One argument I tend to get into with other people quite often lately is the idea that everyone's opinions are of equal value and/or value-free. The constant refrain is that everyone has the right to their own opinions, and that it's intolerant of me to say that people who hold bigoted and intolerant opinions are bad people. I should just be nice and let them hold their opinions, even if their opinions bother me, because everyone's entitled to their own opinions.
Well, let's investigate that, shall we? More beyond the jump.
What this argument boils down to is the idea that you can't separate people from their opinions, and nobody is really an inherently evil person, so it's wrong for me to say that the opinions which I don't agree with are evil, because then I'm saying that the people holding those opinions are evil, too. This can be especially distressing to the person I'm talking to when it's their mother, or their brother, or their father or sister or boss or pastor or best friend, who's the holder of the opinions I don't like.
My response to the person defending the right to hold opinions follows below. (Please note; I was pretty pissed off when I wrote it.)
Following the logic of "everyone's entitled to hold their own opinions," my opinion that all people are created equal and deserve the same rights has the same value as a Klansman's opinion that black people somehow don't deserve the same rights as white people, or a fundamentalist Christian's opinion that gays somehow don't deserve the same rights as straight people - because everyone has the right to their own opinions. And then, when I say that I won't tolerate the opinion that people are not all inherently deserving of the same rights, I get accused of being intolerant because a tolerant person would accept that people have the right to their own opinions.
I'm here to say this right now: Opinions that allow prejudice to continue unchecked are intolerable. Opinions that support laws which support that kind of prejudice are intolerable. Opinions that create drives to make gay relationships a second-class status, that create drives to keep blacks second-class citizens, that nullify equal rights for women, are intolerable. Therefore, I won't tolerate them, I won't accept them, and I will point out that they're worthless and evil every chance I get.
If someone holds opinions that support bigotry, prejudice, or inequality, that's fine, but in the marketplace of ideas, their opinions are not worth one red cent and should not be given any credence. Bluntly put, not all opinions are created equal. Neither are all opinions value-free (as opposed to valueless; value-free means that there's no judgment of right/wrong/good/evil attached, and sorry, but some opinions are simply evil). Small-minded opinions, intolerant opinions, prejudiced opinions - I am saying here and now that these opinions are not equal to opinions that support equality and fairness. The value of these bigoted opinions is zero, and the opinions are evil. The people who hold these opinions are free to hold them, that's true - but the opinions are still evil, and it colors my view of the people who hold them in negative ways. And I will not tolerate those opinions - especially not in a country where equality is supposed to be the norm and prejudice is supposed to be a thing of the past.
So no, I won't tolerate opinions that demonstrate or promote intolerance. And I won't tolerate your mother's, your sister's, your brother's, your father's, your boss's, or your pastor's, or your best friend's opinions that demonstrate or promote intolerance either. I don't care if they've always believed it, and I don't care if it's part of their religion, and I don't care if they "don't know any better" or if they're "too old to change." All of those are just excuses, a papering-over of the reality that holding those opinions makes them bigots and thus part of the problem.
Neither will I lend credence or legitimacy to small-mindedness and bigotry by saying "Well, but everyone's entitled to their own opinions." That's a cop-out. That's failing to recognize that when people hold opinions, they tend to ACT on those opinions. And when people hold small-minded, prejudiced, racist, homophobic, sexist opinions, and then act on them, we get things like the Jim Crow laws, and Proposition 8, and Amendment 2, and the defeat of the ERA.
And if you don't think that makes the people who hold those opinions evil people, if you still think that "everyone has the right to hold their own opinions" justifies that kind of behavior, if you think that the pain and harm that's being perpetrated on the people that they don't like is somehow justified because everyone has the right to hold their own opinions, if you can't see the link between HOLDING bigoted opinions and ACTING on them...
Well, I won't tolerate that, either. I'll argue with you every chance I get, because this shit has got to stop.
And if that bothers you, at least that's a step in the right direction.