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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.
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.Published in