I have no opinion about that

4 09 2011

Riddle me this how do we decide how much info/understanding should we have about a topic before we feel justified in having an opinion that is more than a gut hunch? —dmf

I once introduced myself to colleague as someone who “has lunch and opinions”, so I can’t say that it ever occurred to me that I needed to justify the having of an opinion. As far back as I can remember, I have had opinions about something or another, from the superiority of homemade jello pops over store-bought popsicles to the belief that swimming was the summer activity, to the obviousness that racism was stupid and girls were equal to boys, and on and on about cars and music and food and friendship and clothes and alcohol and sex and money and liberty and justice for all.

No, for me, the corker was justifying not having an opinion.

I do, in fact, now qualify my opinions in ways I didn’t when younger, and I do justify not having opinions about a whole range of topics, based on 1) lack of information and 2) lack of interest. “Don’t know/don’t care” is a pretty damned effective gate to conversations which would otherwise drive me off a cliff.

Still, I don’t regret my previous opinion libertinism, and I don’t begrudge anyone else their expressive needs. I learned a lot in spouting off, both in how to put together an argument and in prompting others to take issue with me. I hate hate hate to be wrong, but I hate even more the persistence of error. I could—and can—also be sloppy in my pronunciamentos, so getting smacked (or wanting to avoid getting smacked) for spilling too many words has forced me to steady my tongue.

(There’s the additional question of credentialism and the desire not to want to make a fool of oneself in front of one’s colleagues which may lead to a crippling reticence, i.e., in not challenging a majority view for fear that the mere expression of a minority opinion marks one as untrustworthy—but that’s a separate issue.)

Given my own history, then, I’m more likely to indulge than shut down opinionists, especially if they’re willing to go back and forth on an issue. Shooting the shit can be an highly enjoyable way of passing the time.

What I do narrow my eyes at are those who state their opinions as fact and who substitute their subjective experiences for objective certainty. That you have a right to an opinion doesn’t mean you have the right to trump all other opinions. Oh, and shouting doesn’t make you right. (*Full disclosure: I have shouted. More than once.)

So anyone can have any opinion about anything. If, however, you want that opinion to have any weight with anyone else, you gotta do the work—the (self-)education, the reflection, the reasoning—to convince them. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones got it right when she admonished: Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict.

Educate yourself. Quite so.