Thursday, August 7, 2014

Opinion vs. policy

There is often confusion about what exactly people are entitled to when it comes to opinions.  Certainly people are entitled to hold whatever opinions they like - even people holding the most offensive an awful beliefs I can imagine are entitled to hold those beliefs.  However, the reasoning that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs is far too often used to justify changing public policy.  You are entitled to think anything you damn well please, but if you want to alter public policy you had better be able to prove that the policy you want is based on facts and will actually help other people.

You want to hold the opinion that gay relationships aren't as worthy as straight ones?  Cool, hold that opinion.  I will hold the opinion that you are a grade A shithead and we can have fun holding our opinions together.

You want public policy to penalize, refuse to recognize, or otherwise disenfranchise people in same sex relationships?  Sorry, no go.

Feel free to substitute anti vaccination stances, transphobia, sexism, racism, climate change denialism, or any other variety of bigoted or uninformed nonsense in the sentences above.

Not only are you not entitled to set policy, you aren't even entitled to a seat at the table.  Not all opinions are equally valid when making policy decisions and nobody is required hear out opinions that are based on faith rather than facts or hate instead of tolerance.  You might well be able to get a seat on a news program where they compare somebody representing established truth vs. fantasy and pretend like those are two equally valid standpoints but that is luck or politics, not a right.

Your right to think whatever you want inside your own head is absolute and it is something I will fight for even when the views you hold are reprehensible.  But your right to hold those views ends where they negatively affect others so if your views are going to hurt people and/or have no basis in reality then you had best be prepared to sit down and shut up when it comes time for all the grownups in the room to make real, important decisions.


  1. Out of curiousity, what gives you the right to make the rules like this?

    Your logic is based on facts being the top priority. But why do facts dominate? Millions of people don't believe that facts are the top priority (potentially the majority), and yet you feel you have the authority to force your belief in them on others? You have the privilege of being allowed to share your views in public but not them?

    And how do we judge what is factual? What about when facts turn out to be wrong?


  2. We judge what is factual by turning to large groups of experts on the topic and looking at what they believe in aggregate. As far as antivaxxers go, we believe the enormous pool of scientific and medical talent that tells us that vaccines are safe. We also believe the massive amount of research that has shown this. People do want facts to be the judge of things, just not about anything they care about deeply and have personal feelings about. Turns out that is enough that most people believe we should follow the facts about any particular thing.

    I have the privilege of sharing my views, just as they do. But not all views are given equal consideration when designing policy. I don't force my beliefs on them - they can believe what they like. Policy will be designed with our best knowledge with the goal of greatest overall happiness though, even if it disagrees with what some people think. (In theory!)

    When facts turn out to be wrong then we clearly have another fact contradicting the first one. Then we go with that one. I don't claim that facts never change, only that they are by far the best way to make decisions, as the historical record clearly indicates. I don't understand where you are going with this?

  3. Note the smiley face with the tongue sticking out...

  4. Faugh, I can't tell the difference between sarcasm and making some sort of obscure point badly I guess.

  5. To be fair, I was kind of making an obscure point badly, you're not totally off. :-)

    I was kind of tying it back to your discussion on trying to describe what it would be like to not be a man. You can't put yourself in the frame of mind of people who are not men, and you may have similar trouble putting yourself in the frame of mind where facts do not dominate. Is there a risk that you are mocking/dismissing people who are different? Whose realities are not yours?

    You'd rescue someone who was about to step in front of a car, and some people want to rescue you before you end up in Hell. It's the same feeling for them. You'd get angry if someone stopped you from saving someone's life, and they get angry too. You and I can't conceive of their reality, but it's possibly unfair of us to assert that our reality is more real when they don't accept it. We're not in the majority with our love of reality as measured by science.

    So you angrily lashing out at people for forcing their non-scientific views on you, is similar to their rage that society (or just the athiests) forces their views on them.

    At least, that's the theory. I was hoping you might have some additional insight. I'm actually totally with you - crazy ideas don't "deserve" an equal voice (though it has been shown that that is what is holding back some breakthroughs in science...the difference being that those crazy views are right).

  6. I differentiate pretty strongly between saying "Your beliefs are not going to receive any credit in designing policy" and "You must think differently". I am not telling people that their realities aren't acceptable or that they can't believe what they like, only that everything we have seen over the course of humanity's history has shown us unequivocally that making decisions based on agreed upon facts rather than gives better results for people. We don't have to agree on whether or not astrology works, but we can agree that the instructions and guidelines we can garner from it are so vague as to be useless in designing public policy.

    I am not concerned about whether or not a fact comes from a lab run by a person in a white coat - I am only concerned that the fact can be verified by people who aren't invested in supporting it in a repeatable fashion. A person's reality can be anything at all and I will accept it as long as they can show me a test that supports it. If they can't do that then it isn't reality. We can't just accept everyone's internal reality when it comes to public policy because there is no way to determine which reality to use.