The Diminishing Value of Fact — and the Antidote

 

Spurred by @susanquinn‘s post today, I am reproducing here something I wrote in (apparently) 2012, at one of my earlier blogs. Link provided for veracity. Which is to say: Yes, Susan, I think you’re exactly right.

Original post:

The Shape of Things to Come

Facts will matter less in the future, and we should prepare to win in that age.

These days, it is increasingly simple for people to back up whatever opinion they have with facts from a variety of sources. If I wish to claim that a certain tax scheme is right and good, I am likely to bolster my claim with numbers from somewhere. After all, utilitarian arguments such as “does it work?” should not be unwelcome in a public policy discussion. Some facts are sought for and others are generated, while still others simply fall as if from the sky into a person’s awareness. Such is the nature of our “one point five way” communications environment.

I can access a wealth of hard data from the government which I can prepare as charts and aggregations which either support my point (which we now call “proving”) or refute it. Other people have done the same, and all of those “facts” are still lying about to be seized wielded in other arguments.

A person who wishes check out some facts, either to poke holes in a contrary stance or simply as due diligence in one’s own arena, will simply become fatigued before exhausting all the options. A decision must be made and the paper published, the issue released, the argument re-joined. A reasonable point to stop inquiry is when further inquiry promises little gain, which is by its nature a bit of fortune-telling.

That point of diminishing returns is advancing toward us now, as the veracity of information readily available suffers on average. Sources such as Wikipedia have their place, but at the same time are competing for mindshare where pedigreed sources used to reign. The Universities which used to be the arbiters of authoritative knowledge have cast that role into a pit of relativism, doubt and disdain. The American education system has been lured to its destruction by the intellectually flawed arguments of the left and their generation-spanning strategy of breaking and taking.

In a world where facts are less convincing, their value decreases. The business of generating, checking, supporting or refuting claims will suffer, and this is a keystone of our civilization. We are willfully stupid and increasingly so. Like our elevation of the ugly as authentic and our obfuscation of the line between innocence and guilt, this willful stupidity is a plain and growing menace, but viewed as a phenomenon, it does help point the way to its own antidote, which is not more facts.

We are drowning in facts, and not only does it not prove anybody’s point, it makes the odds of convincing people even more remote. This “information age” is a bunch of crap and we all know it. The future will be dominated by the two things which are impervious to fact: stupidity and principle. If we want to combat the unshakable conviction that people have for easily disproven ideas, more facts will not usually help. Only moral reasoning can assail this sort of thing, and in this, conservatives have an advantage.

If I wish to advance a certain tax scheme, it may not matter at all what numbers I can attach to my proposal, because everybody has numbers. But if I can connect it to the idea that a government which is just must be limited to the bare minimum of confiscations in order to carry out its legitimate role, then at least I have a position which can withstand any amount of charts and statistics. Utilitarian arguments have their place, but whenever you find yourself making one, you have already accepted a premise along the way. It is worthwhile to examine those premises from time to time, and to expose and debate the premises themselves. If you can win your point on principle, then the rest can be done with a spreadsheet.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    BDB: The future will be dominated by the two things which are impervious to fact: stupidity and principle. If we want to combat the unshakable conviction that people have for easily disproven ideas, more facts will not usually help. Only moral reasoning can assail this sort of thing, and in this, conservatives have an advantage.

    Good points! I especially liked this one. 

    How do you locate your posts from years ago? Maybe I just post too often . . . 

    • #1
  2. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    TL;DR?  Just read the last paragraph.

    • #2
  3. Terry Mott Member
    Terry Mott
    @TerryMott

    BDB:

    If I wish to advance a certain tax scheme, it may not matter at all what numbers I can attach to my proposal, because everybody has numbers. But if I can connect it to the idea that a government which is just must be limited to the bare minimum of confiscations in order to carry out its legitimate role, then at least I have a position which can withstand any amount of charts and statistics. Utilitarian arguments have their place, but whenever you find yourself making one, you have already accepted a premise along the way. It is worthwhile to examine those premises from time to time, and to expose and debate the premises themselves. If you can win your point on principle, then the rest can be done with a spreadsheet.

    The bolded statement is perhaps the most maddening thing about Republicans through the decades.  They too readily accept the premises of the Democrats and end up simply bickering over the price tag.  This is doubly true for the establishment variety (for lack of a better term).

