October 27, 2009
An opinion at gunpoint is no longer an opinion
Last night I recommended a book titled The Right To Be Wrong, because I think it's a good idea for people who disagree to always keep in mind that the right to be wrong is a hallmark of civilization. In the West, civil society generally abhors the opposite approach, which typifies totalitarian or extreme authoritarian societies.
Dissent is virtually non-existent in most Arab countries, many of which are ruled by archaic systems of government taken straight out of a political science atlas - monarchies and emirates, sultanates and dictatorships. There is no right to be wrong in Arab countries, where governments grant you the right to agree, or the right to disappear. That's it.I realize some people would argue that there is no right to be wrong in the philosophical sense, and certainly no one has a moral right to maintain that what he knows is wrong is actually right. But in the human rights sense, we all possess the right even to deliberately maintain positions we know to be incorrect or wrong. I have a human right to insist the earth is 6000 years old, or even that it is flat. An opinion is just an opinion, and no opinion ever harmed anyone in the abstract. Harm can only result at the implementation stage. If I say that a mountain is only 2800 feet high when it is actually 28,000 feet high, no harm is done, no matter how often or how loudly I proclaim it. It might be wrong, but it is only my opinion, right? Well, suppose I get a job as an air traffic controller and broadcast that "opinion" over the air, and a pilot relies on it, crashing his plane into the mountain. I could hardly hide behind my right to hold a wrong opinion. How much different is that from a crackpot getting on the radio and proclaiming that H1N1 flu shots are a eugenics conspiracy? Hey, don't laugh. That's just what one screwball Canadian doctor with the unpronounceable name of Ghislaine Lanctot says:
Lanctôt warns that the elite and their minions will introduce a compulsory vaccination that will contain a deadly virus and this will be used specifically as a eugenics weapon for "massive and targeted reduction of the world population." Moreover, a pandemic will also be used to further establish martial law and a police state, according to Lanctôt, and activate concentration camps "built to accommodate the rebellious" and eventually transfer power from all nations to a single United Nations government and thus fulfill the sinister plans of the New World Order.[Ditto, NOI leader Louis Farrakhan.] OK, so suppose this ridiculous idea spreads and takes hold among the more stupid and gullible people, whose children are deliberately left unvaccinated and die. Should Lanctot and other crackpots be heard to say they had a right to be wrong too? How far does the right to be wrong go? As a libertarian I would like to think that bad ideas should be met by fierce condemnation in the marketplace of ideas, and that intelligent people would simply ignore them and that's that. Many, however, would call this insensitive and irresponsible, and libertarians are often criticized for ignoring the plight of those with poor self control and lower IQs.
This comment from Kim du Toit to Perry de Havilland is a classic:
Perry, my old friend:While that debate involved the regulation of cognitive enhancers, I sometimes worry that just as some people can handle cognitive enhancers better than others, some people can handle bad ideas better than others.
And just as an opinion that is implemented becomes more than just an opinion, an opinion that is enforced at gunpoint can ultimately become destructive of the very "right to be wrong" I champion. This can happen even with the most seemingly harmless and innocuous opinions.
Take opinions over what to eat.
As these remarks by Lord Stern advocating a vegetarian diet illustrate, those who think vegetarianism is a good idea have no intention of leaving it at that.
People will need to turn vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.It's easy to be dismissive of Lord Stern, but the problem with people who agree with him is that they are activists with power, and they would not hesitate to use the power of government to criminalize meat-eating.
At that point it ceases to be an opinion, and becomes tyrannical.
Anyway, I think Lord Stern has just as much right to his opinion as those who believe it's a good idea to spay and neuter pets, to use certain type of light bulbs, to wear a veil, to not have certain kinds of sex, to not have children, or to not have guns.
An opinion enforced at gunpoint has ceased to remain merely an opinion.
How to debate such opinions civilly is not an easy question.
posted by Eric on 10.27.09 at 10:26 AM
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