You Can't Know the Facts

Before the printing press everything was unique and idiosyncratic, including information. There were no facts. People had to judge separately the veracity each statement each time. Printing allowed multiple copies of the same thing. It permitted comparison and checking. The “fact” was born. Society developed dictionaries & encyclopedias as fact repositories. Guinness published a reference book to settle bar bets.

We even called the NYT the newspaper of record and believed it. No more. The Internet is throwing us back into a pre-printing press situation of conjecture.

Consider the world before the printing press. Every document could be forged and suffered copying errors. Most people could not read anyway. Everything was interpretation. Life was oral history and oral history changes according to the circumstances, needs and prejudices of those remembering. The idea of precedence or casualty was unclear. It is no wonder people were superstitious. Even a prosaic thing such as a man's birth year became an interesting mystery. People often felt certain about the TRUTH, such as the existence of God but certainty about facts that might be useful in daily decisions were just unavailable.

Fast forward to today. Consider Wikipedia. We all use it and we all know that it is wrong in its details. Wikipedia represents a kind of marketplace for information. Eventually an article represents a kind of consensus of the market. Strictly speaking it might not be true, but it is plausible, accepted and useful. The whole Internet is like this. Anybody can post anything and we have to rely on logic and reputation to know whether to trust the "facts" contained. Like a market for products, the market for information will usually produce a useful result, often a better result than an individual genius could have managed, but we can never again get the kind of conviction a man in 1911 had looking up facts in the new edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica".

In many ways we are more sophisticated. In the recent past, someone who knew lots of facts (and maybe could do arithmetic really well) was a genius. The term now is idiot-savant. Internet gives all of us facts and calculators make all of us experts at arithmetic. These skills are devalued. With so many facts literally at our fingertips, we now understand that facts in isolation have little meaning. We seek context. For example, new figures show the deficit for the budget year ending Sept. 30 will be $296 billion, much lower than the projected $423 billion. That is a fact. I bet we do not agree about what it means. Which is more important, the fact or the context?

All this doesn't even take into account the other aspect of our times - the rapid changing of basic information. As a kid, I was interested in dinosaurs, ice ages etc. When my kids developed similar interests, I learned that many of the facts and ground truths I learned a generation ago were wrong, disproved and even ridiculed. This was science. The best we had at the time. I cannot help suspecting the next generation will make similar revisions. Where are the facts? I used to assume a fact would be true in more than one place and time.

Ours is the first generation in several centuries to live in a world of such uncertainty and open interpretation of fact. We still have not adapted. We are seeking certainty where none exists. It is human nature to impose patterns even where there is no pattern. That is one reason conspiracy theories are so widely believed. (BTW -Speaking of facts, who invented the airplane? Now ask someone educated in France or Brazil.)

The danger is that we fall back into superstition. The old saying is right that if you don't believe in something you will fall for anything. We see it already as feelings and emotion are becoming as important as rational thought. Being "insensitive" can be worse than being wrong. Just because you don't know all the facts does not mean you cannot think clearly.

Posted by Jack at July 12, 2006 2:48 AM
Comments
Comment #166746

Jack, your reasoning is wrong. You said once things started getting printed the “Fact” was born.
Actually what is printed is that persons, personal view on how he see’s things. Yes it may be accurate and factual to him, but to another person it might be different.
TV news and newspapers, and even people, put the spin on what they say.
As far as living in a world of uncertainty, I think every generation back to the beginning feels that way.

Posted by: KT at July 12, 2006 8:16 AM
Comment #166747

Jack
Interesting piece - i am not sure whether there is a political direction - this is a political blog after all. I agree with most of your points but here are some observations - to get the comments rolling.

“Just because you don’t know all the facts does not mean you cannot think clearly.”

I would amend this statment - there is an obligation to collect - impartially - all of the known facts pro & con before making a decision. If you listen only to or primarily to one side your “thinking” will often lead you in one direction no matter how clear. It is true that 99% of the important decisions made by governments cannot rely on deduction based on a full & accurate set of facts - in the end you gather all you can and make the best choice possible.

