Informed Opinions

or How I Learned to Quit Opining and Learn From Others
Conservative white male tells women why they're wrong
There's this tendency among humans to decide that certain opinions are or are not valid. And generally the opinions we call "invalid" are the ones we disagree with. But I think that we could be better than that, that we could find an objective way to measure something even as subjective as an opinion. Or at least we can have a more objective way of labelling an opinion as valid or invalid.

Of course the objective criteria for measuring the value of an opinion must be information. If an opinion is informed by false information, then the opinion may be invalid - which is why you can't trust an opinion from someone who reads fake news. But just being true information is not enough, the information must also be related to the topic of the opinion - you can't very well have an informed opinion about vaccines just because you're educated in Late Middle English literature.

But facts alone are not sufficient. They are helpful and provide important context, but cannot answer the most important questions.

A moral code can certainly inform an opinion, but morality varies dramatically from culture to culture, from religion to religion, or even from person to person. This is hardly suitable as an objective measure. What's more is that while morality or religion may provide guidance on certain topics, even useful guidance, real life is never black and white enough for morality or religion to be the only influence on our opinions. Even morality combined with relevant knowledge and facts is insufficient to properly inform an opinion - and anyone who says otherwise has probably informed their opinions using only religion.

What makes an opinion truly informed is personal experience. Experience gives us a certain kind of knowledge and understanding that transcends encyclopedic recitation of facts. Personal, relevant experience is what provides the final ingredient to make an opinion valid. It doesn’t have to be your own experience - clearly you can't personally experience everything that you can have an opinion on. But you can certainly inform your opinions by studying the experiences of others.

That's not to say that knowledge and morality are not good and useful - in fact they're required! But by themselves or even together they are insufficient and your opinion is as valid as the trash I put on my curb tonight.

Here is a direct example.

I have no personal experience on the topic of abortion or abortion laws. I have a great deal of knowledge about how the laws work and why they exist, and I have considerable knowledge of a moral code that governs decision making including decisions on abortion. But I have never been personally faced with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion. So as I have just described, in spite of my legal knowledge and moral code, by myself I cannot possibly have an informed opinion about abortion.

So how do I inform my opinions in order to make them valid?

  • Step 1: Recognize that you are not informed.
  • Step 2: Have an open mind and a willingness to change your mind when you gain a new understanding.
  • Step 3: Find someone with direct person experience with the topic at hand and seek their opinion and insight.
  • Step 4: Evaluate the new information and repeat this process as many times as it takes to build a solid understanding of the topic.

For the abortion example, this would mean talking to people who have had an abortion or who have been faced with deciding whether to have an abortion. These are the only people who have been impacted by abortion laws, so their experience with those laws is more relevant than all of the legal or moral knowledge in the world. Learn from their experience and open your understanding to the thoughts and feelings they felt as they faced that decision and the reasons why they chose one way or another.

It's not a perfect system, and it doesn't entirely solve the problem of measuring the validity of someone else's opinion. But if we follow these steps, at least our opinions will be more informed - and more correctly informed. And that is a good direction to move in.

All opinions are not created equal, and indeed all opinions are not inherently valid or important. You may be entitled to have your opinion, but your opinion can still be stupid. If you want to have a good opinion, knowledge and morality are not enough, you must inform your opinion by learning from people who have direct personal experience with the subject you want to opine about. And if you listen to them and learn from them, then and only then will your opinion have any merit at all.



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