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Anecdotes Are Not Facts: Tell That to the Left
Recently I had a conversation with a friend with whom I rarely have political conversations. They generally don’t end well. In this situation, I was able to make my point without ripping out my hair, but I’m sure my friend found our discussion deeply unsatisfying. I found, however, that I became much clearer about the mindset of the Left, to which she belongs, and although it was discouraging, it was revealing. What was that clarity?
The Left believes that anecdotes, particularly their personal experiences, can be generalized to life. And I don’t think there’s a way to talk them out of that belief, because it is central to their worldview.
I’m not sure how we veered into such dangerous territory, but we ended up focusing on the statement that “one in five women on college campuses are raped or will be raped.” It’s important to note that the word rape is the descriptive word we used. My friend said she believed this information was true; I did not.
I spent most of my explanation on the fact that there are endless ways to define the meaning of this statement. “Rape” morphs into sexual assault, which morphs into various kinds of interactions between the “victim” and the “perpetrator.” It’s an understatement to suggest that the premise of rape on college campuses has been used and abused, particularly by the feminist Left, who have repeatedly demonstrated their disdain, if not hatred, for men.
I discovered that my friend was not interested in data or facts. She was reaching her conclusion based on her own personal experiences. Over the years she was assaulted (not raped) by two different men; she even slapped one of them in response to his behavior. That means she was assaulted twice over many years. She also believed that society never believed that women were raped, and only believed the men. I pointed out the Brett Kavanaugh hearings where many on the Left believed the lies of the woman. (I didn’t ask my friend her beliefs about those hearings, because I was pretty sure she would side with the woman, and that would have been too much to bear.)
The way I tried to address her conclusions were (1) that I’m sure her personal experiences were traumatic and difficult; (2) that I didn’t think it was fair to draw conclusions about men in general from her two lifetime experiences, regardless of how horrible they were for her; (3) that data trumped anecdotes, especially when the analyses were complex and conflicting.
Yet based on her own experiences and her own “instincts,” she basically believed that most men were scum.
How was this information helpful to me?
First, I didn’t know about the two incidents in her own life which colored her perceptions. I realized that for many people, “Perception is reality”; and most of the time that conclusion is harmless. For example, if I have a handful of friends that tell me a restaurant is not very good, I may still try out the restaurant, but with reservations (pun intended!) Or if someone discourages me from reading a particular book, I may still read it because I have read other books by the author or have a special interest in the topic. My actions are not life-changing and have little impact, if any, on my view of the world.
But when anecdotes are involved, I assess them as “stories.” They will include perceptions, memories, preferences, biases, and a myriad of other factors. If I am serious about making an objective assessment, I will not only consider the anecdotes of others but make my own evaluation. An excellent example is my personal doctor/internist whom some women don’t like, but he and I get along fine and have had a great relationship for many years. I don’t try to talk them out of their experiences with him, nor do they try to criticize mine.
I believe that one of the biggest roadblocks we will encounter in bringing the Left to our way of thinking (never mind factors like confirmation bias, personal history, lack of critical thinking, and pressure to conform), will be their reliance on anecdotes. I’m convinced that they believe their personal experience is a valid substitute for facts. To challenge that mindset threatens their worldview, their very existence, and for the Left, it is simply not worth risking everything they might lose.
That may include the basis of who they think they are, and it would be too costly.
What can we do about the anecdotes that are so deeply woven into Leftist thinking?Published in Culture
However, people on the left believe so many things that they will never experience in their own life. For example, “systemic racism.” So it seems that “anecdotes as evidence” can at best explain only a rather small portion of (what passes for) their overall worldview.
This is correct, however, anecdotes *are* facts. This is just as every data point is a fact.
The way I define facts is that they arer seen as having some objective reality. Not true for anecdotes from my perspective.
I’d suggest that unless you know a person’s life intimately, there’s no way to know whether anecdotes, meaning their life experiences, form their perspectives to a large degree or a small one. One incident can affect a large part of a person’s worldview. Even something like systemic racism can probably be connected to one’s life experience in a way that validates the belief.
Most women who are sexually assaulted are afraid of men for period of time. But it is usually family abuse that makes women hate men. Or women for that matter.
Why do so many Americans want to believe that campuses are rapey and that blacks are always treated unfairly. Why do we have such a desire to believe that we are bad?
