Voices that don’t deserve to be heard
In this country, there is a widely accepted notion that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and has a right to share it. The first right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is that of free speech. As such, discussions in this country, political or otherwise, allow for everyone to contribute his or her thoughts and insights. The wide range of opinions that consequently make up discourse is an extremely valuable thing for our country; every voice is heard and as such, everyone is bettered by the discussion of issues.
But this culture of equality of opinion also has its drawbacks; the fact that every opinion, no matter how outlandish or lacking in factual basis, must be listened to and acknowledged is also extremely damaging. Of course the idea of an opinion having a true factual basis is open to interpretation, but there is a clear, bright-line distinction between contributing to a discussion using reputable evidence and sound logic, and sharing an argument that really holds no water or that has not been truly thought out.
Take, for example, the “debate” over whether or not early childhood vaccination is linked to autism. Over the past several years, Jenny McCarthy, an actress, with literally no credentials or experience in anything even vaguely medically related, has led a massive media campaign to spread her belief that childhood vaccinations can cause autism. While you could argue that Ms. McCarthy has a right to share her beliefs, her entire campaign is based upon a single study from 1998 that has been proven fraudulent, and its authors have had their medical licenses revoked.
The fact that one woman with no medical credentials, is able to direct public opinion entirely away from a factual truth, is unacceptable. A 2011 study found that almost a quarter of Americans considered an opinion like Ms. McCarthy’s valid and that it would influence their decisions on childhood vaccinations. The very notion that we should not vaccinate our children against diseases that have been all but eradicated in the Western world because everyone’s opinion must be held valid, regardless of the facts, is entirely intolerable and counterproductive.
Instances like these are not isolated, however. In nearly every corner of public discourse, the idea that we must not rule out an opinion, not matter how ridiculous, because every American has a right to be heard, hinders and prevents real progress from being made. If we must listen to everyone, and acknowledge the validity of their opinions, then taking any sort of action that might disagree with them becomes impossible.
From debates about the validity of the science behind climate change, to 9/11 Truthers, to those who question whether or not President Obama was born in this country or is secretly a Socialist Muslim extremist from Kenya, those on the fringes of public debate are forcing their opinions to be validated. In doing so, they are polarizing the conversation and preventing any real progress or compromise from being made.
We, as a nation, need to alter our belief of what constitutes a valid opinion; you may be entitled to your own opinion and you have a right to voice it, but you are not entitled to your own facts. If an opinion cannot be backed up by any sort of factual truth, it should not be considered in public discourse. Of course everyone is entitled to have his or her own thoughts and opinions, even irrational ones, but if we want to have real, meaningful discussions about important issues that move toward some sort of truth, we need to begin to ignore those who do not contribute to the discussion with facts and logical arguments.