Everyone is Not Entitled to an Opinion

During a momentary lapse of judgment, I listened to CNN yesterday and heard President Obama exclaim that Americans must be the “best-educated, highest-skilled workers in the world.”  This caused me to immediately think of Tatiana von Tauber’s post at Randazza’s Legal Satyricon.

Seems the international mind is interested in what’s really going on around the world – those issues which truly affect freedom, government and society.  America seems more interested in Annie Liebovitz, sex scandals of politicians and the Bible.  Once again, a firm reminder I’m not in Germany anymore. If I sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, will that change? Even the U.S. edition of CNN is very different than the international one I used to watch and since coming back to the states I find the news too Hollywood hyped for the kind of information I’m used to getting.

Strong words from someone with a last name like von Tauber, ridiculing American concerns, interests and, yes, ultimately intelligence.  Ah, how those Europeans so enjoy making fun of the average American, the very ones who our President says must be the “best educated” in the world if we are to complete.

Is Tatiana entitled to her opinion?  Exhibit 1, a British CNN segment:

They say that everyone is entitled to an opinion.  I’ve never subscribed to that belief.  In order to have an opinion, at least on a matter more significant than whether one prefers chocolate over vanilla, one has to have some basis for it.

Writing this blawg has been quite a learning experience for me.  The strength with which people hold opinions is quite remarkable, but the foundation upon which those opinions are built is sometimes so fundamentally lacking as to be deeply disturbing.  The part of the video that I found most troubling, most inexcusable, is that man who would appear to be in his 60s who lacked any knowledge about World War II.  Even if he lacked any education whatsoever, it seems impossible that he wouldn’t know how many World Wars we’ve endured.

These appear to be perfectly nice, normal, quite ordinary Americans.  No doubt each one believes they know what’s wrong with America, and what needs to be done to fix it.  No doubt each has an opinion.  These are the people that our President says must be the “best educated” in the world.  That’s going to require some heavy work. I wonder how many read newspapers, or even watch television news?  Do they read blogs?  Do they write comments telling others how wrong they are on subject of national importance?

I wonder how many of these people exercise the franchise?  Are they capable of assessing the best leadership for this country?

This doesn’t prove, as the voiceover suggests, that Americans are any worse than people anywhere else.  They may well be, but this segment offers neither context nor comparison, and is hardly scientific.  But we can’t forget that these are Americans, and we can’t assume that whoever we meet, befriend, work with, talk to, can name a country with a name beginning with “U”.  Keep this in mind when you read the comments here and elsewhere. The strength with which some expresses their opinion is not evidence that they are entitled to hold an opinion at all.

Tatiana has earned her opinion.  Most people who read SJ have earned theirs.  But not everyone.  And certainly not every American is entitled to an opinion.  Even if they appear to be perfectly nice, normal, quite ordinary Americans.

I do not believe that Americans are stupid.  But it’s unacceptable that many are so ignorant.

9 comments on “Everyone is Not Entitled to an Opinion

  1. Jonathan Hansen

    This is essentially the same argument that wells up in my mind when I hear the new-age psychobabble phrase “Everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s”. In some disciplines, there are in fact right and wrong answers, as you note. It also rankles my ass when someone proffers a specious argument so the less informed infer that the truth lies somewhere in the middle…

  2. SHG

    It also rankles my ass when someone proffers a specious argument so the less informed infer that the truth lies somewhere in the middle…

    Therein lies the danger, particularly in the media, in committee work, anywhere this argument is accepted whether because of psychobabble, fear of confrontation, whatever.  There are not always two sides to a story.  Everyone is not entitled to an opinion.  Consensus rarely arrives at the best option.  Yet we’ve become a society so beloved of these notions that they have become irrefutable, much to our detriment. 

  3. A.S.

    So what is your opinion on the right to trial by jury? Do you think the European system of bench trials is preferable?

  4. SHG

    I assume that you’re not really asking a question, since it has nothing to do with the post, but trying to sucker me into responding to your question with an opinion on a topic about which I lack sufficient information to justify having an opinion.  Never having tried a case in Europe, I wouldn’t know, though I have observed and am aware of how bench trials function in some European countris.  But that said, I’ve offered opinions on the right to trial by jury here, a subject about which I know a bit.  If you would like to see my views, feel free to search SJ.  Otherwise, nice try.  I think it’s fair game to test me to see whether I’m a hypocrite.

  5. Joel Rosenberg

    I dunno. I’m tribal enough to have minimal patience with sneers at my countrymen — either country; they sneer at Canada, too — coming from a bunch of boobs at the Beeb. There’s two things I can’t stand: bigotry and Brits.

    That said, I always liked Harlan Ellison’s formulation, roughly: “everybody is entitled to his own opinion; nobody is entitled to his own facts.”

    Hanging around with some of my crowd, you gotta be on your game if you’re going to put forward an opinion. At any moment, you might hear something to the effect of, “And what, precisely, is the factual and/or inferential basis for that opinion?” And then you better bring your A-game.

    Just to put a little more fairness — you already put a lot — in the critique of the piece: there are people whose minds go into vapor lock when a microphone goes live or a camera gets pointed at them, or other kinds of stress. I’m reminded of the (perhaps apocryphal) story of the woman on the stand having difficulty, on cross, remembering the name of her brother-in-law, and turning to him, in panic, and saying, “for God’s sake, Bob, tell me what your name is.”

  6. SHG

    Ellison’s formulation is cute, but I still disagree.  There are no facts behind many opinions, yet that doesn’t trouble the opionator at all.  In fact, they shrug and say, “so what, I’m entitled to my opinion” as if it’s the end in itself.  Or perhaps a right.  It’s not, but that was my point in the first place.

  7. John Burgess

    Nice post!

    There is nothing more odious, though, than to see Americans living abroad–particularly in Europe, but elsewhere, too–pick up the local anti-Americanisms to blend in and seem cool to the crew.

    Opinions unsupported by fact are less than worthless. As JH pointed out at 3:17, they can be dangerous. They also obscure valid argument, confuse others, and often try to win arguments through so-called wit (or, in the case of Brits, ‘irony’, which Americans supposedly don’t ‘get’).

    For many in Europe, a sneer is at least as good as a rational argument.

  8. jdog

    “All rules have exceptions. Including this one.” Douglas Hofstader

    “If Hofstader didn’t actually say that, he should have.” Jdog

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