Published on March 4th, 20130
People Who Think Their Opinions are Superior
By Tor G. Jakobsen
We have all encountered them; persons who are fully convinced that their opinions and moral standings are not only correct, but also that they are the norm of society and that those who disagree are stupid or immoral.
These people are of course not right. Every issue can be viewed from several angels. Truth is, there is seldom just one correct answer to a question. A person’s viewpoint is dependent on his or her own position and priorities.
For example, a person with a good income could hold rightist economic opinions, as this would provide the best standard of living for himself and those closest to him. But the same person can also hold leftist opinions if he should be more concerned with the welfare of those he considers to be less fortunate. Both positions are correct, and neither is morally superior to the other.
Persons who do not seem to accept that it is perfectly legitimate to have differing views on topics can be described as being close-minded. They are characterized by a reluctance to listen to the viewpoints of others, while at the same time being eager to let their own opinions be heard by their surroundings.
Many people are emotionally attached to their opinions, making it more difficult to take into account counter arguments. If this is the case, they will not be interested in getting more information on a specific topic. This is true for many of us, not only those we can characterize as being close-minded. The majority of people have at least some aspect of narrow-mindedness in them.
A spiral of silence
In many non-democratic societies there is a concern that the government, typically under the guise of regulation, will usurp power and deny the expression of ideas that might threaten status quo. But also countries that we consider to be democratic are plagued by restraints on freedom.
The German Political Scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann described the “Spiral of Silence,” which is the phenomenon that occurs when certain viewpoints become increasingly rare. There is a subtle demand for conformity within every country’s culture. To the extent that its inhabitants are intolerant of views challenging mainstream thought, the expression of such viewpoints is likely to generate sanctions and costs.
This is a dynamic process where the people that hold minority opinions increasingly are told by the others how rare their views are, resulting in silence, which in turn makes their opinions seem to be even less widely held, and thus more dangerous or costly to express. This is what we know as the spiral of silence.
One way of changing our opinion is through exposure to news on current events, or news that uncovers truths that has been previously hidden. Examples are plentiful: the Watergate scandal which led to the downfall of the popular American President Richard M. Nixon; or the land invasions in Zimbabwe which led many to withdraw their support to President Robert Mugabe.
It is important for the society as a whole and even for the opinion-majority in particular to allow different views, ideas, and opinions to surface into the public debate. It is not given that the majority opinion is always the right one, and we could risk losing great ideas by suppressing minorities.