This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #10, on the subject of The Unimportance of Facts.
In connection with the recent Presidential debates, one columnist bemoaned the issue that candidates often would make statements which in the aftermath of the debate political junkies who read sites such as Politifact would learn were inaccurate, misleading, or simply untrue. He speculated that voters did not care about facts “because they don’t encounter enough of them.” I considered that, but immediately thought that there might be another reason.
Of course, we have all heard the quip, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts,” and while no one ever says that of himself (and many attribute it to those with whom they disagree), it is a true description of the attitude some people have. I prefer, however, to think a bit more highly of people. It is a failing of those of us who are intelligent that we tend to assume others are also intelligent, and sometimes become frustrated when they demonstrate otherwise, yet I find that if you treat others as if they were reasonably intelligent, and if you assume they have some intellectual integrity, they frequently rise to your expectations. That is to say, most people base opinions on what they believe to be the truth. I think the problem lies elsewhere.
In discussing freedom of expression we mentioned the popular axiom History is written by the winners. We noted then that it was not outside the realm of possibility that Holocaust deniers could so shift public belief that the Holocaust itself might become one of those bits of history no one believes ever really happened. That attitude, though, has come to permeate all of culture, all of education. We are on some level taught that there are no facts, or at least no reliable facts. One cannot know anything with certainty. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable. Media is biased. People who want to tell you something have an agenda, an objective they wish to achieve by the telling, and scientists are not above this. Evolution might be an atheistic deception, global warming might be an environmentalist scare tactic, intelligent design might be an effort to infect pure science with religious nonsense, the Bible might have been written by the church centuries after the time it purports to report, or edited to tell the version of events the priesthood wanted told, and the list is endless. When I was young the world still had facts, and still respected them, and even when you did not know what the facts were you knew that facts existed and believed that they were ultimately discoverable. It was said, The Truth Will Out, meaning that facts could not be kept secret forever. Now we have conspiracies and conspiracy theories, spin doctors and media manipulators, textbook editors and politically correct speech enforcers–thought police of all types working to ensure that what you believe to be the truth fits their agenda. Further, we are fully aware of this aspect of our reality. As a result, we do not really believe what we believe, not in the sense that we think it might be true. We believe it because it is useful and connects us to people who believe as we believe. We are taught to believe concepts that have no basis in facts, and to be suspicious of any data claiming to be factual that is contrary to those concepts. Whether it is the lie that there is no correlation between the number of guns in an area and the amount of gun violence, or the lie that gun free zones are safer places that would never be targeted by mass murderers, we accept the statements that fit our conceptions and reject the facts that are awkward, and never worry about whether any supposed fact is true, because facts are not about being true but about supporting already established convictions.
Voters are not interested in the facts because the facts are irrelevant, and whether any alleged fact will be regarded true depends on who you ask. It not being possible to know the truth of such matters, seeking the truth on them becomes foolish. For the voter, what matters is whether the candidate believes what the voter believes, not whether any of it is factually true. The only truth that matters in today’s world is the subjective truth, the opinion of the one who believes it. Reality is irrelevant. We, as a society, have been taught and have embraced the lie that there is no truth, or if there is, it is completely undiscoverable.
That, sadly, is why facts are not important in the debates.
Many of the issues brushed in this discussion are discussed in more detail on pages in the law and politics section of this website; see Articles on Law and Politics for a list.
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One thought on “#10: The Unimportance of Facts”
An incredibly thought provoking article, I don’t think I had ever considered it in those particular terms. The thesis does seem to fit with the observed facts of our society. I have to wonder if truth is valued and respected anywhere anymore.