    • #3
  4. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Terry Mott (View Comment):

    BDB:

    If I wish to advance a certain tax scheme, it may not matter at all what numbers I can attach to my proposal, because everybody has numbers. But if I can connect it to the idea that a government which is just must be limited to the bare minimum of confiscations in order to carry out its legitimate role, then at least I have a position which can withstand any amount of charts and statistics. Utilitarian arguments have their place, but whenever you find yourself making one, you have already accepted a premise along the way. It is worthwhile to examine those premises from time to time, and to expose and debate the premises themselves. If you can win your point on principle, then the rest can be done with a spreadsheet.

    The bolded statement is perhaps the most maddening thing about Republicans through the decades. They too readily accept the premises of the Democrats and end up simply bickering over the price tag. This is doubly true for the establishment variety (for lack of a better term).

    cf. Geo W Bush in 2007 (or so) trying  to buy us off about the Gang of 8 amnesty mess.  It wasn’t about the price.  It was the principle.

    • #4
  5. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    There was a meme going around a few months ago:  “Remember back before the internet when we thought the reason people were stupid was because they lacked access to information?”

     

     

    • #5
  6. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    How do you locate your posts from years ago? Maybe I just post too often . . . 

    This is from one of my old blogs.  So it’s easy for me to search.

    • #6
  7. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    A quote from my compendium: 

    “[A]nyone who wants to produce an effect in a mass democracy needs media-ready images more urgently than good arguments.” 

                      Christoph Peters (NY Times, 17 July 2008)  

    • #7
  8. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    A quote from my compendium:

    “[A]nyone who wants to produce an effect in a mass democracy needs media-ready images more urgently than good arguments.”

    Christoph Peters (NY Times, 17 July 2008)

    Blame government schools. Everything the government touches turns to sh*t.

    • #8
  9. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    A quote from my compendium:

    “[A]nyone who wants to produce an effect in a mass democracy needs media-ready images more urgently than good arguments.”

    Christoph Peters (NY Times, 17 July 2008)

    And this is where the meme-lord dorks heroes over at certain other sites come into the fight.

    I’ll put up a Members-Only jacket  post to discuss that further.

    • #9
  10. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    There is a key corollary to this: we have to understand that we are in a marketing war. How we package our ideas is far more important to their success than the core ideas themselves.

    To market successfully, you need to get inside the head of the other side. That means using language that they understand, finding the notes that resonate with whatever makes them open to considering a rethink of what they already believe. 

    This can only be done successfully with considerable and deliberate attention.  Making ourselves sound good to ourselves is easy. Making us sound good to them is much harder.

    • #10
  11. She Member
    She
    @She

    iWe (View Comment):
    This can only be done successfully with considerable and deliberate attention.  Making ourselves sound good to ourselves is easy. Making us sound good to them is much harder.

    This, up and down the line.

    • #11
  12. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    As a saying attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas goes; Very few are swayed by a logical argument, far fewer can construct one.

    It’s all about emotion, regardless of how screwed-up things become it’s how you feel that matters.

    • #12
  13. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    In the early 13th century, in response to papal concerns that the new academic enthusiasm for (pagan) writings of ancient Greek philosophers was contrary to Christian doctrine and outlook, Thomas Aquinas articulated the notion of The Unity of Truth:  Nothing that is true contradicts anything else that is true.  If you find that math or science seems to contradict revealed truth then the problem is not with science or religion but with your understanding of one or both.

    Two centuries earlier, the Islamic world grappled with the same issue.  Lots of spectacular secular scholarship in Baghdad was followed by a growing popular perception that both rulers and scholars were lacking in requisite piety.  The works of Al Ghazali condemning Greek philosophy and science marked the end of an era Islamic scientific achievement.  Religion alone must rule and anything that does not conform to a literal understanding of religion is unacceptable thinking.  By the 18th century, Ottoman military planners had to request a fatwa for formal permission to make the study of Newtonian physics required reading for artillery officers.

    Lefties are much more like 12th century Muslims than Thomists, dismissing all thought that does not conform to their canon (at that moment) and without the slightest awareness that their grasp of the truth of the matter could be deficient.  Facts are fillers for articles and arguments already crafted or handed to them.  There are no interesting surprises in life, no learning from failed assumptions or inadequate perspectives just an eternal battle against heresy (which may have been part of the canon five minutes ago–unlike the woke, Muslims are at least consistent.)

    The lefty lives a contradiction of the Moynihan dictum that everybody is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.  You are only entitled to the correct opinion which will, in turn, select the correct facts.  That facts could force a rethinking of an opinion is a non sequitur, an impossibility by definition for the woke.

    • #13
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