I think the negativity comes from our fear of the world, which feel so unsafe to so many. Everyone and everything is a threat, and in spite of the efforts of some, there is no safe place.
I should have also mentioned that may friend also tells me stories of her friends bad experiences with a multitude of issues. Again, when have mentioned that is only one example, it doesn’t seem to matter.
We all use anecdotes to an extent. I often use them as a counter to another person’s experience to try to show exactly the point that you made that their anecdote is just one example. Sometimes this will at least get them to acknowledge that there are other points of view and maybe it would be good to look further into a subject.
I don’t believe it is so much anecdotes as it is narrative, which anecdotes reinforce. The left very much believe in large just-so stories. In many cases they use these as ways of arranging their lives, especially if they are not religious or are only tangentially associated with a religion. In such an arrangement experiences with reinforce the narrative become powerful data and those which weaken the narrative are discarded or minimized.
In you example I suspect you friend consciously or not subscribes to the narrative that “All men are predators”. Therefore her negative experiences make it easier for her to extrapolate to a statistic which aligns with the narrative. While I am sure she has discounted the probably vast number of interactions she has had with men that were not predatory. What become her anecdotes are the experiences that reinforce the narrative.
I’d be happy to know that sometimes our efforts get through to them. It’s so difficult to accept that they value their perceptions more than the truth. Thanks, AMD Texas.
Very insightful. Yes, there are men she respects and trusts, so I wonder how they factor in to her overall assessment. And yes, the anecdotes she embraces do reinforce the stories. Thanks.
For those who have responded up to now, I have an observation and would really appreciate your feedback.
I chose to use the word “anecdote” for specific reasons. It suggests that there is a personal experience involved in the premise, either the person’s own experience or that of another person he or she knows. It is not just a theory or an intellectural narrative, although it can strengthen the narrative in the eyes of the person who embraces the anecdote. (BTW, I’m exploring this question because I so enjoy these exchanges.) So in one sense, I give more emphasis or validity to an anecdote because it is more deeply and personally held than a narrative, which has been manufactured by the Left (such as systemic racism). As Raxxalan suggests, narratives and anecdotes can be closely connected. The interesting questions to ask are, is there an “original source” to the held belief? Does a narrative become strengthened through the anecdote? When we are discussing issues one-on-one (as AMD Texas suggests), are we more likely to keep them engaged by referencing their personal anecdote or the general narrative?
I don’t know if any of this matters either, but my objective (which I keep trying and giving up on) is to find a way to reach people who are willing to engage and reconsider their positions.
I think when we engage with someone personally anecdote is probably better than general narrative. Although I think if you are engaging with someone you need to be aware of the general narrative. If only so you can pick anecdotes that work against it. It will be very hard to work against a narrative because they are useful categorizing tools and they have a great deal of explanatory value to the people the hold them. Which is why people cling to them. A good way to engage can be to ask for or provide opposite anecdotes.
All this having been said I haven’t had a huge amount of success reaching people either. Although I tend to see the process as similar to the way water erodes stone rather than hoping for a sudden bolt of lightning, so maybe in the long term I might be having an effect.
I will hold on to this image and your comments. Maybe there is a subtle, cumulative effect that we simply can’t see.
When I was young I was a fan or Star Trek and especially Spock. I am a computer person. I was into facts, truth, law, etc.
Then I was proven wrong. Over and over again. Facts, truth, reality matter almost nothing at all in the short term. Sure in the long term reality may force itself but short term it is all lies, stories, narratives, rage, etc. Facts become lies until later when it does not matter and they can become facts again.
This event where all the children have been killed. I have had liberal “friends” call me to tell me how wrong it is, how it has to stop and how my guns, and all that believe like me have to go. They know little about the facts of what happened. Even less about guns. Just rage and their righteous anger. The sad part is that they will get their way. Maybe not this time but eventually. Like the left always does. And we on the right will whine about it, swallow our bile and go on to the next big thing we are destined to lose.
For the one thing the Left is the best at is turning pain into action. It does not have to be the right action or the smart action. Just the action that advances their goals.
The left believes if you think something is true hard enough, it becomes true . . .
Our minds seem to react to personal experience (anecdotes) more viscerally (and more strongly) than they react to data. Maybe it’s the personal connection.