“Being “insensitive” can be worse than being wrong.”

This is a bit tongue in cheek but - since you make the case that we seldom really know whether we are right or wrong in the absolute sense - maybe it can be worse to be insensitive - since we can know that we are with certainty.

Posted by: Terlen at July 12, 2006 8:28 AM
Comment #166748

Jack:

You are misusing the term idiot-savant.

Idiot savants are a group of humans that are incapable of learning, writing or reading, yet they have unlimited access to specific, accurate knowledge in the fields of mathematics, music, and other precise areas.
Posted by: womanmarine at July 12, 2006 8:32 AM
Comment #166749

Fact today is an audio/video clip from a corporate media outlet. Something rewindable and asserted repetitiously. But it is also something personal, like a first-hand experience. In this case, it all comes down to your frame of reference. As always, we can only trust someone’s first-hand account if they seem to be believable. Therefore, fact from an untrustworthy person is a lie in the eyes of others, and a lie from a trustworthy person can be seen as truth.

In the time before the printing presses, we lived in a land of myths. We burned women for being witches, we praised those brave knights who slayed the horrible dragons, and heck, we even wrote a Bible and a Quran after a couple thousand years of scratching hieroglyphics on walls.

Post printing press era, we opened our eyes to the entire globe, and shortly thereafter initiated the deadliest wars and killings in human history. Now that most myths are dead, we go forth into the world of lies supported by facts, and facts supported by lies, guns drawn.

It seems that the next most logical step would be a world where lies will stand undisputed, as all fact will be dominated by authority figures. The very concept of the word ‘fact’ would become a myth itself. Of course, this authority would first have to relieve us of things like Wikipedia (the internet), cell phones (wireless communications), and any sort of written communication (printing presses, libraries).

I know, it’s drpping with irony.

But, Jack, I don’t think the world seeks certainty so much as it does comfort, whether it be the truth or a lie. We only care about our paychecks - war, health, and global prosperity be damned.

Posted by: Bill C. at July 12, 2006 8:43 AM
Comment #166756

Jack,

I think you premise is completely wrong although I agree with your last sentence. There have always been facts. Lies were created with language. Facts that are not physically verifiable are dependent on interpretation and are different between people and their individual interpretations. Examples:
a) Fact: Sartre is Dead Belief: God is not Dead
1) To me it is a fact that Bush43 is an incompetent boob. That “fact” is established to my satisfaction by the numerous observable failures of his administration. I think you would disagree with that fact.
2) To me the budget numbers from the Bush administration are suspect, as every thing they release is politically contrived, not objectively based. Your stament of reducing deficits (which still don’t include Iraq costs of about $3billion a week) therefore isn’t a “fact” but is instead a “belief”. I think you would disagree with that too.
3)To me, it is a fact that should God exist, no person could come even remotely close to understanding what it is. Therefore, every religious text ever written is either complete nonsense, a hitchikers guide, or a best guess for the moment. I think you would disagree with that “fact” too.
BTW; When you question “who invented the airplane”, there is an accurate answer. It’s just that people want to believe different things and can’t agree. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a “truth”.
To summarize my diatribe: There is “fact”, there is “knowledge”, there is “information” and there is “belief”. Referring to information is not refering to fact.

womanmarine,

I think idiot-savant is best defined as the Bush-Condi pairing.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 12, 2006 9:47 AM
Comment #166761

The problem with today’s press is that they are not reporting the story as much as they’re underminning the Bush administration; (just about) every step of the way. That’s not good for this country. At All!!!

Posted by: rahdigly at July 12, 2006 10:31 AM
Comment #166773

Truth, theory, speculation, superstition - It seems sadly funny, but rather poetic, that the first book to be printed in volume was the Bible. (A book just riddled with verifiable facts)

Posted by: DOC at July 12, 2006 11:20 AM
Comment #166782

rah,

Enough of the bush rah-rah. We put up with five years of the press lying cowardly covering the chimps failures. Your approach sounds very soviet. “just support the party” is the rights mantra.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 12, 2006 11:39 AM
Comment #166784
Fast forward to today. Consider Wikipedia. We all use it and we all know that it is wrong in its details.

