Tuesday, April 21, 2020

No, You Are Not "Entitled to Your Opinion"

Hold on folks, because today's blog post is gonna be a bumpy ride.

I have mostly avoided talking about Covid-19 or the last month-and-a-half we've been quarantined at home, because no one needs more of that.  We're all in this together, right?


It would seem not.

Today, then, I'm going to try to get us all on the same page, and that page is this: GO HOME YOU MOUTH-BREATHING GERM FACTORIES.  GO HOME BEFORE YOU KILL US ALL.

Most people who are sensible, literate, educated, and inclined not to die are taking the precautions recommended to them by the CDC or the National Institute of Health or the now-famous immunologist Dr. Fauci.  Precautions like covering their mouths and noses so that they don't breath germs everywhere, and only going out for essential business, and staying apart from each other to delay the spread of the virus in order to "flatten the curve."  The problem is, we've been a little too effective.

That's not fair, actually.  Unbeknownst to the protestors, they are being manipulated by far-right economic interests, including gun lobbies, to stage these protests.  They are pawns, on the frontlines, and they have no idea.  But that's just my opinion (we'll talk about that in a second), and not what this article is about, so let's move on.

The thing I want to talk about today is the two-pronged phrase: "Well that's just my opinion," and its petty, passive-aggressive cousin, "You're entitled to your opinion."  These are cop-out phrases meaning that we'll all just "agree to disagree," and in a pandemic, they are part of a dangerous, destructive, public healthcare crisis.  We need to shut this shit down.  Now.

First of all, let's separate a "fact" from an "opinion."  A fact is a thing we know is true.  It's been proven with evidence, or it's very easy to observe, or we simply all have conceded to it as such.  An opinion is a view, judgement, interpretation, perception, idea, or belief.   Opinions lack "falsifiability."  They cannot be disproven by fact because they themselves are not fact.  Let's use an example:

1) The sky is blue.  This is a fact that nearly all people can observe.
2) The best color is blue.  This is an opinion.  Blue does happen to be America's favorite color, but you cannot prove or disprove that it's a "good" color.

Real-life example: Recently, on Reddit, someone asked who the best member of the Umbrella Academy is.  Someone who was probably 13 years old and taking a break from screaming at people on X-Box Live, who we will call Jaxxon, stated their opinion that Ben was not the best.  I gave my reasons (also opinions) about why he is.  Jaxxon then responded to about half of my points, seemingly at random and out of order, and said he had "disproved" that Ben was the best.

No, Jaxxon, you little shit.  Neither of us "proved" anything.  We're like two kids arguing over whether blue is the best color or not.  (Mind you, according to most of the world, it is.  And according to the very casual Reddit poll, Ben is the 3rd best.  Suck it, Jaxxon.)

Take a moment here to imagine Jaxxon.
Do you think he has friends?  Why not?
Do you agree Ben is a really cool UA character?  Hint: yes.
Draw Jaxxon crying.)

This Reddit argument, based on opinion, would have been a good time to have used the argument shut-down phrase, "You're entitled to your opinion."  Because saying who is the best in a fictional TV show is totally up to personal interpretation.  This is a great example of an unfalsifiable opinion.  Jaxxon is 100% entitled to his opinion.

So.  Facts can be proven; opinions cannot.  Opinions suffer from a very basic falsifiability logic.

Now, let's consider the "I'm entitled to my opinion" situation.  I've seen people say this after being given indisputable evidence that contradicts their belief in something crazy, like a flat earth, or Big Pharma having some sort of magical all-purpose cancer cure that they're keeping under wraps.

These are not opinions.  They are a sort of anti-fact.  No word that I know of exists in the English language for what they are, but we need one.  It's an untruth, a thing that can be and has been falsified or disproven.

3) The sky is red.

No it's not.  Sure, you could say you saw it red once, perhaps at sunset for a few minutes, or maybe just before a storm.  Perhaps you remember this because it was at night and you're a sailor.  I don't know your life.

Here's a soothing image of sailboats at sunset.
You're doing just fine.
Have some more Malbec.)

But to go around under a blue sky for the rest of your life telling people it's red is simply not true.  It's misinformation.

And this is why "You're entitled to your opinion" as a dismissal during a pandemic is so dangerous.  Because  "agreeing to disagree" or saying people are entitled to their untruths means not correcting misinformation.  It's not only an agreement to disagree.  It's an agreement to be passive in the face of another person who is actively spreading misinformation.  And in a pandemic, misinformation is dangerous.

Others who are smarter than me (or at least, have larger budgets and staff) actually just recently opined on the topic of misinformation, so I won't speak much on that.

However, I will say this.  It's critical that we all come together, not merely to spread good information, but to actively combat misinformation.  We cannot let people be "entitled" to their "opinion," because they aren't entitled, and those aren't opinions.  Those untruths that people are spreading have the potential to kill people.  Not just the people spreading them, but innocents who cannot protect themselves.

