Don’t let the facts get in the way of (your) truth

A old friend of mine—a friend from way way back, I mean; I’m actually older—recently published a nice piece in which he argues for all of us to expand the sources of news and information we regularly sample and to rediscover the ability and the inclination to think critically.  You can read it here, and when you get past the cows and the sharks (you’ll see) he makes a good point about how in today’s world our experience and exposure tend to drive most people into a set of beliefs that become impermeable to facts and reason.  Unfortunately.

Today I was looking through articles I’d saved to write about some day, and found one that relates to Joe’s post: from almost three years ago, Rex Huppke’s Chicago Tribune obituary for Facts.

To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives are communists.

(snip)

“It’s very depressing,” said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of “A History of the Modern Fact.” “I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We’ll never agree on anything.”

(snip)

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Facts reached adulthood as the world underwent a shift toward proving things true through the principles of physics and mathematical modeling. There was respect for scientists as arbiters of the truth, and Facts itself reached the peak of its power.

But those halcyon days would not last.

People unable to understand how science works began to question Facts. And at the same time there was a rise in political partisanship and a growth in the number of media outlets that would disseminate information, rarely relying on feedback from Facts.

(snip)

Though weakened, Facts managed to persevere through the last two decades, despite historic setbacks that included President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, the justification for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and the debate over President Barack Obama’s American citizenship.

(snip)

“American society has lost confidence that there’s a single alternative,” [Poovey] said. “Anybody can express an opinion on a blog or any other outlet and there’s no system of verification or double-checking, you just say whatever you want to and it gets magnified. It’s just kind of a bizarre world in which one person’s opinion counts as much as anybody else’s.”

Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion…

…and a not-so-distant cousin, Bald-Faced Lie, all of whom now appear regularly in the political “reality show” that passes for journalism on the 24-hour news networks.

(Relive the debut of “truthiness” right here.)

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Dear Jon Stewart,

Thank you…you and the little army of writers and television gypsies that came together for good, at a time when your country, and I, needed you.  When we were lost, trying to rescue truth from the clutches of the radical political conservatives, and the evangelical Christian extremists, and the political organizations they controlled, you went to the front of the column and screamed, “Seriously?”

Journalism was little help in those dark times.  The major outlets were swampedjon_stewart3 by calls that blamed the “liberal media” for always taking sides against good honest conservatives, so they fell back to reporting controversial stories as little more than “he said/she said” exchanges and refused to identify blatant falsity as such.  They were outmaneuvered by the opposition; they were (and are) cowards, willing victims to what David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times beautifully referred to as “the four horsemen of the journalistic apocalypse: superficiality, sensationalism, preoccupation with celebrity, and obsession with the bottom line.”  So it was left to comedy, satire, to ride to our rescue.

The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think. – H. L. Mencken

Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so. – Robert A. Heinlein

It didn’t help that the barbarians at the gate, intent on replacing the tolerant democratic civil society we were aspiring to with a theocracy of their own religious beliefs, decided to unlevel the playing field and refuse to acknowledge any truths that didn’t support their worldview.  The “reality-based community” stood dumbfounded, scrambling for the proper reply to “No, the sky is not blue, and you can’t prove that it is.”  But you found a way.

You like to say that you were just a comedian; true enough, but on The Daily Show you were more than just jokes.  You aimed a most potent weapon—sunshine; the light of day; their own words; common sense—at people who were full of shit and assured us all that the smell was coming from somewhere else.  They deserved what they got from you, and we got to laugh.  And in the process—in pointing out that the emperor indeed did not have on any clothes, that what politicians said quite often was at odds with demonstrable truth, that the 24-hour news channels weren’t worth the paper they were printed on—you reassured a lot of us that there was still hope.  For that, thank you.

Fact is, you did a great job of it just this week and I grabbed the link.  So for old time’s sake, just once more, let me suggest—click the pic, ya maroons.

image

No kidding

image

…I got nothing for you, in terms of like jokes and sounds, because of what happened in South Carolina…I honestly have nothing, other than just sadness, once again, that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other in the nexus of a, just, gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist.  And, I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jackshit.  Yeah; that’s us, and that’s the part that blows my mind.

(clip)

The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy is the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him?  We’re bringing it on ourselves, and that’s the thing: Al Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not shit compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.

Truthiness

Today Stephen Colbert retires “Stephen Colbert.” Since October 2005 Colbert the comedian and satirist has launched “Colbert” the character on a mission to entertain us by shining a light on the hypocrisy and evil intentions of people who profit from pandering to a fear and ignorance in American society that refuses to wilt in the face of truth. In fact, he told us as much on the very first episode (click the pic):

ColbertTruthinessEver thought about what it must take for Colbert to stay in character, and to do it for so many years? This morning I ran across a nice little article that links to a Slate podcast in which Colbert explains—very interesting.

You don’t give Mrs. O’Leary a forum to bad-mouth the firefighters, or let Capt. Hazelwood criticize how they clean up the oil spill

So extreme that they even scare Al Qaeda?  OK, you’ve got my attention.

What the hell is The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and how is it able to take over major Iraqi cities apart from the luck of only encountering feeble resistance from American-trained Iraqi government forces?  I don’t know, and it’s a little unsettling to read and hear the stories of these religious extremists blowing through city after city summarily executing those who don’t worship properly—as Sunni Muslims—and setting up their own governing authority.  The Iraqi government has asked the U.S. for help and our government is thinking it over.

In the meantime, because news networks have lots and lots of air time to fill, the punditocracy has cranked into gear to do what it does best: blow hot air.  Well, that’s just fine, I suppose, but…why, why, why, in the wide wide world of sports are they asking the opinions of the men who got us into the quagmire of Iraq in the first place for their opinions on what President Obama should do now?

Sargent Iraq arson

Thanks Ben Sargent and GoComics.com

Want to read some more—try here and here and here and here and here.  But as one might imagine, some of the best remember-what-these-nutballs-said-and-did-and-what-happened-because-of-it recollection has come from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  (click the pic to see what I mean)

wrong about iraq

Hey, talk show bookers and assignment editors: think, just for a minute, before you make your next move.  Looking for a good summary of what happened way back when–here’s one.

The totality of the Bush administration’s failure in Iraq is stunning. It is not simply that they failed to build the liberal democracy they wanted. It’s that they ended up strengthening theocracies they feared.

And it’s not simply that they failed to find the weapons of mass destruction that they worried could one day be passed onto terrorists. It’s that a terrorist organization now controls a territory about the size of Belgium, raising the possibility that America’s invasion and occupation inadvertently trained the fighters and created the vacuum that will lead to al Qaeda’s successor organization.

And all this cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives.

(UPDATE: Yes, I did change the headline once I realized the error…I figure it’s never too late to get it right–PR)