As a professional librarian, I never use Wikipedia…why use something that is known as an extremely unreliable source at best?? If anyone quotes Wikipedia as a source, I immediately discard them as too lazy to look at a real and reliable information source.

Posted by: Lynne at July 12, 2006 11:46 AM
Comment #166788

It seems in the interest of conservative media to downplay the importance of facts.

Posted by: Schwamp at July 12, 2006 11:55 AM
Comment #166799

rahdigly-

See, I would say that the press has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to criticism of this administration. This is the first administration that has put forth the notion that if you question us, you are un-patriotic. Just typing that sends chills down my spine. Where there’s smoke, there is fire, but our mainstream media has been ignoring the smoke billowing from the White House for too long.

But lets talk a little about the double standard that conservatives love to use in the media. Of course, I’m talking about your lap dog, Bob Novak, and his recent admission that Karl Rove was his source on the Valerie Plame leak. So, classified information pertaining to American security is leaked by a prominent conservative journalist and a high ranking White House official, but both of them are free from prosecution? As much as I hate Novak (and I mean hate in the “I wish I’d run into him in a dark alley” kind of way), he is not the one that I feel deserves punishment. Rove (another “dark alley”) leaked important classified (or recently classified) information. It is at best dispicable, at worst illegal. Where is the uproar? Where is the outrage?

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 12:13 PM
Comment #166806

Lynne and Jack,

I read about one study (sorry, can’t remember the source) that asked field experts to review entries in both Wikipedia and Britannica for accuracy. Wikipedia was very comparable to Britannica. In other words, Wikipedia had no more erroneous information than does Britannica. So, don’t dis’ Wikipedia unless you know the facts ;-)

Posted by: Jeff at July 12, 2006 12:27 PM
Comment #166810

Jack,
Knowledge and information is not static — and NEVER has been. What is claimed as fact today, can be outdated tomorrow. There will always be people who purposely lie and try spread disinformation. That too, has always been. Just as there have always been people who relentlessly search for the truth and seek to share it with others.
Human understanding moves, changes, develops and expands, and does so through reading, thinking, exploring and experimenting with what is already known. I don’t see how the internet could endanger this process in any way. Because the tools used to diseminate human understanding also move, change, develop and expand. So, the internet will surely be no different than the printing press which came before it.

Rah:
“The problem with today’s press is that they are not reporting the story as much as they’re underminning the Bush administration; (just about) every step of the way.”

You’re right, our press is not reporting as much as they should, but that’s kind of hard to do when access to what is going on is reserved for the Neocon faithful and GOP loyalists only. Reporting on the administrations many failures is not undermining them — as long as it is the truth. If they have been undermined, it has been due to their own failures, which the press will naturally feel a need to report on.

“That’s not good for this country.”

In my opinion, secrecy and cover-ups for failure are far worse for this country than people reporting upon that secrecy, those cover-ups, and those failures.

BillC, Dave1, Schwamp, DaveS — good points.
Jeff, I read about that study, too — and like you, I can’t remember where it was.

Posted by: Adrienne at July 12, 2006 12:39 PM
Comment #166812

Can anybody tell me what exactly a “neo-con” is? I hear this term bandied about all the time and it seems like everyone takes it in their own way.

Posted by: aje at July 12, 2006 12:48 PM
Comment #166815
Ours is the first generation in several centuries to live in a world of such uncertainty and open interpretation of fact.

Jack,

What? The “open interpretation of fact” has been recognized as a serious issue by serious thinkers since Kant. In the early 20th century, Americans were already discussing
what implications your “open interpretation of fact” had for democracy, especially with the growth of mass media. In Germany, there was this guy named Goebbels who also would disagree with you.

