Are Opinions Being Criminalized?
Opinions Are Being Subjugated to Scrutiny. . .
If I have one pet peeve in life, it's that opinions are being deliberately suppressed by society. The opinion has been demonized and is a taboo subject amongst the common folk. I would go on to say we're being conditioned to accept opinions as uneducated at best, and evil at worse. Due to such conditioning, an opinionated person is often seen as uneducated, a jerk, evil, etc.
I, being a strong opinionated person, have seen the reactions first hand. People will go out of their way to scoff at anyone who dares to have their own opinion outside of the people that the media has blessed as being worthy of having an opinion. Casual conversations can quickly turn sour if someone has an opinion over any subject matter of relevance or importance. It's for this reason I believe we always prefer to talk about irrelevant subject matter in our casual conversations. Having a different opinion on an episode of Jersey Shore is sadly soon becoming the only way to actually have an opinion and still keep your friends or acquaintances. As a result, due to the rightful fear people have of an opinion coming under scrutiny, democracy suffers.
How exactly are opinions coming under scrutiny? I have noticed opinions coming under scrutiny in the casual conversations I have with people, especially of people from my own generation. Usually, the situation goes something like the following: A pile of people aged 25 to 35 (my age group) get together and engage in a conversation. The conversation of course begins about a flaky subject matter that can quickly turn boring. Then, a poor brave soul actually has the audacity to say his or her opinion on an interesting subject matter. Immediately, the flock of sheep turns towards the direction of that person and hands him/her what I call "the starry eyes of death." Their body language says it all, "how dare you have an opinion on an important subject matter?!"
At this point, if the person is not immediately intimidated and thusly silenced, the opinionated person will then subsequently be exposed to numerous rounds of petty questioning that loosely resemble that of an interrogation. From personal experience, I can tell you this is where you fall under unbearable scrutiny. Here is a list of all the scrutiny techniques, I have experienced personally; that have been used to stifle my own opinions:
I'm a Lawyer: Where's Your Perfect Evidence?
People will immediately ask for proof and evidence of some sort. Now on the surface, this seems like a perfectly reasonable request, but please allows us to consider the circumstances. We're not in a court room; I should be allowed to say an opinion without having evidence beyond all reasonable doubt. This is just friends and or acquaintances having a conversation. Even if I did have evidence, do you think I have it on hand? Most of the times when I converse with people all I have are a few dollars in my pocket, my keys, and the clothes on my back. I don't exactly plan on bringing documents with me and say, "geez, I'm going to nail this group of people with my opinion and dazzle them with my evidence!" Besides, how many people do you know who demand evidence would actually take the time to read the documents? Not too many. The "where's your evidence?” crowd are most often pseudo-intellectuals who want an opinion to be suppressed because they're too lazy to engage the opinion properly.
I'm a Follower: Where's Your Idol?
A second method an opinion may come under close scrutiny during a casual conversation is when people demand immediate citations backing up the opinion. Again, this could fall under the desire to find evidence, but in many ways it's much worse. At least with the evidence crowd, they're possibly giving you the opportunity to develop your own evidence. People who think along the "hand me citations" path believe that an opinion is only valid when blessed by a certain "human idol." Such people can't even grant you the basic freedom of being original, because basically they're saying you can only have an opinion if someone else came up with a like minded opinion before you. How preposterous!
I'm a "Credentialist": Where's Your Degree?
A third method that is used to suppress opinions come from people who advocate what I call “credentialism”. Such people adamantly believe that only a holder of a credential in a given field should have any opinions on that field. I'll take for example a casual conversation I had with a friend were I handed the opinion that the people of Japan were not properly fore warned of the potential disasters that could erupt from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. His response was that because I don't have a degree in nuclear physics, I shouldn't speak of this subject matter. In vain, I tried to grant my friend the freedom to speak his own mind on the nuclear disaster, but he couldn't even free himself from the prison bars of credentialism. He told me he wouldn't speak of it because he's not qualified to say a word of it.
The irony of credentialism being used to suppress opinions in this manner is it's honestly the worse belief a person can have if they truly wish to be educated. They're narrowing themselves to only talking about the specifics of their own field, and essentially developing a very narrow mind set and view of the world. They're incapable of seeing the big picture. This stifles creativity.
I'm Politically Correct: Opinions are Offensive!
A fourth method that people suppress opinions is by being a "politically correct police." If you have a certain opinion of a certain group of people, they will be the first to shout out bloody murder because that's "generalizing," thus it's politically incorrect and evil. What makes the situation extremely frustrating, is they're smart enough to understand what you meant by the opinion, they're merely attempting to drown the opinion in political correct terminologies. Of course not 100% of one group does x or y. When people say group A does x or y, we know what they meant to say is the majority of group A does x or y. These people are just being stubbornly redundant and petty in the name of political correctness. Please, when engaged in a casual conversation, I shouldn't have to constantly bite my tongue and throw in so many filler words such as "the majority," "most," “in most cases,” “there’s a difference between insert obvious X and insert obvious Y. . .”, etc; just to satisfy the off chance someone amongst the group is a politically correct police officer. Again, we're not in a court room, so please lighten up!
I will go on to say that if people have a problem with being stereotyped for being in a certain group, there's a simple solution to that problem, and that’s to leave the group. Seriously, stereotypes are not necessarily a bad thing. Without stereotypes, groups and clubs wouldn't even exist. When you apply for membership to a certain club, they have a mandate of terms and conditions in which they deliberately stereotype themselves as different from other clubs/groups. When you sign that contract either verbally or in writing, you're acknowledging you'll be subjugated to the stereotypes of that given group. With membership comes privilege, but there's also the potential for backlash. Nothing comes without a cost. You can't have your cake and eat it too. You can't expect to deal with only the wonderful opinions of your club, while ignoring the bad. I will go on to say that stereotypes of a certain group are perfectly fine if the individual is left to choice in joining the group. Now stereotyping a group when the individual has no choice, such as their skin colour, is obviously wrong.
