So I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I like to argue. Like, a lot. I love arguing; nothing is quite as much fun as a rousing debate with an intelligent opponent. Let’s talk about the nature of reality until the sun comes up. Sounds delicious.
As a person who likes to argue (but is also dumb) I have occasionally succumbed to the self-destructive habit of arguing on the internet. This is pretty stupid, for the most part, because nobody can express themselves particularly well and everybody ends up angry. I avoid this as much as possible, but on the rare times that I’ve let myself run wild, I have encountered my most hated of all arguing fallacies: the “opinion” dismissal.
The Opinion Dismissal goes like this: I am having an argument with someone on the internet (or anywhere), and after a few rounds of point-counterpoint, my esteemed opponent whips out the always-enraging debate-ender: “Well, that’s just your opinion.”
And then my head explodes.
I hate this tactic, and I am going to explain to you, in devastatingly specific detail, *why* this particular phrase turns me from rational, language-loving primate to screaming, poo-flinging primate in a matter of seconds.
1. Of course it is my opinion. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be arguing this.
2. The fact that it is my opinion does not immediately place it on even level to your opinion, because – shocker of shockers – opinions can be wrong.
Calling something “my opinion” as a dismissal is insulting. Despite what so many people seem to believe, my opinion can be better argued, more valuable and, dare I say it, more right (righter?) than yours. Alternatively, your opinion may certainly be superior to mine in every way, but you’ve got to make a case for it.
We live in a culture that has embraced subjectivity and multiplicity and I love these things, for the most part. When it comes to personal choices, desires and preferences, I would never be so insulting as to tell you what you like. But while personal preferences cannot be proven or disproven, the relative value of a thing – an object, an idea, a philosophy – absolutely can be argued, and objective arguments can be made. Basically, just because some things are subjective doesn’t mean everything is.
If you like cats more than dogs, then there is no objective argument to be had: the reality of you liking cats better exists in its own happy little bubble. Even if I think cats are dumb, I can’t argue that you are wrong. I can’t say: “No, you don’t like cats.” That’s dumb.
However, if you think cats are superior to dogs – objectively, and irrelevant of your preference for them – then we absolutely can argue about it and your opinion absolutely can be wrong. We would need to define superior – smarter? More loyal? Easier to train? More independent? Less likely to eat you after you die? – and then we would need to find some facts – number of people annual who are killed by cats vs. by dogs; relative intelligent testing, etc – and then we could have a rousing argument. We would form our opinions based on the truth as we knew it – as thoroughly and accurately as we could know it – and then we would have a real argument. At the end, one person would have made a better argument, and thus would be considered ‘right’.
If after this argument I still prefer whichever animal I have professed to like best, no problem. Preferences are made up of a myriad of factors and I’m not going to argue those. But you can’t throw up your hands in the middle of an argument and proclaim “that’s just your opinion” when my opinion is based on facts and logic. Well, you can, but it doesn’t mean you win; you just refuse to play.
All of this is not to say that my opinion is always right, either: I’m sure it is very often wrong. If I think that body building is a dumb sport – not for me, but for everybody – then you absolutely can have an argument with me where you point out that it is no “more dumb” then any other sport, that it takes the same level of dedication, that people enjoy it and it makes them happy and that all these things are the metrics by which we judge the value of a sport – and lo and behold, turns out my opinion is wrong. But you have to actually have, you know, points, or nothing gets accomplished.
I also hate “Well I disagree” as a phrase on its own, as if the fact that you disagree is – by itself – somehow relevant or important. There was one instance in my class a few years ago when we watched a documentary about Barbie and eating disorders: one of the students raised his hand and said, literally:
“Well, I don’t think it’s true that Barbie influences people to get eating disorders.”
I see. And why, oh wise Socrates, do you think this?
“I just don’t think that happens. I don’t think people are influenced by that so much. I don’t think it’s really true.”
Now, if the Universe was kind, my professor would’ve rolled her eyes, laughed derisively and said “Well, decades of research by actual professionals with real insight and years of training disagree with you, and since you just pulled your opinion out of some amorphous blob called “feelings”, it doesn’t count. Sit down.” Instead she nodded, looked a little sad, and said “That’s interesting” before changing the subject.
It’s not interesting! It’s wrong. And even if he is right – if, it turns out, Barbie has absolutely no affect on our self-esteem, despite the studies that demonstrate otherwise – then he needs to prove that. With facts, or a rational argument, or logic. Anything.
This culture that no one is ever wrong doesn’t teach people to think critically because they’ve never had to defend their thoughts or question the thoughts of others; everything is an opinion, and all opinions are valid.
I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. That’s just my opinion, though.