Are all opinions equally valid?
Just kidding, let me stay on this for a bit.
I like to contextualize exposition with anecdote so here’s a thing: I’m willing to discuss the possibility of plant consciousness with other vegans, but not with meat eaters. Why? Because I don’t consider meat eaters to have a valid enough opinion on the matter to make it worth my time.
This perfectly illustrates something important: in debate, we tend to get very focused on a conclusion, and remain blind whatever is functioning as its premise. So for instance, if a vegan and a meat eater both agree that plants have consciousness and probably don’t want to be chopped up and cooked and eaten, and if only conclusions matter, then they are in agreement.
But we can all feel the uneasy DISagreement, here, and the extent to which we can’t quite explain it is the extent to which we are premise-blind.
It’s likely that the vegan’s premise is along the lines of “make every attempt to mitigate the suffering of helpless, conscious, living beings, with whom I recognize much in common, however great our surface-level differences”. The meat eater’s premise in terms of this debate is probably more along the lines of “your ability to find fault with me is lessened if I can find fault with you via the device of your own logic”.
Here we can see that the meat eater’s premise and the vegan’s premise, while both sound in their own right, are not even attempting to solve the same problem, so they’re not going to have a satisfying debate unless they can agree on a shared premise, which is unlikely, unless the meat eater is especially thoughtful, or the vegan especially thoughtless.
We can’t conduct effective debate with people who are too far above or below our own level of intelligence on a given subject, but just because someone disagrees with our conclusion doesn’t mean they exist too far below our level of intelligence. It might mean we exist too far below theirs. I feel like that’s a really obvious observation to make, but judging from my social media feed, it’s not.
However, it’s unlikely we’d find ourselves surrounded by people radically different than ourselves in terms of basic intelligence, because otherwise either they would have found some better friends, or we would have. What’s more likely is that we’re debating with people of roughly equivalent intelligence who are also roughly as premise-aware, or premise blind, as ourselves.
Debate is a game, where there are — shockingly — rules. You can’t win soccer with baseball rules and you can’t win debates with flamethrowers. You can burn things down with flamethrowers, and if you think that’s what winning a debate looks like, then enjoy it while it lasts because no one’s going to want to play with you.
Are there subjects that are, literally, too stupid to debate? I don’t think so, personally, but there are people who are too stupid to debate them with. And I’m using the term “stupid” here flippantly — what I really mean is, people who cannot admit to their own premise AS a premise. If I say something like, “Gay Americans have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as straight people, because our country was founded upon these principles, as well as the separation of church and state”, and you say, “But God hates fags”, then it looks like we’re talking about the same thing but actually we’re not. Either you have to function on the level of my premise or I have to function on the level of yours, which I’m unable to do, as I don’t speak for God, and I have no reason to believe you speak for God. If you’re someone who goes around saying “God hates fags,” then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to function on the level of my premise, but now and then people have surprised me.
I knew a man once — very blue collar, Midwestern sensibilities — who made much of his own disgust and alarm for the “homosexual lifestyle”, whatever that is. Men like this generally object to gay men much more than what they imagine to be lesbians. In any case, despite his own personal aversion, he was firm in acknowledging that neither his personal feelings, anyone else’s personal feelings, nor any religious dictate was sufficient to deprive gay people of their full contingent of rights, here in the US, because that would be illegal. This man was quite a unicorn, in my experience.
Even that appallingly stupid claim, “God hates fags”, could be the springboard for a healthy debate, if two people with any sense of sportsmanship were to take it on. They’d have to agree on a premise. What God are we talking about? The Christian God? Old Testament, New Testament, or both? What did God say, and in what context? To whom are we now applying what God may or may not have said, and in what context? What, exactly, is a “fag”? Is that only a gay male person, or can females be fags? Can bisexual people be fags, or people who experimented a little in college but went on to marry a person of the opposite gender? Or what about someone who never experimented and is happily married by all accounts but dabbles in the gay porn on the side? Are they a fag?
