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October 8, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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I Know I’m Right

And I think you should too

I was asked to write an opinion piece for this issue of Salient. Opinion is an interesting term. On the one hand, it could simply be an expression of preference: my opinion is that French vanilla is a particularly delicious flavour of ice cream, certainly more delicious than the green “mint” flavours that seem to dangerously proliferate.Yet, these opinions don’t seem nearly weighty enough. If you read the opinion columns of a newspaper, they always seem to weigh in on the big issues. Politics. Philosophy. Those sorts of things.

I can do that. I have no shame in declaring, for example, that based on all the evidence I have considered, free trade produces the best outcomes. Trade barriers tend to benefit a minority of people at the expense of the many.

But is it appropriate that I call this belief an “opinion”? By calling these beliefs opinions I am essentially calling them a preference. But if something is merely a preference, then it is simply one of many equally valid alternatives. But my opinions on politics are not merely preferences like “French vanilla” or “mint”, because most political opinions carry a substantial moral dimension: my stance on free trade is based on a belief that it reduces suffering.That makes it a statement of moral fact.

If I genuinely believe what I say I believe, then I can’t accept that there are reasonable disagreements. If I genuinely believe that trade barriers establish a system of privileged minorities at the expense of the unprivileged majority, I can’t then say I recognise the validity of other opinions without compromising my own morality. If I think protectionism creates suffering, how can I tolerate those who support those barriers? I wouldn’t accept the“opinions” of a man who wanted to inflict suffering on children with his fists, yet must I accept the opinions of a man who would do so with his laws?

But if I reject the latter man, then I become an ideologue, and that’s something we’re all told we should never be. Ideologues ignore the evidence. Ideologues live in a fantasy world. Ideologues alienate those around them by putting principle above people.

We are told instead to be pragmatic.We’re told to accept diverse viewpoints and to always respect those who disagree with us. Compromise is an unquestioned virtue. A debate about higher taxes versus lower spending is treated as being equivalent to a debate about ice cream flavours. Under this pragmatism, nothing is true, and everything becomes a matter of preference. Pragmatism just becomes moral relativism, devoid of any moral truth.

Pragmatism in this form is a reprehensible philosophy, for it forces the individual to tolerate the propogation of what they know to be evil.

What pragmatism should simply be is open mindedness.An individual should always question their premises.They should be open to new evidence.They should do what the facts say is best. But once they decide something is true, they shouldn’t treat it as mere “opinion”.They should defend it as fact. They shouldn’t acquiesce to those who disagree, merely because they disagree, and they should not let respect for the thoughts of others dictate what they do.

People should have the courage of their convictions.That is what creates an honest society that can actually have the big debates.

Richard D’Ath has been a regular contributor to Salient throughout 2012. Richard is a student, and also an unregistered chiropractor.  

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