In the last month, I have been informed in two separate discussions of the following:
1. I would change my stated opinions on abortion if only I talked with a woman who has had an abortion
2. I would modify my stated opinions on law enforcement if I went on a police beat or did some training about police work
The implication in both of these contexts is that because I have never had an abortion, or worked as a police officer, my views on both of these topics are deficient and can be ignored. I suspect the people making these points both believed that I lack empathy with the other side’s viewpoints.
I call bullshit on this.
We form views and opinions all of the time on subjects about which we have no practical experience. It doesn’t automatically make our opinions worthless. What really matters is whether viewpoints and opinions are based on the processing of facts and information in a way that allows us to not only justify those viewpoints to ourselves (which can be rather easy due to confirmation bias) but also to others.
Both (1) and (2) above are intellectually lazy forms of retreat from good-faith argument. They are a form of shut-down rhetoric. They substitute “you don’t know what you are talking about” for reasoned discourse.
In both of these cases, the people trying these rhetorical devices also fail to realize that, being the sort of careful person that I am, I actually do have some knowledge on both topics derived from talking to people from a different viewpoint. I have talked with two women in the UK who had abortions. I was married to a woman in the UK whose father and middle son were both serving police officers. I talked to them extensively about the day to day reality of law enforcement in the UK.
So, when you try to steer a conversation with me by accusing me (in a roundabout way) of lacking empathy by virtue of lack of knowledge of people with different viewpoints, you’re signalling that you are less interested in a good-faith discussion than you are in shutting down the interaction and escaping back into the security of your own worldview.