Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Declining to “Respect Your Opinion”

When is it reasonable to decline to “respect” somebody else’s opinion? I’ve done this before. I have two specific examples in mind, and in both cases I could not bring myself to say or type the words, even though I felt like some sort of olive branch was being extended to me. This is true even though I respect most of the people I know as people. You can be a good person, a loving parent, a hard worker, and I deeply respect those qualities in my friends and acquaintances. I just might not particularly respect their political commentary on topics they might be ignorant or dogmatic about.

I don’t think I’m being completely unreasonable or prickly here. If someone has at least a plausible argument in their defense, I usually respect their opinion. But there is a bar to clear. If someone adopts a position that I find morally repugnant, I don’t respect their opinion (unless it is particularly well argued or somehow interesting, and even then it is the approach and not the conclusion that I respect). If someone utterly fails to bring any argument to bear on the discussion, I probably don’t respect their opinion. If someone just asserts “The earth is the closest planet to the sun” and has no response when presented with contrary information, I feel no obligation to respect that. Some political arguments are literally this terrible. Likewise, if the arguments presented are just bad, and the presenter of these arguments refuses to budge after their total dissection, I don’t feel obligated to respect their opinion. If any of this sounds really snobbish, try imagining yourself saying “I respect your opinion” to a neo Nazi, or an intransigent child making a factually incorrect claim, or a person adamantly claiming “2+2=5, because my hair is a bird.” Everyone has a bar to clear. In fact, depending on how repugnant or how poorly argued your interlocutor’s position is, you may well say, “I don’t respect your opinion, and I don’t particularly respect you either.” 

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