Your Opinion Isn't Just Incorrect; It's Wrong

Opinions are not valueless, empty objects, totally abstract and disconnected from meaningful implications. They have consequences.

Your opinion is not only incorrect, it’s probably also capital-W “Wrong” as in, Right vs. Wrong.

We have a cultural problem with opinions. It’s not that everyone has one; it’s that everyone believes theirs is as valid as the next, simply because they have one.

Opinions matter. They are important. Even bad ones — especially the bad ones, because of the potential damage they can do. I’m not just talking about what ice cream flavor you prefer. On the scale of harm that opinion can do, that’s far below “The Big Bang Theory is a progressive show” and light-years away from “black on black crime is a bigger problem than the militarization of police and the murder of unarmed black people.”

Few care and fewer are affected by what ice cream flavor you like most; black people die when you can’t see and admit the existence of systemic racism.

It’s important to realize that opinions reflect priorities, values, and world views. Opinions are not valueless, empty objects, totally abstract and disconnected from meaningful implications. They have consequences. Opinions may often address harmless subjective items (ice cream flavor, which superhero would win in a fight), but at least as often — maybe more often — they address the clearly objective, such as whether the Earth is billions of years old or only 6000, whether or not “stop and frisk” is effective, or whether or not vaccinating all children is safe and best for our society.

You can be verifiably wrong about these things.

Some may be thinking, “Well, it’s just my opinion and I’m allowed to have an opinion.” Yes. And everyone else is allowed to point out why it’s a bad opinion. This sort of defense tends to come from the same sort of people who feel that any criticism of their words is tantamount to a violation of their First Amendment rights. At least in their opinion it is. They’re wrong. It’s not. 

Every opinion you hold reflects some part of how you believe the world can and should work, which is something that can be wrong — again, not just incorrect, but Wrong.

So, for example, the opinion that "marriage should be between a man and a woman," is Wrong, because it prioritizes a certain restrictive definition of a social contract over the happiness, security, and well-being of millions of people and families. It possibly reflects that one values a sense of tradition over justice. It could also reveal a worldview that some people deserve access to more rights than others. 

Of course, many opinions are based on laughably little information or no information at all. An opinion based on how something makes a person feel tends to only reveal their prejudices or ignorance.

At best, the opinion is wrong, because the one holding it has not considered these implications. At worst, the opinion is Wrong because it comes directly from malice toward anyone who does not fit into oppressive cis/het/gender binaries and it contributes directly to the struggles of those people.

Maybe even more to the point, opinions don't come from nowhere. Opinions are statements based on information and information can be unreliable or downright false. So, "marriage should be between a man and a woman, because children are raised better by a man and a woman" is wrong because it's easy to demonstrate this idea isn't factual. Also, it assumes the primary purpose of all marriages is to produce offspring, ignores a wealth of information indicating that cis/het/gender binaries are social constructs and often harmful ones, and conveniently ignores that many children are raised well by single parents, a cohort of family members, or at certain times in history and/or in certain cultures, by entire communities. Many times over, this opinion is wrong.

Some may read that and think, “Well, that’s just your opinion.” First, yes. Obviously. I wrote this piece — the whole thing is my opinion. That statement is redundant to itself. Second, my opinion on marriage equality is not faith-based, nor is it based on glorification of the past or an irrational desire to defend tradition.

My opinion is based on verifiable information with reproducible results that indicate what actions would improve the lives of all people.

The other is saturated with problematic and oppressive thought. The two opinions are not equally informed or equally valid.

Of course, many opinions are based on laughably little information or no information at all. An opinion based on how something makes a person feel tends to only reveal their prejudices or ignorance. While that is telling of the individual's character, that opinion is not particularly useful or helpful in determining anything about the object that the opinion describes. In fact, the expression of such thoughts is often harmful, as they only serve to confirm the bias of other prejudiced or ignorant people. 

So, a man might express the opinion, “I feel like women just overreact to common ‘locker room talk’ and that proves they’re too emotional to hold public office.” That man has expressed nothing of worth. The opinion is a useless thought and a destructive, violent idea. It’s both incorrect and Wrong.

That is not to say feelings aren't valuable at all, but a white person's feelings about police brutality or a man’s opinion about workplace sexism shouldn’t be given validation and certainly not prioritized or centered (even when they support black people and women), as they are not remotely as informed or valuable as the feelings of those who have had a first-hand experience with this violence and regular contact with the communities that suffer most from them.

So there’s the problem, but what’s the solution?

Who knows … shut up more often? Listen more? Restructure the entire way we educate our children in public schools, to help young people learn how to think, rather than what to think? Get more comfortable with conflict day-to-day so we’re more likely to tell someone when their ideas are bad? Write more barely pointed think pieces about opinions and how everyone’s got one?

I honestly don’t know. I have taken time to figure out my opinions on the problem, but I haven’t started thinking about the solution yet. So I don’t have an opinion, but I’d say that’s better than having the wrong one.

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