Where does the War on Opinions Originate?
The suppression of opinions is a learned and conditioned behaviour that starts from grade school and continues well into college (if you decide to venture that far). It's not a conspiracy by any means; it's merely an inadvertently committed crime by dubiously well meaning and protectionist "adults". When you start school, the assumption is that you're "young and stupid," and therefore need guidance and protection. From there, a crafty curriculum develops that over time will condition people to suppress opinions and subsequently freedom of speech. I could create another three articles explaining this process, but here's the general outline:
- You're young and stupid, therefore you need to gather up evidence/research beyond reasonable doubt for anything you say/write, because you're simply too inexperienced to be trustworthy. If you can't find undisputable evidence, then that subject matter is too complicated for you, leave it to the "grown-ups" to dispute.
- You're young and stupid, therefore you must back up/cite any opinion you have from a "wiser older" before it can be taken seriously.
- You're young and stupid, you're not qualified to talk, write, or read about anything other than young, stupid, and trivial things. We'll give you "busy work" that doesn't matter to people, therefore it doesn't matter whether you're seen as qualified or not doing it, because the work simply doesn't matter. When you get a degree in X, you'll finally have your turn to speak about X, but only X and not Y.
- You're young and stupid, and therefore not emotionally stable enough to handle opinions that could potentially be controversial, from either teachers or other kids. Therefore we'll create what we call a "political correctness" mandate that will police the crowd so hopefully nobody can get offended.
- In the name of "pursuing higher education," we'll extend the "young and stupid" sentencing from age 16 to age 18, from age 18 to age 21, now it's from age 21 to age 25, and we're currently looking at extending it all the way to age 30. Yes, by age 30, you're still too stupid to heaven forbid have an opinion!
How to Handle Opinions Properly
In the name of democracy, I'm going to tell people once and for all how to handle opinions properly, seeing that they couldn't teach you how to do so in school. In fact, what they taught you in school most likely harmed your mental capacity to handle opinions.
The first rule of thumb is to change your mind set regarding opinions. Opinions are not evil or simply an uneducated rant. Yes, some opinions could be classified as truly evil or uneducated rants, but that is few and far between. Instead, choose to view opinions as an opportunity to learn from people. Schools unfairly discriminate against extroverts, yet this is how extroverts learn, from opinions of other people. How?
When someone states an opinion and you know bits and pieces about the subject matter, it's important then and there that you speak up and say what you know. While it may seem insignificant to you, when combined with some of what the person stating the opinion already knows, who knows where it could lead? What I'm getting at here is that opinions are necessary for creativity. To suppress opinions is to suppress the creative human process. Ancient Greece was built on a pile of "uneducated people" coming together and stating their opinions on literally everything imaginable. Nobody is unqualified to say their piece on a given subject matter. I love it when other people say their opinions! All the different perspectives fuels my creative juices and I learn so much.
If you know absolutely nothing about the subject matter and don't feel comfortable saying your own opinion, then simply say so. There's no shame in admitting you don't know everything. At this point you can either listen attentively to the opinion and ask a few constructive questions, or talk about a different subject. Don't attack the person with all the scrutiny techniques I listed above because you feel uncomfortable with the subject being discussed.
Opinions are just that; opinions. Stop getting your panties in a knot and treating them like facts. All facts derived on this Earth originally came from opinions. Without opinions, there would be none of those precious facts you harp about. If you feel compelled to find/see evidence of an opinion, then research the area yourself and draw your own conclusions. From there, you can find out if there's any validity to the said opinion. This is what makes opinions such a powerful educational tool. However, if you just shoot down whomever makes an opinion because they're not producing recycled documents out of their butt, you may be neglecting the opportunity to learn something valuable. Just passively learning all that you can isn't enough, nobody has the time; you often have to know where to look. Opinions are a big help in this regard.
Just because you can't find testimony from "an expert" that matches the opinion, doesn't make the opinion false. You must keep an open mind. From this point, you need to decide whether there's merit to the original opinion. If you agree with the opinion, that's great, maybe you can brainstorm a few ideas with the person who originally made the opinion? If you disagree with the opinion, that's your choice, but don't assume the opinion is blatantly false when you haven't found any evidence. Finding no evidence merely means it's an unproven opinion that you happen to disagree with; that doesn't make the opinion false or evil. Unproven opinions have great value and need to be respected; as this represents an area mankind could potentially expand his knowledge.
Last but not least, don't sacrifice opinions for the sake of coming across as polite. Learn to prioritize; an opinion is potentially far more valuable than any please or thank you any day. I'm not saying to be a jerk, but if you feel your opinions are being suppressed because you're too afraid you might hurt a few feelings, I don't think it's worth it.
You're Worth Having an Opinion
You're worth having an opinion. A healthy democracy depends on the people believing they're capable and intelligent enough to formulate their own opinions. A world without opinions stifles creativity and democracy. A world where you can only have an opinion in your own field narrows your mind till the point you have no peripheral vision, causing violent, unfortunate, and unnecessary accidents.
Please, for the sake of our now decaying democracy, see yourself as worthy of having an opinion. Your lack of self-worth is essentially bringing down the entire ship. You were "young and stupid" to believe the schools when they told you were "young and stupid," but you don't have to morph into the much worse alternative: old and stupid.
-Donovan D. Westhaver