All opinions are not equal.
You are free to have your opinion, yes. But the validity of your opinion – and whether or not your opinion should carry any importance to others – should depend on whether it’s an informed opinion or not.
So what’s an informed opinion? If you can justify your opinion with evidence or facts, then it’s an informed opinion – whether or not we come to the same conclusion from those facts.
If you cannot justify your opinion, or provide any evidence, then it’s an uninformed opinion. And you’re welcome to it, but I can dismiss it as per Hitchen’s razor.
“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”
~ Christopher Hitchens
Debate structure can be classified into a few large categories; classical (which includes deductive and inductive, among others), Toulmin (focusing on providing proof), and Rogerian (conciliatory argument). For a really great explanation of each type of argument check out this piece in Medium. What I find interesting here is that underlying these debate structures is the logic that underlies it.
Classical forms of debate typically rely on the following forms of logic;
- Inductive – drawing conclusions from a series of observations or facts
- Deductive – drawing conclusions from a premise
- Causal – drawing causation out of a perceived relationship
- Analogic – drawing an analogy between two things
The thing is, most of these logical constructs fall apart in specific conditions. Inductive logic is the strongest form, and is typically used in science, but it can lead to fallacious conclusions based on the observations you’re making. Just because you’ve only seen white swans does not mean that all swans are white. Deductive logic is only as effective as the validity of the premise itself – so if you base your premise on something that’s wrong, or not fully true, your argument falls apart. For example, deductive logic would tell us that since all humans are mammals, and all cats are mammals, that all humans are cats – but this is not true, unless of course you’re into kitty CosPlay. Causal logic is notoriously bad – just because the rooster crows at sunrise, does not mean that his song causes the sun to rise. Though my superstitious grandma would tell you differently. And logic by analogy is often subject to false analogy – just because two things are similar in one respect does not mean they are similar in reality.
Because of the limitations of the different kinds of logic, debate would typically be structured around the Toulmin argument, which simply put goes like “I state this, I provide evidence.” But at some point, our debate structure on new media has shifted to “I state this, you provide evidence against it.” I mean how many times have you come across people telling you to “do your research” when you disagree with them? Why is it my responsibility to prove your opinion invalid? Shouldn’t you be responsible for showing me how your opinion is valid? Strangely, putting the responsibility for dis-proof on someone else has become the norm.
The result of this way of thinking is that people feel that their opinions are justified, without doing the necessary step of introspection – asking yourself what that opinion is based on. Or the research to back up your claims. And not merely on Google, but research into peer reviewed or verifiable sources. There are lots of resources available to help you find a trustworthy or credible source, so why not use them?
We need to break away from this new norm so we don’t just further entrench our beliefs. Ask yourself why you believe a thing, and maybe consider other information. It’s even okay to change your mind if you find evidence that you should.