I noticed this with Covid-19, particularly in the first several months. People who had a close friend or relative who got a severe case of Covid tended to have a much more fearful attitude toward the virus than the statistics would justify. The personal connection seemed to make the disease more real and more imminent. It happened to my friend or relative, so it is likely to happen to me.
“Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.” — Edmund Burke
To deter ever so slightly, I wonder why so many parents of girls are willing to fork over a fortune, or the girls themselves willing to go into a lifetime of debt, to obtain a college degree from an institution that apparently also admits lots of rapists. One in five? Just an average, right? So some schools must be worse. Shouldn’t colleges have to state the risks in their catalogs? I wonder why no one calls child protective services on these parents.
Not that posing such questions would matter. Anecdote trumps reason.
That’s because, in large part, the Left is driven by Feelings not Facts. The personal anecdote informs their personal Feelings and NOTHING … no amount of data, or logic or analysis… can move them from their position. That’s why you frequently hear them say things like “my truth“ or “her truth” … the Feelings make the truth.
Because they view the data in silos; that way they can ignore the data they don’t like. But you make a very good point, Sandy!
You’ve done a better job of reflecting than I did, Ekosj! Thanks.
It’s interesting that the first example you give is not an anecdote but a statistic. The statistic is a narrative. It is a spurious intellectual framework off of which people draw from their life’s experiences to either deny or confirm the statistic. In the last forty years or so, the narrative has changed, and has been reinforced with “statistics”; for examples, global warming is real, guns are the problem, police are racist, children can know that they are the wrong sex. All it takes is one clear example of any preconceived world view — a narrative, presented as a statistic — to fix the narrative as truth in a person’s mind.
And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: pattern recognition is a good thing; as I say, confirmation bias is a good thing, unless it confirms something that’s wrong. :) But when the nature of reality is pre-charged with a template of propagandized fakery, false statistics, which create inappropriate biases, then perceptions of reality do not represent the real world.
A hundred or two hundred years ago, culture was “pre-charged” as I seem to have put it, with Biblical teaching as a template and presented a world-view of responsibility, kindness, justice, patience, honesty and so forth, that was largely confirmed in everyone’s minds from the palette of one’s life experiences even if they did not hold to Scripture as necessarily accurate or true.
Today we have a godless, socialistic, pseudo-egalitarian, “Scientific”, nearly-nihilistic narrative that does not hold with reality, but nevertheless, people find examples in their own experience to support.
Changing this template is very, very hard.
Point taken. I guess it would have made more sense to lead off with her anecdotes (the assaults) rather than the statistics, in order to show how she used her “anecdotes” to validate faulty data.
They turn to their own experience because there is nothing else to back them up. It’s interesting, too–she is a Christian, but has modified her beliefs to create a sense of legitimacy. She leaves so much behind when she does.
Here’s a kid who died because of your stupid policies.
Gee, right now there are probably endless supplies of anecdotes about black kids dying in Chicago that go against the lefty narratives of this week. You want gun control? Tell that to the kids who died by gun violence in Chicago after the Democrats enacted gun control!
And a 1 in 5 rape rate would make the average college campus have a higher rape rate than the streets of the most of the most dangerous cities in America. Really?
These statistical tropes catch stupid people in the trap every time.
They don’t define ‘rape’, they don’t define “college campuses”, and they even predict the future, “will be raped”…(!)
Personally I prefer the old terms like “felt up” and the first-base, second base code. That was happening all along in campuses and there were no reports or complaints.
Anyway I’m just too cynical.
Question, what percentage, you say it’s 20% is too much?
Well, I guess…. zero?
Okay, how are you going to accomplish that?
Make them use their brain.
Another standard is “women make .69 cents for every dollar a man makes”, a bit dated but that’s how long I’ve been wise to this statistical scam. Once again no valid definitions. If women are different, then could they have different priorities than making money? And wouldn’t that affect the result? These people aren’t smart enough to consider that.
But, it’s a belief system. This irrational meme resonated with her experience in life, and became an attachment. Honestly, we all have bad experiences, better to not pathologize them.
Part of the problem, of course, is that the modern definition of rape includes “any sexual activity which the woman later regrets.” Maybe because he didn’t call the next day like he said he would, etc. Or in at least one case I remember, “any sexual activity which the woman doesn’t want her boyfriend to think she agreed to.”