There’s nothing too stupid too debate, but there are people too smart to bother with it, or if they do bother with it, it will be elevated to the level of something much more interesting.
What about debates that are forced on people who consider their own conclusions to be so obvious that they’re amazed anyone would bother debating it, and yet hordes of people do consider it worth debating, so the debate just won’t die?
An example of this would be vaxxers versus anti-vaxxers. All you have to do these days is call someone an anti-vaxxer and you’ve instantly discredited them in the eyes of the mainstream. It appears we’ve got a shared premise, here — wellness — and it also appears that the contested conclusion is at least shared by the individuals who find themselves landing on either side. That’s one key feature of social frictions in their infancy — we can only think, and speak, about them in highly polarized terms — you’re either FOR or AGAINST. You’re either a PATRIOT or a TRAITOR. What’s black and white and shitting its pants? A baby argument.
A more accurate premise for both sides might be something like: who, and at what level of governance, should get the final say in mandating or vetoing medical procedures involving our children? That’s a fairly obvious and important question to ask, right? People’s conclusions range from “the government” on one hand to “the parents” on the other.
If a large scale debate persists — if there’s enough fuel to keep that fire going — then obviously it’s not a simple issue of mismatched intelligence. But if we don’t ourselves have the intelligence to ask better questions, instead of simply shouting our own answers louder and louder, then we certainly aren’t in a position to question anyone else’s intelligence.
Here are some questions worth asking, next time you meet someone who does not share your same vaccination conclusion:
Do you acknowledge the biological mechanism of inoculation, generally speaking?
If so, do you acknowledge the validity of mass-scale inoculations, specific to particular threats to public health, as residing within the jurisdictional scope of public health policy?
If so, should these recommended inoculations, as they emerge, all be mandatory, or all be optional, or should some be mandatory and others be optional based on lifestyle/travel expectations, such as those we negotiate for our pets at the veterinarian?
If any remain optional, what “stakes”, or forms of societal participation, should be attached to our willingness to opt in versus opting out?
If some or all remain mandatory, should there be any limits or caveats?
Is there a point at which public health policy recommendations have in the past deviated, or may in the future deviate, significantly from any given parent’s rightful control over medical procedures involving their children?
Might there be a point of diminishing returns of up-trending mandatory inoculations, in light of those other lifestyle factors which affect the immune health of a given society? For instance, we know that breastfeeding imparts greater immunity than formula feeding — should we then mandate breastfeeding? Does that seem invasive? Does it seem more invasive than mandating inoculations?
What about activity versus sedentation, or a varied, plant-heavy diet versus a narrow meat-based diet? We find that the former, in both cases, supports immune health, and the latter in both cases, does not. Should public health policy advising mandatory inoculation assume that we, the recipients of these mandatory inoculations, can’t be expected to lift a finger in regards to supporting our own immune health? In other words, should it be legally irrelevant that my (so far hypothetical) active, breast fed, plant-based child should be subjected to the same battery of mandatory, early infancy inoculations as the child of someone who, from my perspective, can’t find their own ass with both hands and a flashlight in terms of immune-supportive lifestyle decisions?
Might it be relevant, at some point in this inquiry, that the entire paradigm of allopathic healthcare relies 100% upon pharmaceutical and surgical interventions and 0% upon those behaviors and activities with which we either support or destroy our own individual wellness everyday?
Is there any point at which opting out of that paradigm, as a parent within a society, can be recognized as valid?
If so, is there any way we can discuss where that point might most rationally be?
I could go on, but the point I’m making is that anyone with an internet connection can “debate”, flame thrower style, but if we’re not essentially interested in the architecture of each other’s opinions, and able to at least mutually identify our own premises relative to the engagement, then smashing each other over the heads with our conclusions isn’t any more satisfying in the “winning” than in the “losing”.