Every fact is capable of being spun. The struggle now, as always, is how to separate the wheat from the chaff. More important than knowing how to look up “wikipedia” on the internet is the ability to think critically, to understand how facts can be distorted, and to recognize and identify evidence of such distortions.

The problem is, most people don’t think critically. Politicians (and advertisers, for that matter) know this and put that knowledge to use every day. They’ve being doing so for a long time.

Posted by: Homer at July 12, 2006 12:59 PM
Comment #166819

neo-con(servative) was a philosophy formed early cold war that, among other things, promoted the use of force to spread democracy by “nation building” on top of toppled dictatorships.
That was one reason why people looked for Bush to promise that he wouldn’t nation build. Think “unilateralism in foreign policy”.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 12, 2006 1:09 PM
Comment #166821

It comes down to this, Jack: facts and interpretations can be checked back against existing realities. That process itself is not fallible, but as one becomes more practiced in it, the accuracy of one’s data becomes greater.

That is the commitment that must be made by people who take pride in getting things right. Full accuracy is impossible, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for being completely wrong.

The Republicans are relying too much on their good and/or necessary intentions to save them from that error. While it’s true that over-intellectualizing subjects can actually introduce greater error into the equation, that is more a problem of information flow and judgment than it is a problem of being scrupulous and careful with information.

This is the real world, and in the real world we must often start trying to deal with things before we have all the facts. The operative question, in light of that, is how one deals with being wrong, or how one tries to keep from being wrong.

It doesn’t help to be prematurely confident of your handle on the situation. Bush got the momentum going on the war without first establishing whether a war was necessary in the first place. That put the pressure immediately on everybody to prove that necessity. The alternative would be getting in the way of the war, something Bush’s people were unwilling to do, and which intelligence officers lower down were either loathe to do or restrained to do. When the president sends the signal that he wants a consensus for something, he muddies the water on the analysis. It doesn’t help if his people go in later and try to do the analyst’s job for them, without the training to tell good sources from bad. You can’t just go into intelligence reports the way they did and look for support. The quality of the information is everything, and if you’re too credulous about the information in question, you’re going to screw things up. People make up stuff to get money, to screw rivals over, to shape policy (a major concern with Chalabi and his people), or just because they like making shit up. We had one of the major sources, Curveball, pegged as a fabricator before the fact.

The danger in seeing what you want to see is that your pet theory could turn out to be wrong, and worse to have mislead you into actions that are irrevocable. It only gets worse when the image-conscious try to con people into believing that nothing is wrong or has gone wrong. A mistake begets a lie, and the lie begets further deception that cripples the discourse with false facts, and poisons the well of the debate with the frustruations of unnecessary partisan arguments.

For me, Iraq has always been simple as facts. There’s not time enough in war to be a coward about admitting your errors. Events will overtake those who try to B.S. folks into supporting a problematic or mismanaged war. The facts are more than abstract pieces of information; they are the conditions by which our efforts succeed or fail.

Those who try to act in blissful ignorance will bring anything but sweet dreams to their country. Will alone cannot turn the tide when one does not know how and where to apply one’s efforts. By trying to force things by will and morale alone, the Bush administration has set this will into a corrosive loop. People support, but then find problems. Those who find problems question, and are rebuffed for that. Rebuffed enough, they separate from the main advocates, and become dissenters if not outright opponents.

I believe you’ve got to do two things at once: get things done right, and answer the criticism with appropriate maturity and awareness of one’s falliblities. It may mean abandoning a previously held POV, but better to abandon a position than to abandon good sense and effective action.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 12, 2006 1:19 PM
Comment #166823

On the subject of the Budget deficit:

It was just an estimate. What’s more, there’s talk that people might be deliberately inflating the numbers, so that the huge deficts look to be shrinking more than they’ve actually done.

