What’s Fact When the Facts are Factually Unsound?

20 01 2010

Conversationally, I can be a bit fearless – willing and ready to debate whoever about whatever. In essence, I have opinions that I don’t mind voicing. Now, with some experience as both journalist and blogger, the evolving nature of how we express what we think to be true has turned out to be different than my original expectations.

The proliferation of opinion-driven new media (like this blog) have simultaneously elevated the importance of fact while degrading its definition. The Internet is home to facts of all kinds. Google can either back up the warming of the planet’s atmosphere through man’s intervention or refute the theory entirely, depending on how one words a search.

How many Greek philosophers can you spot in this photo?

Despite their love of logic and lack of blogs, the ancient Athenians still made stupid decisions

Assertions are backed by Web sites and articles and links, all seemingly brimming with substantial, researched information. But if you trace such “objective” statements back to their origin, the threads that make up the clothe are often biased and targeted toward specific agendas.

How information is controlled, distributed and interpreted is the very essence of power and all governing systems rely on manipulating it somehow. The Internet promised to be the fulcrum through which this idea could be leveraged against its traditional stockholders.

Hence, since information is so readily available, it takes priority and its presence, no matter how dubious its source, is substance enough to hold together any argument.

The point of the above rambling observation is I thought given the platform, I would love to hold forth on the politics of the day. Yet, both in this blog and in my weekly newspaper column, I find myself steering away from opinionating on pressing matters of economy, ideology or foreign policy. Instead, I supply anecdotal tales meant to entertain and evoke emotion, not argumentative reaction.

This honestly surprised me, for I love to discuss such subjects in actual conversation. So, I wondered what stayed my hand from writing a scathing indictment of this headline or that. The answer, I believe, has something to do with my above theory on the Internet and its excess of information.

Simply, when debating someone one-on-one in a casual setting, it is often difficult to recall precise figures, exact facts or specific reports. Instead, we base our assertions not on what article we can point to but what logic we can follow. There’s a natural give and take, which establishes excitement and tension. Voices rise and fall as we connect the dots in our head or witness someone else scramble our connections.

In the comments section of an article or blog post, we can surround ourselves with facts that match our preconceived notions; criticism is easily deflected and quickly forgotten. Engaging personally with someone, we must react to their thoughts, thereby absorbing them.




One response

23 01 2010

As I listen to the political pundits yell at each other–the one who yells the loudest and longest without listening to the other seems to think his views prevail–I am struck by the insight your post reveals. Your closing remark is especially profound.

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