spread it around. People like that are called ‘elitists’.”  That was an excellent column that provided a much deserved slap in the collective face of Americans that was seemingly completely ignored. You can read the column here if you are interested.

Would you feel comfortable consulting a doctor who believes that disease is caused by evil spirits? Would you buy a house built by a carpenter who knew nothing of building science or structures? Would you feel safe standing in front of a judge who followed “sharia” law? Do you seek legal advice from the guy who cuts your grass? Would you eat in a restaurant that does not believe in sanitation protocols?  Most of us would answer “no” to each of the above without hesitation. Most of us believe that we should seek out experts in those fields. People who do not hold views we consider extremist or unprofessional.  You know: elitists.

We require doctors to have an advanced education in biology and physiology, internships (training in the field), and pass a certification test by a board of experts.  We require lawyers to have an advanced education in law and pass a certification test to determine their competency. We require engineers to have an advanced science and mathematics education, with studies specific to their area of expertise, and then they pass an exam administered by a board of experts. We have educational requirements for hair dressers and massage therapists and we have certifications for auto mechanics! We actually do understand the importance of education and experience. Yet, when the advice from the experts threatens beliefs or triggers fears, too many people decide that their uneducated, inexperienced opinion trumps the knowledge of the experts. Or they focus on the opinion of other non-experts, who are merely media mouthpieces, as if their celebrity somehow makes them credible experts.

When opinions are based on factual, verifiable knowledge, they carry weight and validity. When they carry weight and validity, they have value. When we assign value before determining their foundation in fact and knowledge, we create chaos, ignorance, bigotry, greed, and hatred. Much like we witness in the world today. Not all opinions are to be respected because not all opinions are based on fact.

I avoid discussions on many topics. For example, automobiles.  I understand the mechanics and science of how they work, but I am not a “car guy”. I do not know the details, the differences, the various specifications, how to rebuild or really repair them. And there are many topics like that. If I need a mechanic, I try to seek out an expert, and then I have to trust that they actually know what they are doing and will not take advantage of my ignorance.  We know that sometimes that bond of trust of broken, but most often it is not.

I believe we each have a moral obligation to ourselves, and to society as a whole, to challenge our opinions. To improve our understanding of science, of history, of the ethical rules we live by. We cannot, and should not, be involved in, nor allow others to be involved in, determining policies, rules, and regulations, that govern our lives, when their opinions on an important subject diverge from fact.

So, yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not all opinions are equal, nor do all opinions deserve respect. Nor should they. And I am okay with that. Of course, this is just my opinion….

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JR Wolfe

A guy, his blog, and his vision of the future....

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