Moreover, nobody’s including the War or other off-budget expenss here.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 12, 2006 1:24 PM
Comment #166827

Jack’s logic is poor and he doesnt seem to connect dots in numerical order in his thinking. i used to have this really liberal co-worker and i swear there was something wrong with this dude’s mind. I think of it like those connect the dots puzzle. I would connect the dots of information and get a picture. He would connect them and get a rohrscharch blot. I mean when I was learing my ABC’s, this guy must have been learning his A4W’s or something like that.

Posted by: aje at July 12, 2006 1:29 PM
Comment #166843

WOW no facts before the printing press?

The speed of light in a vacuume is a fact Jack. It was so long before the printing press. And the acceleration due to gravity…force= mass X velocity, e=mc2, evolution…. all observable, testable, verifiable FACTS!

yikes… sometimes you Republicans scare me!

Posted by: 037 at July 12, 2006 2:52 PM
Comment #166845

The real real issue with the budget “miracle” is that it isn’t good, it’s just less bad. It’d be like if your team was expected to lose by 5 runs, but ended up only losing by three. Is that really anything to be happy about? I haven’t read a single account from even the most conservative-leaning sources that didn’t see right through the blatant smokescreen of these budget numbers. Regardless of whther or not the earlier estimates were padded, our national economic picture is grim.

There was a statistic on ABC news that put the 8.4 trillion dollar national debt into focus: the $127 billion that we “saved” on the new budget numbers amounts to only 110 days of INTEREST payment on the 8.4 trill, assuming the Chinese are giving us a deal at 5%. (8.4 trillion x .05 is 420 billion, divided by 365 is 1.15 billion per day. 127 divided by 1.15 is 110) Not even a full fiscal quarter. And this wasn’t money made, just less money borrowed. God, this administartion is stupid!

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 3:08 PM
Comment #166846

Sorry, I made an error there. That was my own calculation. ABC news had mentioned that it would take the United States 8 months of funneling every dollar earned or spent to the national debt in order to pay it off.

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 3:10 PM
Comment #166850

Note to David S. Your analogy to the lowering budget deficit to loosing the ballgame is interesting. Using your logic, loosing the game by 7 points instead of 5 would then not be cause for sadness.
Let me pose a winning strategy for liberals. If “stupid” people win elections, liberals should nominate stupid people. Makes about as much sense as your happiness/saddness (good/bad) theory. Jim

Posted by: Jim Martin at July 12, 2006 3:32 PM
Comment #166855

“yikes… sometimes you Republicans scare me!”

Dear ‘Scary’ Democrats:

Wow — you guys are really jumping down Jack’s throat. C’mon, it is an interesting point of view, non-accusatory, and nearly 100% apolitical. Abe Lincoln: “Only Fools Take Offence Where Offence is Not Intended”

Maybe Jack’s point that some people seem less able to agree on almost anything, is oddly confirmed by this thread, where everyone is saying he is all wrong for completely different reasons…

Speaking of being wrong:
NO!! Force DOES NOT Equal Mass x Velocity! (mv = Momentum; ma = Force; md = Moment of Inertia). Though this is Newtonian, and all this is ‘wrong’ due to relativistic effects.

Speaking of relativity:
- scientists have also observed light traveling faster than ‘c’ (the speed of light)
- I will bet you E does not always = mc^2 in corner cases.
- Also, while Evolution occurs (the Vatican admitted to this ~40 yrs ago), exactly how everything does evolve is a Theory (as in “The Theory of Evolution”) not a Fact.

and I suspect other
is supported by these posts — … even while these posts sthat such agreements

Posted by: Brian at July 12, 2006 4:09 PM
Comment #166856

Jim-

Obviously the budget deficit being less than expected is good news, but not as good as the administration would have you believe. It certainly isn’t evidence that Bush’s economic plan is working, just evidence it is doing less damage than predicted.

