The unpopular side of popular opinion

In a world saturated with social justice, debate and political correctness, it's hard to know what to believe. Cathal Mc Cahey discusses why sometimes it's healthy to disagree with the majority.

Popular opinion is a strong force and something which is becoming a lot more prevalent in today’s society. Nowadays we see groups of hundreds and thousands voice their shared opinion to make a change, more than often constructively.

But does that mean that popular opinion is a good thing? Many would argue so, however, there are aspects of this popular opinion ‘movement’ which are far from constructive and need to be checked.

Time after time we can see that popular opinion rules. The power and strength it gives to an argument or cause is undeniable- it influences people and governments, leads to amendments in law and even prompts drastic changes to the way we live our lives. This movement is only gaining more strength and muscle as time goes on. But what happens when you fall on the wrong side of popular opinion? What happens when you look at a particular argument and think ‘no, I do not agree with that’, do you become a legitimate target?

In 2015, Ireland undoubtedly took a step forward by voting yes to legalising same-sex marriage and the support and backing behind that campaign was evident everywhere. There were ‘vote yes’ badges, banners and stickers everywhere. At the time I was in a school where the overall consensus was an overwhelming ‘yes’. However, there was one student who disagreed. While his peers proudly wore ‘vote yes’ badges he made and wore a ‘vote no’ badge. He was confronted and ridiculed for his belief but is it a backward belief to have? Maybe, but why shouldn’t we listen to his opinion, what would we lose?

That in itself is only one example of how those who disagreed during that particular campaign were put down and not allowed to speak their opinion. That is what is wrong with this new popular opinion movement that needs to change. Just because somebody holds a different belief to you doesn’t mean that their opinion should not be considered and listened to.

In a democracy, it is important to give all citizens an equal opportunity to discuss their opinion even if you believe it to be completely wrong. Is it crazy to think that he wanted to deny people who love each other the right to marry? Was it a backward belief that needed to change? Yes. Was he going to offer a valid argument instead of just a belief? We don’t know because nobody gave him the chance to argue his opinion. Today we can see similar instances within the ‘Repeal the 8th’ campaign.

This tendency from the popular opinion ‘movement’ to shut down any ‘unreasonable’ opposition might be seen as a form of social policing. Instead of tolerating opinions which don’t belong in a modern society people are beginning to take a stand against them. This is clearly a good thing, however, at some stages this social policing becomes more and more like social vigilantism with the dismissal of the opposition’s opinions becoming more frequent, even though it is important we listen to them.

Cathal Mc Cahey

Image Credit Clip Art Library

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