To have an opinion seems so natural that it becomes easy to believe that it’s an inalienable right of being human. However, we have other instinctive traits that, as a collective, agreed should be either illegal or socially shunned; therefore, the argument of naturality or instinctiveness is not a valid argument, thus having opinions should not be immune from the possibility of being revoked.
Why should no one be entitled to their opinions? Like many of our other innate traits, they were applicable in a context that no longer exists in our society. For example, sociopathy is often believed to be a useful trait for kings. We can mostly agree that such a trait is no longer desirable in our leaders; and while sociopaths can still thrive in leadership positions (eg. as CEOs), a large majority of sociopaths will never see positions like that, thus they need to embody their sociopathic qualities through other means (often with really negative results). I think that given the negative consequences of sociopathy outwaying the positives, we can all easily agree that sociopathy is undesirable.
Opinions once had a purpose; though the original form of opinions wasn’t what we think of them now, the original form of opinions was truth. Consider how we once treated stories; we were incapable of comprehending an idea such as “fiction”. To us, truth was innate and the alternative was not only impossible, it was non-existent. This blind acceptance of reality was important for fledgeling societies where total acceptance of what was told to them was necessary in ensuring the proper function of said society.
As our societies grew, force-multipliers rewarded us with leisure time and with leisure came philosophy and science (enlightenment). Philosophy introduced the idea of myth, that not all stories told were real, through its innate questioning of reality. Science exposed what we thought were truths as lies and introduced a whole realm of unknown. Faced with this reality, we instinctively reacted in a way where we perpetuated this idea of “truth” pre-enlightenment, however, we could no longer call it truth, thus the idea of “opinion” was born.
Opinions embody the rejection of reasoning and truth. In past societies where the majority of its participants were not yet enlightened, opinions were tolerated as a necessity to allow the society to continue functioning properly (recall the earlier notion of blind faith). However, with the advent of the internet, I believe that we’re at another precipice similar to the age of enlightenment; it is time to abandon the crutch of opinions.
Opinions, nowadays, is used as a weapon. “I am entitled to my opinion”, “Agree to disagree”, all of these phrases are used to effectively say: “regardless of what you say or will say, I will blindly reject your ideas”. You can’t have a reasonable discourse of ideas if the idea that all other ideas can be rejected without cause is a valid idea. What value do we get out of trying to solve a societal problem when all of the discourse that takes place can be invalidated by a singular “agree to disagree”?
But, this feels wrong. If opinions are not allowed, then are we saying that we are prevented from expressing ideas that are innately opinions? Can I no longer wax poetic about how much I love pies? I’m not suggesting that we outright ban opinions, rather, like how our perception of the truthfulness of stories had to change, we must alter how we transmit and perceive opinions.
Currently, how do we usually state an opinion? It is often stated without context or qualifiers, thus, to majority of people, it would sound like it’s a fact. This is a common problem in the world of science where subjective interpretations of empirical data is reported as fact. The problem is exacerbated when media outlets report on this statement, applying even more false-authority to the credibility of the statement.
So here we have a situation where the original statement is intended to be an assertion of an opinion, yet through the way it was transmitted, it is interpreted as a statement of objective truth. Who should be responsible for this transmission of misrepresented truth? I assert that the responsibility lies on both parties.
When we speak, we should make clear our intended meaning, we should never be vague. That may mean that when we want to state an opinion, we should use qualifiers such as: “It’s my opinion that…”. And when we state something that is seemingly factual but the truthfulness of the statement isn’t clear, we should qualify with how it’s unclear (eg. “I’m not 100% sure, but based on what I’ve read…”).
When we listen, we should ask for clarification if what is being said is unclear. It’s possible that the speaker is not aware of their own vagueness of their assertions, so we must give them the benefit of the doubt and ask for clarification rather than accusing them of purposefully being vague.
So how can this apply to oft used phrases: “I am entitled to my opinion”, “Agree to disagree”? Neither of those phrases are objectively true, so what should be said instead are “It’s my opinion that I am entitled to my opinion”, and “Let’s agree to disagree”.
If we’re debating whether a person is entitled to their own opinion, we can simply say no. Using their own logic, we can have the opinion that they are not entitled to their own opinion, therefore, cancelling out their opinion. It’s a conversational net-zero. If that is what they want to settle on, then why even speak in the first place?
And for the later statement, the speaker is asking the listener for a compromise to agree to disagree, which the listener can (and should) always turn down. Why would the speaker ask that we agree to disagree? This should only the be the case if the speaker has something to lose by admitting that they were wrong. Perhaps it is because they are personally invested in their opinion? If they want to convince us that their statement is true, it’s on them to provide the proof. By being complicit in agreeing to disagree, we are implicitly saying that their opinion is as valid as truth itself.
At the end of the day, people are free to state opinions, but these statements would have to be littered with appropriate qualifiers to make it explicitly clear that their statements are purely opinions that it’ll be borderline silly to have such opinions. And that’s a good enough first step.