There was an interesting note by an analyst in one of the articles I read, on Fox news, of all places. She remarked that the tax windfall was due to an increase in corporate profits, and the reason the tax estimates were off was because corporate profits are taxed more heavily than payrolls. Bush’s people had expected more of the increased revenue to be passed through to workers, thereby generating less taxes. That is evidence that the money being “created” by the tax cuts is not finding its way into the pockets of the everyman, but into the bank accounts of big business.

Let me make another analogy: if you got your IRA statement this quarter, and noticed your account lost 10% of its value, would you be happy because you were expecting it to lose 15%? Of course not, you’d be looking into transferring your money ASAP. Have our standards in this country gotten so low that we have totally lost sight of success, and are happy with simply screwing up less than expected?

Finally, don’t know if anyone watched Charlie Rose last night and his profile on Berkshire Hathaway and the two financial geniuses that run the company, Warren Buffet (Dem) and Charles Munger (Rep). Both of them decried the horrible economic policies of this administration. As incredibly intelligent as I am, I would tend to defer to them on matters of money.

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 4:12 PM
Comment #166857

People actually believe the press has been to light on the Bush administration? What world have you been living in?

Posted by: Matt at July 12, 2006 4:15 PM
Comment #166862

I’ve been living in the world where the mainstream media ignored the gaping holes in the run-up to Iraq, the evidence of voter fraud in FL ‘00 and OH ‘04, the blatant disregard for the laws regarding privacy, search and seizure, the Geneva Convention, basic human rights, release of classified information for political gain, etc etc etc. Time and time again the media, in an attempt to report “both sides” of the issues has allowed idiots from the right to spout lie after lie, all the while afraid to call BS. That is asleep at the wheel, that is being too light on the administration.

But its not without reason. Like someone said earlier, the republican mantra of “its unpatriotic to question the president” has a very third reich ring to it. If I were a reporter, I’d be afraid as well. It shows in the persecution of the NYT over reporting a program that was never secret. If you refer to the president’s illegal programs in a good way, you are patriotic. If you refer to the same program in a bad way, you are treasonous.

“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong” - Voltaire

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 4:38 PM
Comment #166868

I have to disagree with Jack on this one. I believe a fact is something that DID happen. If I drop a brick and hit my toe then that might be able to be proven as a fact. If I dropped the same brick and missed my toe, it is still a fact that I dropped the brick. If no one wrote about me dropping the brick, it is still a fact that I dropped a brick. And no matter what other people think they see when I dropped the brick, It is still a fact that I dropped a brick on that day at that time.

I would say that before the printing press it was extremely hard to record facts.

Posted by: Tom D. at July 12, 2006 4:53 PM
Comment #166874

Just to fire poeple up:

If there were no facts before the printing press, what does that say about the Bible?

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 5:04 PM
Comment #166880

Watch it, David S.

Before you know it, you’ll be claiming that those who wrote the words in the Bible may have had “motives,” and who knows where that will lead.

Posted by: Homer at July 12, 2006 5:35 PM
Comment #166896

That’s hilarious! God was biased! Must not be a very credible source then. After all, if a writer has beliefs, everything they say on a subject must be an effort to forward their own agenda.

Posted by: David S at July 12, 2006 7:10 PM
Comment #166916

I need to explain fact. I do not mean the same thing as truth. A fact is something that we generally agree to be accurate and we can verify independent of the person telling you. That is why printing created facts. That meant we could check a source that against another.

You could also check a printed source over time. Of course the same could be done with a manuscript, but there is a much better chance the printed source will survive AND we can be reasonably sure not only one person saw it. Oral history will have changed over time. Even if people believe it is true, they may well be mistaken.

I am surprised this topic makes so many people so mad. I was just thinking about this as a former historian. When evaluating a source, the more identical copies available, the easier it is to check sources. Especially if you find them in various locations.

Think of the Rathergate problem. CBS made the mistake of basing their story on a few unique documents from the same sources. Had they found several idenitical documents in different places, they could have been reasonably sure. As it was, they got it wrong.

