Sunday, January 22, 2012

Don't Be an Arrogant Fool

It's one thing for a person to search out, understand the facts and arguments for various positions, and then to adopt them. That's respectable, and if someone disagrees with me after doing that, I respect them for it.

It's an entirely different thing when a person just goes along with popular sentiment (what their friends think, what the media portray, etc.) and then ignorantly pass on what they've been spoon fed--all the while being arrogant and dismissive, even hateful, about those who disagree with them.

I suspect this has always been the case--that people largely form their opinions based on these things without doing any due diligence or even having anything resembling an open mind about issues.  But I can't help but be irritated by it, and that's why I'm calling it out here.  To all those folks:

Just because a position is currently popular in our culture does not make it right. This sounds patently obvious, but people seem to forget it a lot. And I think it's worth belaboring the point because of that.

   a) Just because Jon Stewart or Bill Maher can manage to maliciously mock others does not make them right. Just because thoughtful people who disagree with them choose to not engage in their disreputable and dishonest behavior doesn't mean that they couldn't or that there is no response to the mockery.
   b) Just because your friends share your opinions doesn't make any of you right.  Just because people around you don't contradict your snide, arrogant comments, doesn't mean they don't have a reply; it just means they're being polite, unlike you.
   c) Just because polls show that a majority of Americans share your opinion doesn't make you right, and vice versa. Polls are a scientific way to measure popular opinions, not what's right.
   d) Just because Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Brad Pitt, Rush Limbaugh, or [insert name of famous person/celebrity/newscaster/talking head here] says something doesn't make them right.  There are famous, popular people who espouse all kinds of different and contradictory opinions, and most of them spend no more time than the average person understanding an issue before spouting their opinion on it.
   e) Just because there's a law on the books doesn't make it right. Some laws do reflect what is right; others do not. Laws are not always made based on the right things or for right reasons.
   f) Just because someone you respect thinks something doesn't make it right. If they are an expert in a subject, then it's acceptable to give weight to what they say on that subject, but that doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of looking into the subject for yourself, especially when there are other experts on the subject who disagree (and there usually are).  "Most experts agree" is almost always a rhetorical bludgeon--don't get hit with it.
   g) Just because someone is an academic doesn't make them right. They can be as subject to prejudice as anyone, and often their position, their livelihood, depends on fitting into current popular schools of thought, not to mention that academics tend to be trained into current schools of thought and have to be admitted to academia by current academics. Add to that their education makes them more inclined to presume they are right, and it is a sad irony that the people who should know better just don't.
   h) Just because a position isn't popular doesn't make it right. There are plenty of people who prefer to be contrary and countercultural just for the sake of it/out of habit. Assuming you're right just because your position is unpopular is just as wrong as doing so because it is popular.

What's my point? Well, I hope it's obvious. If you think so, then good!  But to be clear: be more reticent about expressing your opinion, especially if you haven't really explored it with an open mind. If nothing else, just bite your tongue when you feel that snide remark coming on--be polite. Don't parrot people like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh, or Glen Beck. These guys and others like them are ideologues that make their money precisely by playing to the prejudices of their audiences.  Take everything famous people say with a grain of salt. If you don't have the time or expertise to understand a subject, just keep your opinion to yourself. No, all opinions are not created equal.

Avoid popular arrogance. Instead of ignorantly dismissing people who disagree with you, first try to see things from their perspective. Then if you still disagree, you can at least be informed about it. Even after you have thoroughly explored an issue, it's still safer to not be dismissive. There's always a good chance there's something you don't know.

As the popular ad said, "we all do stupid things sometimes." Ignorantly spouting off doesn't have to be one of them. It does take practice, effort, and vigilance, but it's the right thing to do. And if nothing else, you can avoid being an arrogant fool.