There’s a very odd thing that sometimes happens in conversations. Some people think certain conversations shouldn’t take place at all, and resort to a variety of circumlocutions and thought-terminating clichés to try to shut it down. Perhaps the oddest of this is invoking the fictional “right to an opinion.”
A fairly subtle deception lies at the heart of this refrain, which merits teasing apart.
The “right to an opinion” crowd consists of people who identify strongly with their opinions. They don’t see their opinions as something they have or something they think, but something they are. With that in mind, them changing their minds is tantamount to them becoming different people altogether, and they fear it. They may fear becoming unmoored in their own social milieu, increasingly odd and eventually ostracized by their peers, or they may fear being physically or legally mistreated for having this new opinion, or they may fear simply no longer understanding their place in the world, but either way, they are terrified of what it means for them to be convinced of something different.
That means these people protest, loudly, on pain of their own psychic dissolution, whenever something threatens to make the anchors of their opinions less tight. This is not new information to be treasured for the improvement it represents in one’s picture of reality; it is a threat to the old picture, to be feared and fought. People with opinions that differ from theirs take on a monstrous cast in this mindset, inflated in power and danger until they think us, in no uncertain terms, magical.
The people who claim a “right to an opinion” as a defense in an argument think their opponents have mind-control powers. They think we have the power to reach into someone’s brain and reconfigure their thoughts to suit ours, regardless of their own feelings on the matter. They think it is possible to literally force someone to have a different opinion than they currently have, whether they wish to have a new opinion or not. And they fear that that’s what people who argue with them are doing.
From here come their corollaries about arguments “forcing” opinions on people. From here comes their too-common insistence that people are wrong to argue in proportion, not to any measure of truth they might have or claim, but to their loudness. From here comes South Park’s guiding ethos that the only real way to go wrong in politics is to care too much.
Remember this when you encounter one of these “right to an opinion” fools:
These people think that, when someone hears an argument and then changes their mind, that they didn’t weigh the evidence and find it persuasive or spot holes in their thinking and patch them. They think these people are the unfortunate victims of Wanda Maximoff’s hex, Charles Xavier’s telepathy, the Bewilderbeast’s alpha stare, or Malamar’s Psychic, to be feared and pitied, and they think it’s contagious.
If the link between ecumenical “live and let live” foolishness and the extreme right was previously opaque, let it be laid bare here. Talk of the “right to an opinion” is the demand that everyone else should participate in their own ongoing effort to shelter themselves and each other from opinions different from their own and from any impetus to think about the truth or falsehood of claims. It is a plain-faced “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, because I’m afraid you might be right,” disguised as high-minded principle that more sensible people might embrace.
The “right to an opinion” is a tool of the status quo that tries to shut down tension between viewpoints without resolving it. It is also magical thinking with nonsense premises designed to shelter people from the consequences of their own thoughts. Neither goal is laudable, and both should be opposed by anyone who cares about truth…or who views the current direction of the United States with appropriate fear.
That is my opinion, and I have no “right” to it, because that’s how words work.