Posted by: Jack at July 12, 2006 8:39 PM
Comment #166920

Jack - Your post was very insightful. I’d honestly say that the past few posts you’ve generated have been very well done and frought with fewer points of contention. That said, there have been several other threads in the past few days that have raised the hair on peoples necks, and it’s quite possible that there is an unintentional misdirection of adrenaline.

Or I’m wrong and everyone just has short fuses. (lol)

Posted by: DOC at July 12, 2006 9:03 PM
Comment #166928

Brian,

Thanks for the example of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”
Yes F=MA not MV. but:

E=mc^2, what “corner case” is that not true?

Please link real science where speed of light was > c.

The lack of understanding of “theory” is another example.

Posted by: Dave1 at July 12, 2006 9:25 PM
Comment #167064

Here’re some facts from the reality-based community, Jack:

Baghdad morgue

Posted by: Mental Wimp at July 13, 2006 11:48 AM
Comment #167268

Jack-
The sore spot you poked here is folk’s frustrations with Bush’s constant spin. Time and time again, facts come out casting Bush’s actions in a bad light. Instead of taking these facts for what they are, the Right is always slapping ever filter and disqualification they can on it so they can disregard the “liberal” media’s latest false accusation.

We’re not the relativists the right portrays us as. As a culture, we value objectivity over slant. We believe that if we allow politics to dominate news, it stands as a kind of manipulation.

So, such sophistry irritates us. To us, it seems like they are trying to get away with something the evidence clearly indicates is otherwise.

So, you come along, with an entry entitled You Can’t Know the Facts. The Liberal response is “Oh G**, not this s*** again.”

Truth is… well, that the truth has always been such an uncertain quantity, the facts we know not always full or reliable. To say that only now is it the case is false. In truth, America’s history and liberal thought’s history have been intertwined with the pursuit of greater fidelity in facts and interpretations to reality.

We insist on facts, on realities. To say that such things don’t matter, that we should take things on faith is to ignore that our objections are based on not taking things on faith.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 13, 2006 6:46 PM
Comment #167439

Jack,

A very interesting post. I recommend that everyone here read “The Theatetus” by Plato, which related directly to this subject. It a Socratic dialog in which Socrates basically proves, from a philosophical standpoint, that you cannot know anything except that you you cannot know anything. Its a very interesting take on the issue, especially as it addresses the idea of knowledge being perception, ie current science based on proof through the senses.

In the end, I think that while facts are knowable, thier interpretation is open. For example, I as a Catholic can read the Book of Revelation and conclude that it is book written to inspire and comfort a Christian community that was a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire that can be applied to Christians who suffer persecution today. I’ve known some fundamentalists who read this same book and interpret it to mean that the Roman Catholic Church is a cult and the Pope the Anti-Christ. The same thing can be applied to any event out there where 2 or more people see the same fact and disagree as to its larger meaning.

Our interpetation of facts is based on our own unique life experiences. How we were raised, our own beliefs, our own circumstances etc all contribute to this. A wealthy man and a poor man will naturally have different interpretations of a tax law designed to tax the wealthy. Many of us disagree about what level of income actually constitutes wealthy. The list goes on and on.

Spinning the facts is probably second only to prostitution as the world’s oldest profession. Well, maybe third, I don’t want to shortchange tax collectors. It is our job as citizens of a democratic republic to seek the truth of what we are being told by our elected officials and vote accordingly.

Posted by: 1LT B at July 14, 2006 3:08 AM
Comment #167739

Interesting Jack.

It’s not an ideological piece. It did resonate with me.

It’s tough these days. NOTHING is un-arguably true. You can find a credible counter opinion (with a PHD) on any topic. Man, it’s tiring having to fight every question/contention one at a time. I’m tired of it. I just wish a wall of incontrovertible truth would appear that I could lean on for a bit. We all, liberals and conservatives, have a set biases we view the world through. It’s a leap of faith if your honest about it. We don’t have the time or the intelligence to be an expert on every issue. At some point, you go with your gut. All of us.

Posted by: Seatown at July 15, 2006 1:21 AM
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