Already, we've seen instances where restrictions were lifted and shit got worse.  What we're seeing is domestic bio-terrorism in action, and the worst part is, a lot of people are laughing because the terrorists look dumb, instead of focusing on the innocent lives lost.  If the protestors get any comeuppance, I hope it's the kind that doesn't take out Grandma along with them.  In the meantime, we all need to realize that the actions of a few morons is putting all the rest of us in danger, like a drunk guy waving his dad's cool gun around at a party.

This infograph is meant ironically, fyi.
You cannot "shit out" the coronavirus, no matter how many cans of Miller High Life you drink. 

Here's the problem: people's mental flaws are designed to protect themselves.  People who distrust a massive body of scientific evidence and a ton of experts and a large consensus (2/3rds of average, non-medical-doctored Americans are worried of re-opening the country too early) are like schizophrenics who stop taking their medication because they realize the medication was a mind-control drug.  This isn't a diss on schizophrenics; it's a well-studied phenomenon that affects pretty much everyone.  People resist change; they miscategorize their flaws, misidentify their biases, and romanicize their own toxicity.  Their traumas become their identities, and they are terrified of losing them.  In particular, people who believe in conspiracies tend to self-radicalize.  They have what I call a "Neo complex."  They feel themselves to be like Neo in the Matrix, "The One," the lone hero who is standing up against a massive conspiracy against them.  The problem is, there's no fucking red pill.  Only a blue pill, which is your goddamn medication, Neo, take it, there is no Matrix and you are having an episode.

Lest you think this entire essay is my ranting about people with blinders on without checking my own, let me reassure you that I recently performed an exercise myself.  It would be hypocritical of me to demand that others consider their own opinions without considering my own.  And I have, and I have changed some of my opinions.  All of us have biases, including me.  So I tried to find a coronavirus story that I believed and went through the thought exercise of changing my viewpoint. 

Here it is: the story I want to believe.  Although the CDC currently states that people with asthma are possibly more at-risk for Covid-19, the New York Times reports that only about 5% of Covid-19 fatalities have asthma as a complication.  But here are a few considerations:
  • People with histories of asthma are going to be more reactionary to any hint of a respiratory illness.  They'll see a doctor sooner, and their cases will be taken more seriously.  People with asthma are more likely to get tests, be treated sooner, and be treated more aggressively.  There's a possible "survivor bias" here.
  • They are going to have medications on hand that actively battle respiratory infections, such as rescue inhalers, and long-term inhalers that include steroids or anti-inflammatories.
  • People with a "history" are people who also have a history of medical care for their asthma.  People lacking a diagnosis might be slipping through the cracks and shifting the data.
So maybe the New York Times is wrong.  I want to believe asthma is a non-complicating factor, because I have asthma, and it scares me to think I'm at risk.  But as desperately as I want to believe the shiny new information, I have to step back and say, "Well, the experts at the CDC have not said anything, and I can't throw caution to the wind.  I need to be scared, but more importantly, safe."

The difference here is that asthma is, happily, not something you can transmit to others.  Covid-19 is literally defined by its highly infectious nature.  People who flaunt safely regulations are not merely dangerous to themselves, but to others.  They are literally driving around yelling racist abuse at nurses demanding their right to die and to take others with them, and said nurses are out there protecting them in ways they shouldn't have to.

Why the hell are we, as a country, tolerating this?

I know the arguments.  Oh, I know the arguments!  That it's "free speech," that it's a "Constitutional right."

I love free speech, but guess what?  It has its limits.  And that's not my opinion.  It's a legal, established fact: freedom of speech doesn't extend to instances of "incitement," as determined by several cases that went to the Supreme Court.

So, no, those protesters are not entitled to their opinion so long as it falls into the "incitement" category (which it does).  Their "opinion" extends far, far beyond them, unlike the conspiracies they believe, and those "opinions" need shut down.  In light of a massive national disaster, we need to come together as we have previously.  My partner has said, "I wish people could direct these energies into supporting neighbors and taking pride in sacrifice in the name of country.  If WWII were today, I seriously doubt our national character would meet the challenge."  

Take a moment here to imagine trying to explain to Steve Rogers the anti-vaxx movement.
What are its flaws?  What are its other flaws?
Does it have any strengths?  Hint: no.
Draw Captain America crying.)

And one of my close friends, who is a meteorologist, says that in the case of a weather disaster, such as a tornado, "We want all messages to continue to be unified because people in general will check multiple sources they trust before they take action; and that takes minutes they could be using to take cover." 

I believe it is a national duty to correct misinformation rapidly when exposed to it.  Saying people are "entitled to their opinions" is allowing that misinformation to propagate.  Their opinions are not opinions, but anti-truths, and their entitlement is unearned.  In this country, we have rights, and privileges.  By putting others in danger with their reckless actions, they have violated a social contract, and they are not longer "entitled" to some of the privileges they think they are, like being absolute fucking morons.  Because with great power comes great responsibility, and these people are not being responsible, or logical.  They are breaking a social contract.

Next time someone says they're entitled to their opinion, tell them they goddamn aren't.  Not until their opinion goes back to being benign.  So long as someone's "opinion" leads them to terrorist action, it's not one we should tolerate in our country, because that's not what our country stands for.

No comments:

Post a Comment