Understanding Democracy: All Opinions Are Not Equally Valid
The biggest contrast between a fully democratic society and a society which lives under totalitarianism is freedom of mind, in a broad sense. This means that in a democracy individuals in principle should not persecuted for religious belief, sexual orientation or political alignment, among other things. The first two do not belong to the realm of reason: who one loves is not a choice, and one’s faith is not subject to logic.
Political ideology on the other hand must be subject to constant question and discussion. Checking one’s personal (and hence subjective) views for consistency is an essential task in order for them to be useful for political debate. Is this enough though? Politics must also serve society. Hence, the views must not only be logically consistent, but also be applicable to the real world. More importantly, they must also be of the highest moral value.
With this freedom of alignment which is offered to us by democracy, it is natural to ask the following question: are all ideas are valid? Along the same line, are all opinions are respectable? Even something as subjective as an opinion must be susceptible to validation as long as an adequate criterion is chosen. The discussion above should suffice for now. Of course, if a given idea crumbles under intellectual or moral scrutiny, it cannot be considered valid. If an opinion is not based on logic and fact, it has no intellectual foundation and it will never be correct. If an opinion or an ideology attempts to step on human rights, it is not respectable.
Somewhere along the line, a fallacy started to gain strength. Freedom of ideology began to be thought of as equivalent to all opinions being valid and respectable. Worse still, in argument and debate this confusion started to be used as a tool to support dogma or intellectual laziness. When cornered it is not uncommon to hear, from those not willing to listen, statements such as “it is my opinion” as a last defense. This is often done expecting acceptance in exchange. It is as if opinions must be accepted simply because they are opinions. All of this, of course, in the name of democracy and freedom.
Expecting all ideas and opinions to be valued in the name of democracy is a damaging practice for all those freedoms that have taken so much time and effort to achieve. It gives space for a whole family of ideologies to have to be accepted simply for the sake of acceptance, as empty as a reason as this may seem. Under this framework fascism would be accepted. Racism in its various forms would have to be tolerated. Homophobic views would have to be considered a valid viewpoint. Doesn’t this clash with the foundations of democracy?
When it comes to ideology and politics, tolerance with intolerance is a terrible mistake. It reduces the quality of our democracy. Points of view which are founded on intolerance are dangerous. Points of view which do not posses a consistent foundation are disrespectful to human intelligence. Hence it is hard to accept that all ideas and opinions are valid, both from an ethical and a political perspective. Democracy cannot be an excuse for charlatans to be given the benefit of the doubt, it cannot be a space where intolerance is accepted and it must demand intellectual and moral consistency, both on paper and in practice.