A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
One of the most enduring myths of our time is “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.” People tend to believe this because it’s been repeated so many times and it kinda sounds good. It’s sort of like saying we’re all in this together or some other such egalitarian nonsense. Unfortunately, regardless of how many times you say it, it’s still a myth. In fact, it’s an out-and-out lie. In reality, “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion” is just the Happy Face version of the end of the argument when everybody wants to change the subject but nobody knows how. Essentially, it’s cocktail party code for “You’re a jerk, but I’m tired.” The problem is that tons of people think it’s actually true. They believe that everybody’s two-bit opinion (mostly their own) can share the stage with everybody else’s. They’re the folks we know who are constantly traveling on the Stupid Train and then telling the rest of us all about the journey. This kind of thinking has caused no end of problems in our society. So, for everybody’s benefit, let’s just take a moment to shoot this myth in the head and bury it in the backyard.
The whole thing started when somebody who wasn’t all that bright, got confused. He made the mistake of thinking equal rights actually meant “equal.” This is another myth for another time, but here’s the Twitter version. Alex Ovechkin is a better hockey player than I am; therefore, we are not equals. Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney is a better writer than I am; therefore, we are not equals. (This goes on and on but you get the idea.) We have equal rights, equal opportunity, equal everything else — but we are not actually equal. Opinions work the same way. Seamus Heaney might have an opinion about the “left wing lock” in hockey, but quite frankly, I’d go with Ovechkin on that one. Heaney is a pretty smart guy but his opinion about hockey is useless. In any hypothetical conversation with me or Alex Ovechkin, he’s not entitled to an opinion because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s that simple.
All kinds of people think they are entitled to an opinion when they don’t know anything about a situation. For example, if your toilet is plugged, you don’t call your lawyer and ask her for advice. She’ll probably tell you to sue American Standard (which isn’t going to do you very much good in the short term.) In this situation, you want the opinion of a plumber. Your lawyer, no matter how exceptional she might be at wills, contracts or business law, is not entitled to render an opinion about your plumbing. In fact, if she did she’d have to sue herself for negligence — on your behalf — and just think how much money that’s going to cost you. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people out there who offer their opinions on subjects they know nothing about and then proudly defend themselves because they think they’re entitled to them. And that’s not all.
There’s a misunderstanding these days that if you work or play in an industry, you have some kind of all-purpose, intuitive expertise. For instance, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard doctors yakking on about our medical system (both for and against.) Are you kidding me? That’s like the guy who makes your latte at Starbucks telling you how to run a coffee plantation. “Hey! Dr. Do Little! Just exactly when in med school did they teach you construction cost analysis and labour relations?” If I want my appendix out, I’m going to see a doctor. If I want to build a hospital, I’m going to go to a construction company. The plain fact is that — unless you can back your opinion up with cold, hard evidence — you’re not entitled to it. I don’t care if you’re a doctor, a lawyer or a Knight of the Round Table.
Here’s what I mean. It is my opinion that penguins are green. Everybody knows that the only people who can actually say this are allegorical artists and people who have just eaten most of their crayons. I offer no evidence to support my claim. I’m not a zoologist. I don’t live in Antarctica. I’ve only seen black and white penguins a couple of times. But it’s my opinion that penguins are green. Why — under any circumstances known to me, man or penguin — am I entitled to this opinion? Just because? What rational, reasonable (Hell — unreasonable) argument can anybody put forth to support this as a valid opinion, deserving consideration?
Nobody distinguishes between opinion and informed opinion anymore. The greatest minds of our time are being lumped in with rock stars and actresses. I’m not saying celebrities are stupid, but honestly, the ability to cry on cue isn’t the kind of talent we should be looking for to drive our decision-making. There are a whole pile of people wandering around labouring under the misconception that if Ted down the street comes up with some homemade theory of economic development, it’s just as good as the experts’ at the University of Chicago. It’s not. We need to get nasty and tell these folks they’re sucking pond water. And while we’re at it, we might want to tell some of the Teds of this world to “Sit down and shut up!”
Of course, all this is just my opinion.