Not All Opinions Are Equal

Credit: Amnesty International

Credit: Amnesty International

There, I said it. Of course, this itself is an opinion. But give me the honor of a clarification first, and then we can debate the premise of my argument.

While it may be ethical to treat all people equally, provide equal access to resources, equal responsibility under the law, and equal opportunity to basic human rights (which are all debatable concepts, I know), people’s behavior, ideas, and attitudes are not in an of themselves equal. For example:

I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-life.

These are not equal sentiments, even if they are held in equal strength of passion by the individuals espousing each one. Yes, they are opposed, but the definitions of each of these stances makes them unequal to each other. One opinion allows for women to make their own choices with regard to their health and their lives. The other opinion holds that because life begins at some point before one’s birth, that women do not have the prerogative to make any “choices” once they become pregnant, and sometimes it means that women should not have the prerogative even to prevent unwanted pregnancy itself. Thus the effect of these opinions is to approve or denounce specific rights for women.

To pretend that all opinions are equal, or to favor its more tactful cousin, the “At least we can continue the conversation,” is to ignore the effect of public opinion and genuinely held beliefs. In other words, insisting that everyone is entitled to their opinions means that we have no way to understand or think through the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland or the refusal of a hospital in El Salvador to grant a termination when the fetus has died, because it may usher in abortion rights in the country that currently prohibits them. We don’t hold opinions, after all, because we don’t have an investment in practicing them. We take our opinions out into the world and we push for them, we make policy, we decide how to vote using them as our frame for selection. We implement our ideas.

It goes the same for all opposed ideas that center on banning something or removing a ban. Same-sex marriage. Covering trans-related health care, or letting trans people use the restroom that comports with their gender identity. Evolution should be taught or not taught in school. Believing that people in poverty are necessarily lazy and undeserving of any support. All of these opinions close down the possibility that there can be another perspective, because all of these opinions are predicated on another assumption—that “my” opinion is the only “correct” opinion.

The problem here is that becoming so invested in one’s opinion—such that there is no room for change, either forward or via a doubling back—is that it pressures the facts of any given situation out of the room. To use the example of reproductive rights again, claiming an anti-choice stance is used as the basis for a new wave of abortion restrictions across the United States. None of these proposed bills or passed laws mentions that the availability of safe, legal abortion has no effect on the number of pregnancies conceived each year. None focus on the high rate of miscarriage, the improved outcomes for women who have access to abortion, the lower morbidity and mortality of women, and so on. Because if facts and scientific data were truly valued in the conversation, there would at least be an attempt to explain these data as part of the lawmaking. Instead simply having the opinion “I’m pro-life” is justification enough to write any kind of abortion-curtailling language the lawmaker (or the lobbyist) wants to write.

This is why I am suspicious of people who insist on “continuing the conversation” or on being “entitled to their opinion.” This is why I prefer thoughtful study of a political position or opinion. Because if we’re willing to base our beliefs on weak evidence, then we have no argument against the individual who insists the planet is flat because the street he walks on is flat. The “opinion” that vaccinations cause autism in children has been thoroughly debunked, the so-called scientist who purported the theory revoked of his license, and still it floats around the Internet as some kind of “alternative” to vaccination, which has saved millions of lives around the globe from diseases that are no longer the menaces they once were. And because enough people now choose not to “believe” in vaccines, my entire family was quarantined with whooping cough last September—and we had been vaccinated! (Which meant that we had a more mild form of the disease, even if we could still communicate it to others.) Paying attention to evidence would have, in our tiny local moment, made a big difference to us on Emile’s second birthday.

No, opinions are not equal. People are, or at least, they ought to be. Equality is the basis of my ethics, not unsupported opinions. The next time someone declares that all opinions are equal to each other, you tell them I disagree.

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Categories: LGBT Civil Rights, ponderings

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3 Comments on “Not All Opinions Are Equal”

  1. January 13, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Really interesting perspective, Ev. It’s hard for me to play Devil’s advocate here, because we hold the same philosophies when it comes to human rights. Perhaps seeing opinions as “equal” or “unequal” isn’t the way I’d phrase it, because as far as opinions themselves go, I can’t say one opinion itself is unequal to mine, even if I vehemently disagree with it. It’s like judgments, we all have them, every day, and they’re just judgements. But opinions (or judgements) that lead to actions that infringe on other people’s rights and freedoms and happiness and livelihoods and safety, that’s where the issue is for me. I don’t know… maybe I’d just call them harmful opinions?

    • evmaroon
      January 13, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

      Agreed…there are probably other, more useful ways to frame the discussion, and I’m open to that. In part this post was responding to some angry Twitter comments I received in light of the whole Duck Dynasty debacle, in which several people told me that I was “anti-equality” for saying that I didn’t agree that this was an issue of Phil Robertson’s “free speech,” and that I should be willing to “continue the discussion.” So I was looking to debunk their thought process but maybe it loses its power after that kind of exercise.

      • January 14, 2014 at 10:09 am #

        I think it’s a great discussion, because where and how DO we draw the line? I used to run a literary arts centre and before each open reading (or teen slam, which we used to run), we would state that we were open to free speech, but not hate speech.

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