Consider a sparring division at a karate tournament. There are rules in place to protect the safety and well-being of the competitors. For example, at the tournaments I attend, if I’m going to do a head-level roundhouse kick, I can only do light contact. I have to exercise control, and retract my foot after the kick. I can’t follow through and try to knock my opponent’s head off. These are the rules, and if I violate these rules I will be penalized.
Okay. So now let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: let’s say I have an opinion on this. I don’t like the rules that are in place at tournaments. I think they’re too strict. I should be free to do what I want in that sparring match. If I want to engage in a full-contact roundhouse kick, I should have that right. And no one should interfere with that right.
Maybe I’ve watched some YouTube videos or read some articles on this, and I’m feeling riled up. And now I believe the rules to be an infringement of my rights, a violation of my freedom. Maybe I read somewhere that full-contact kicks are unlikely to result in trauma, that head injuries are a hoax. Maybe people who end up in hospital or dead after such matches—maybe they’re just weak. They have thin skulls. They’re prone to head injury. They were going to get injured or die anyway, walking into an open cupboard, or slamming their head in a car door. Not my problem. Maybe I even believe that society should be cleared out of such weak people. Cull the herd. Population control. Rid the world of thin-skulled martial artists. Survival of the fittest. It’s nature’s way.
No way in hell am I gonna let someone tell me what I can or can’t do, or think, or believe.
I am going to kick people in the head if I want, and as hard as I want. I have that right.
But hey, I’m a good person. I believe that everyone has a right to their opinion. So if my opponent wants to wear a helmet because they believe it provides a measure of protection, because they are worried about head injury—well, I support that. Good for them. I will in no way interfere with their right to hold that opinion or engage in their behaviour. We can agree to disagree. They can wear that helmet, and I can rock their head with my foot. It’s cool.
But I shouldn’t be the only one with this right: everyone in the match should be able to do this. My opponent can kick me in the head as hard as they want. Fair play. And I’m not worried. I’m tough, I have a thick skull and good genes. So bring it on.
But wait… not only am I going to do what I want; I’m also going to spread the word. To family, to friends, to other competitors, to karate students, to strangers all over the internet. My opinion, my rights, my freedom. Booyah. You do you, and I’ll do me. We’ll just agree to disagree.
Okay. Got the picture? Time to reel it in.
Let’s consider this opinion now, that full-strength head kicks are okay, and that I have the right to engage in such, because head injuries are exaggerated or a myth. Do I in fact have the right to hold this opinion? Am I entitled to believe whatever I want?
Before I address that, let’s consider another opinion. Maybe I believe that roundhouse kicks are more effective in a match, but you believe hook kicks to be more effective. This is a very different debate. I have my preference; you have yours. No harm done. We can certainly agree to disagree on this point.
But a full-contact, full-strength head kick, despite the rules? Being free to do whatever I want in a sparring match, with no repercussions? Claiming that brain injury is exaggerated, or a hoax?
Do I actually have the right to hold this opinion? To believe and/or express this opinion, free from opposition? No, I don’t. The right to hold an opinion is earned, and I earn it by backing it up with research and evidence. If I can’t defend my opinion in an argument—if I simply fall back on “let’s agree to disagree” when backed into a corner—well, then I’ve lost my right to have that opinion. If someone objects to my opinion, and offers a solid argument and evidence against that opinion—evidence of head trauma from full-contact kicks, evidence of the danger and immorality of engaging in such a practice—again, I lose the right to that opinion.
I do not have the right to this opinion if the matter has been settled scientifically, and if engaging in this practice could put others in danger. And even if I am not the one to actually perform the headkick, even just sharing that opinion is morally reprehensible and potentially dangerous. Because now I am spreading a falsehood. Now I’m encouraging others to disregard the safety of others, and to disregard science and morality in favour of “individual rights and freedoms.” To value self-interest above all else.
In this case I don’t have the right to express this opinion; indeed, I have a duty to keep it to myself.
Sure, I can go into that match and inflict a full-strength head kick. I am physically free to do that. But I am also responsible for the consequences of that choice. And I should be held responsible. Doing so would be unsafe, unethical, irresponsible, selfish, and a violation of the safety and well-being and rights of others.
There is nothing wrong with having an opinion. But… having an opinion isn’t the end of it. I need to be able to defend that opinion. I need to be able to justify that opinion. And I need to be open to revising that opinion in the face of conflicting evidence.
And if I can’t or don’t? If I inflict full-strength, knock-your-head-off head kicks anyway? Or encourage others to do the same? Despite all of the evidence of the danger of doing so?
Well, then that just makes me an asshole.