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.)

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.

All hail the radical middle

I don’t write here every day because I promised myself I would try to think about things and then write rather than just explode all over the keyboard when something struck me as odd, inspiring, stupid or funny—Little League World Series developments, of course, being an exception.  And if that sets me apart from that part of the planet that’s always ready to respond to any development with the predigested talking points of some demagogue or another, I can live with that.

The more I think about this weekend’s TDS_RallyPosterRally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive, the more I think it will be a fun and educational way to remind everybody that we, the people who are not exactly pleased with everything that goes on in our government and our economy but haven’t thrown in with the extremist wingnuts du jour and want to talk about ways to make things better, are the center that holds this all together.  As the rally organizers say:

We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.

TCR_RallyPosterNow, I think that’s funny.  But I bet you, too, know people who wouldn’t laugh, who consider any deviation from the revealed truth to be treason and heresy, people unwilling to scrape the rust off of their imaginations for an honest discussion about possible alternatives to what they’ve told.  Leonard Pitts Jr. calls them “people who believe what they believe because they believe. Their ignorance is bellicose, determined, an act of sheer will, and there is not enough reason in all the world to budge them from it.”

Rex Huppke in the Chicago Tribune sees us as a sizeable block of Americans who are aware that the emperors on both sides of today’s partisan hissy fit are naked, and are occasionally amused by the spectacle.

…what about those folks who have remained largely on the sidelines during the campaign, chuckling at the often absurd rhetorical volleys of our feuding politicos? This could be their moment to stand up and say, “Hey. You all are acting like jerks. Cut it out.”

I’m sorry I can’t attend this weekend’s rally in Washington, D.C., but I plan to enjoy it from afar.  And I plan to keep thinking about and writing about issues that are important to our future, as Americans and as Earthlings.  A good place to start is among the ideas laid out by political consultant Mark McKinnon, who thinks we need more talk and good will in the political arena to get the radical middle into the game.

They don’t agree on every policy, but they are willing to debate on principles. And consider principled compromise. They recognize hard decisions are ahead. And neither party is stepping up to make the tough decisions.

We could use a little more sanity around here for a change.

UPDATE Oct. 20

This was published last evening about the same time as my post; Timothy Noah argues that what is likely to happen in the rallies next weekend could feed the animus that Tea Party types feel toward the “elites,” of which he believes Stewart and Colbert will be representative in their eyes, and actually influence the elections in favor of Republicans, which Stewart and Colbert would regret politically if not professionally.