Friday, September 09, 2011

The fact of the matter.

Damning facts are still facts.   Steven C. Holtzman*

Truth is difficult. Truth can be slippery, subjective, and in a larger sense unknowable. Facts, however...

Once again in Facebook I am confronted with people with whom I share political views on almost every issue under the sun repeating the factually wrong assertion that members of Congress do not pay for their own health care. What makes it worse, I have already corrected these people several times -- both as comments in their Facebook status updates, and with status updates of my own.

It may seem to be a very small thing.  It is not.

Facts matter.  How much any given fact matters is highly contextual, but whether or not a statement is actually true means a lot.  A worldview not built on reality, which refuses to accept facts that do not fit into its pre-written talking points, is that of a charlatan or a fool.

Confronting facts which challenge what we think is an important part of our intellectual growth. It allows us to develop nuance in our understanding of the world. It also helps us understand those around us: very few people are wrong all the time, and no one has a monopoly on truth.  Listening to truth voiced by those with whom we disagree -- once we have determined it to be true -- forces us to examine our own views, which is always a good thing.  Willingness to allow for facts we rather wish weren't true is vital to critical thinking.

More to the point in this case, facts are how we assess credibility. How better to judge a person's arguments than to see whether they get their facts straight? Far too often these days, many people seem to have that backward:  they decide whether or not they like or trust an individual public figure, then accept as fact statements that public figure makes, without bothering to check their truthfulness.  Those statements get repeated, as though factual accuracy was determined by popular vote or amount of media coverage.

As progressives become an increasingly endangered species in this country, adherence to factual accuracy becomes crucial.  Reality is our best weapon; indeed, our only weapon. Being sloppy with facts opens the door to (occasionally proper) accusations of bias and ignorance which many are only too willing to believe.  It behooves us to be very careful about what we assert to be true.

Facts do not cease to exist simply because they are uncomfortable, inconvenient, or call into question your entire belief system.  This is as true for progressives alleging the corruption of Congress as it is for young-earth creationists asserting that the dinosaurs never really existed, or tin-foil hat wearers who insist the moon landings were faked.

*This is a quote from "Oracle America, Inc.’s Reply To Google Inc.’s Objections To The Declaration Of Fred Norton In Support Of Oracle’s Motion To Compel Production Of Documents, or, In the Alternative Respond To Legal Argument,"  filed August 17, 2011 in Oracle America, Inc.  v. Google, Inc. (found on** I was, ahem, Googling for quotes about "facts," and ran across this gem. It is a) true and b) a nicely crafted sentence, which in my book makes it a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
**Yes, I know this is not proper citation form.  No, I have no intention of looking up the correct form.  Yes, I am being lazy.  Sue me.  The issue of the importance of proper form  is an entirely different post which I fully intend to write sometime in May, 2017.

No comments:

Post a Comment