Before we begin our discussion about facts, here’s a non-manipulated one. It’s a warning, actually, since I don’t want to blindside anyone.
This post is going to be political. Not because I mean to “get political,” but because a perfect example of this just so happened to be political.
As such, let me clarify that anyone and everyone of any ideology – political or otherwise – can commit the sins of logic highlighted below. There’s a very simple explanation for this. Because, unlike what some of us might think of each other, we’re all human.
Which means we’re far from perfect.
Now that you’re warned (and yet hopefully pacified at the same time), let’s get to the inspiration for this discussion. It all began with a Facebook post I published a few months ago that went like this:
This is an honest question and I'm genuinely, truly and seriously not trying to be mean, inflammatory or negative at all in asking it. Promise!
Why is it that everyone who doesn't completely agree with the shutdown is automatically classified as careless, unfeeling and/or uneducated? Why are we not allowed to voice our concerns about freedoms being overrun in favor of government-granted "safety"... economic devastation to millions of people... an increase in suicides as hopelessness increases... and people with serious non-coronavirus health issues being denied medical services due to cutbacks or coronavirus concerns?
Why don't we and our points deserve the dignity of consideration as well?
Call me naive, but I really didn’t expect the vitriol that came next.
While there were a few people who had more reasonable responses to my questions, they’re sadly not what stood out. What stood out were individuals like a former colleague of mine who first told me that contrary opinions to the accepted narrative weren’t “even relevant to even ask” and that the lives of those hurting economically weren’t “actually worth that much.”
Then he wrote this:
Unfortunately there are too many stupid people in this country who have grasped hold of the idea that their opinions are better than facts or experts. It’s destroying the fabric of this country and our ability to make rational decisions. We have discounted intelligence, expertise and education for gut feelings and freedom because that’s American… We should be better that this.
Here’s how it went from there:
Me: Facts can be manipulated, and experts can be corrupt or ignorant. That’s why it’s important to think for oneself. “Oneself” can still be wrong. But so can the herd.
FC: Wrong, and wrong. Facts, by their nature, cannot be manipulated. It’s correct or incorrect. When someone claims false facts… it’s a way of discounting the truth and (even worse) the societal basis of truth. An expert either IS an expert, or they are not (ie, Repudiated by a review board or organizations- All experts: Drs. Lawyers, Priests, Engineers, Judges etc. have professional review boards that can question or support an individual’s ‘authority’ to give input on a situation.) An expert A: gives their professional opinion, or B: states a fact. There isn’t both. FC Continued: So we can question their opinion but not the fact… Flawed hypothesis, bad data, bad presentation can all lead to inaccuracies and conjecture. But when you can dismiss facts that you don’t agree with as ‘false facts’ you undermine our ability to make a rational decisions. If I tell a group that I’m the only place/person for ‘truth’… and they believe me, then I can tell them anything I want, distort reality, spin false into fact and generally corrupt a ‘great’ nation into a 3rd world one.
For the record, the second “…” in there was me cutting out especially snippy commentary. I don’t see the point in repeating it and making this post even more political than it already is.
The conversation continued from there, though with only one more response from me: You’re right that facts are facts. But they can still be manipulated through logical fallacies. (Anything can be manipulated, including minds.) It’s all about how you phrase them, stack them up with each other, etc. Anyone who worked at The Oxford Club should know that. We never lied. We just carefully arranged the truth to suit our bottom line.
And, considering how corrupt The Oxford Club is, our former employer, could be, that ended the argument.
With all due respect though, it was an argument that never should have happened in the first place. FC is an intelligent man with a great work ethic.
He’s also had at least an Oxford Club worth of experience to show him how manipulable facts can be.
But all of that went out the window as soon as he became more interested in tearing the other side down than building his own argument up. Self-righteous certainty is rarely a good thing when trying to make a point, whether in writing or out loud.
Again, this Facebook conversation could have happened on the other side of the mask-wearing aisle. I’m not trying to put anyone’s mindset down any more than I am trying to put anyone themselves down.
All I’m saying is that we as writers, intellectuals, and individuals of character should always consider our own potential fallibility – and the potential fallibility of our sources – before we climb up too high on our horses.
When we embrace that kind of humility, we might find that the world becomes a better place. On paper and off.