Recently, John and I participated in a tri-partisan debate wherein we debated our view of libertarian philosophy with two other political clubs, the Young Democrats and the College Republicans. We talked about this and we talked about that (perhaps we’ll even post a blog or two about our feelings about the debate itself), but it wasn’t until after the debate that the heat (due mostly to the increasing level of ignorance) got really turned up.
One of the debaters, who I’m sure is an otherwise decent person, came up to me after the debate and tried to make the magnanimous gesture of shaking my hand and something-something about “respecting me.” It should be noted that this gesture was done only in the presence of others and never while either of us was alone, but I digress. I retorted back that I didn’t respect his opinions at all. I am sure that he took it as an affront to his character and realizing my curtness I tried to explain that I found his opinions on many things to be fundamentally flawed, and since they were incorrect, not deserving of respect.
He then said something like “well that’s just your opinion,” which we should recognize as one of the weakest forms of reasoning that can ever be undertaken, claiming that even if you don’t agree with something you should still respect the person proclaiming the idea. I, quite hardily, disagreed, holding that we should not respect the incorrect opinions of others as they cause unnecessary harm.
He returned the volley as “Ideas don’t hurt people, actions do.” Now, I can see why one might like to hide behind this sort of reasoning, but this is almost patently absurd. It’s absurd in that it proposes that ideas and actions are two separate and distinct sorts of things, as if one were somehow independent of the other. Without getting into the nuanced relationship between how ideas influence actions, actions influence ideas, ideas influencing themselves and so forth, it still stands as obvious that there is at least some sort of causal relationship involved. If I think it giving a candy bar to every person on my college campus will lead directly to my eternal happiness, then is it really any sort of leap to predict that I would probably give out candy bars? Similarly if someone feels that increasing the well-being of everyone (especially those who are perhaps unable to increase their well-being themselves), their support of welfare (for instance) can be explained quite easily.
It’s almost embarrassing that I have to tell someone who has made it through college but here it goes: ideas are causally connected to actions. Since this is true, and since certain actions can be wrong (killing or raping a child for instance), then the motivations behind those actions can also be wrong. If I think beating my disobedient child is right, then I am wrong. This is because what I believe can be wrong. It isn’t “true for me” or “just my opinion,” it is most certainly wrong.
To quote my recent Sagebrush article: “The idea that something could be “true for me” as a matter of opinion is one of the single most flawed principles of belief that has ever existed. It entails that no truths exist about the world that are unalterable by a single human mind.
Let me be clear about what I am refuting here.
I am not saying that there are no subjective truths (for instance, my hunger is an actual case of a truth that is relevant only for me.)
But I am claiming that anyone who would contend that our perceptions of the world are unimpeachable simply because they are opinions is completely and unequivocally wrong.
There are true and false opinions.
This may come as quite a shock to some who have come to believe that all ideas and opinions are equally worth respecting.
If I believe that the moon does not exist, that it is merely an optical illusion caused by light from the sun bouncing in a certain way, I would be wrong. The moon is there whether or not any of us believe it is there. Nature does not care what we think.
Granted, the moon is a simple example of right and wrong beliefs, but why shouldn’t this logic apply to all beliefs?
Is it really any different to claim that the moon exists and that Zeus does not? Or that the belief in the efficacy of publicly humiliating children by beating them in front of their classmates (as is allowed in 20 states) is reprehensible and incorrect?
Beliefs held in all areas are important because they inform how people act. Holding incorrect opinions means holding false assumptions or incorrect interpretations of reality. If this isn’t a colossal problem facing our species right now, then I don’t know what is.
The dismissive claim that everyone is entitled to their own opinion misses the point of holding opinions entirely.
This assertion is often the refuge of those who have recognized their beliefs to be incorrect and yet refuse to repudiate them.
Why should anyone be satisfied in believing in something for which there is no reason or evidence?
There is nothing to respect about incorrect opinions. There is nothing noble in believing a proposition that is most certainly false or denying one that is most certainly true.
Reality is independent of nation or conviction; truth cannot be limited by anyone. What is “true for me” must be true for the world and thus true for you, too.
Obviously no matter how much I disagree with you, I am not going to drill into your head to let those bad ideas out.
I am not suggesting that violence or force is the means to correct incorrect opinions, but I do suggest we change the way we discuss right and wrong in our society.
Namely, I suggest that we, Turtle, realize they exist and stop pretending they don’t.”