Already, the Trump presidency has scored a clear success. It has gotten progressives to care about facts. Surely, it’s a good thing. If people know more facts they can think more rationally. More rational thinking means less emotion. We are happy to welcome progressives to the club.
And yet, it’s bait and switch. Progressives, liberals and the alt-left do not really believe in facts. Idealistic to a fault, they worship ideas. Theirs is an alternative world, one that is more fiction than reality.
In a better political world idealism would be the province of the liberal left while respect for tradition and pragmatism would belong to conservatism. Or better, we would see the divide that Henry Kissinger defined for the world of foreign policy, where Wilsonian idealism often clashed and competed against Kissingerian balance-of-power diplomacy.
On the other hand, back in the day the rallying cry of the American conservative movement was: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Surely, it does not take too much understanding of history to know that those words would have been more congenial to Maximilien Roberpierre than to Edmund Burke.
As I said, in a better world the distinctions would be clearer.
Some thinking is idea-driven and some is fact-driven. For example, some people believe that America is an idea. Even some conservatives believe this. Others believe that it’s a country. Ideas do not have borders or boundaries. You can think an idea, but you cannot belong to it. You do not need to be a citizen to vote in an idea. You do need to be a citizen to vote in a country. Being a citizen confers duties and responsibilities. Believing in an idea does not.
Ideas present themselves as narratives and theories. Those who believe in ideas will cherry-pick facts to sustain their idea. For an idealist the narrative is never wrong. The goal is to persuade you to believe in the idea, not to discover the truth by weighing the facts.
Idealists need to subject people to this mental seduction because their ideas make no sense. Based on no empirical evidence, Sigmund Freud convinced large numbers of people that they really, really wanted to copulate with their mothers. Let’s show enough decency not to call it science.
Science, like all empirical thinking, begins with facts. It formulates a hypothesis and subjects it to experimental verification. Or falsification, as the case may be. As philosopher Karl Popper once argued, if you will not allow facts to refute your theory you are not doing science.
From Plato to Kant and beyond, the great thinkers of Western idealism have rejected facts. They have argued that we cannot know things as they are, but we can only know them as they appear to our senses and our minds.
By their theories, a fact is not a fact when it is an appearance. That is, when it appears to be indicating something that it is not indicating.
If forensic science determines that your fingerprint is on a murder weapon, it’s a fact. If you were in Egypt riding a camel in the desert at the time the crime was committed, that is also a fact. An unscrupulous prosecutor might develop a theory that is confirmed by the fingerprint and discredited by the alibi. If so he might emphasize the fingerprint and forget to mention your alibi. In his alternative reality you were not where you were. You were where you needed to be to prove him right. He does not seek the truth. He seeks to convict you. He does not present what really happen. He produces an alternative reality.
A clue can be a fact without telling you who did the crime. In some cases, especially with DNA evidence, the clue, in itself, suffices to identify the criminal. A detective wants first do know who did it-- that's why detective stores are called whodunits. Then a prosecutor will try to explain to a jury what happened. Keep in mind, a fact that identifies the criminal is not the same as a fact that appears to identify the criminal. You can concoct a narrative to prove either, but only one is true.
Of course, the criminal justice system is organized to prevent prosecutors from suppressing inconvenient facts. Scientific research requires the presentation of all the facts, not just those that appear to prove a certain ideal.
The political sphere is far less concerned with facts. Except now, where people who prefer ideals to facts are currently in highest dudgeon over the Trump presidency… because he does not respect the facts. Trump’s opponents are emotionally overwrought; they are wailing and flailing, consumed by impotent rage. Having taken leave of their rational faculties they have yielded to emotion. They believe that if they feel strongly about something that must mean that they are right, beyond any doubt. About the facts!
And yet, by definition, people who are so emotionally overwrought that they have overcome all doubt are not respecting the facts, or the faculty of reason. They ought to have heeded Richard Feynman’s words: “All scientific knowledge is uncertain.” When you are have achieved complete certainty you are not doing science and you are not dealing in facts. In common parlance we say that you have lost your mind.
The concern for fact is a novelty on the American left. Remember Benghazi. Remember when we were told that it had been caused by a video. How many of today’s intrepid truth tellers refused to say that the Obama administration had been lying. How many of them dared assert that the Secretary of State bore responsibility for the death of the American ambassador? Even if we accept that Hillary Clinton was asleep at the time of the attack or that nothing could have been done, she as Secretary of State was responsible for the safety of the ambassador. Even if it was factually true that she was not involved, it was also a fact that she was responsible.
The alt-left has been hard at work trying to undermine our confidence in the facts. They want us to ignore the facts, to refuse to let the facts or the results obtained by an experiment or by the market influence our judgment. This is the first step toward mind control.
Today, they have convinced a large number of people that a human being with XY chromosomes and a male genital apparatus is--if he so believes-- a female. If you accept that, you are on the way to accepting that beliefs supersede reality.
Some zealots insist that they can foresee the future and that their knowledge of the climate’s future is “settled science.” Yet, we have it on the highest philosophical authority that predictions cannot be facts. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said that, while today’s weather is a fact, tomorrow’s weather is a hypothesis—to be verified or falsified by empirical data.
Similarly, today’s climate is a fact. Tomorrow’s climate is a hypothesis. The next century’s climate is, frankly speaking, a prophecy. All of the world’s computer simulations cannot make it into a fact. Why else would they call them “simulations?”
If your thinking is idea-driven you will cling to your narrative, whatever the facts say. If you believe in Barack Obama’s messianic powers you will ignore facts that suggest otherwise. If you see Donald Trump as the Antichrist you will reject any fact that refutes your belief.
Idea-driven thinkers belong to what Plato called the guardian class. Today we call them the elites. They see the Ideas more clearly than you and know what is best for you. During the last election media elites believed that they needed to forestall a Trump presidency by skewing the facts to fit their theory.
After the election, the media guardians were appalled to see that so many people had voted for Donald Trump. Some, like the New York Times, offered pro forma apologies, but then they went back to slanting the news. When you apologize and then go back to doing what you apologized for, your apology is insincere.
Recently, the Times editorialized that Trump suffers from an “allergy to empirical facts.” With a peculiar mix of anguish and pomposity, it added that Trump’s allergy was causing him to attack a media “whose job it is to report accurately and to hold politicians to account for the things they say and do — goals that are anathema to a huckster.” That is, Trump hurt their feelings.
Didn’t the Times media columnist, Jim Rutenberg apologize for the paper’s failure to provide its readers with sufficient facts to allow them to form a reasoned judgment? When you report accurately only the facts that sustain your ideologically-driven narrative you are not reporting the facts. How many times did the paper call out Barack Obama for promising that people could keep their doctors and their insurance plans? How many times did the newspaper call Obama a liar?
And, how often did the Times hold Obama accountable for his failures? Prof. Cornell West, a card-carrying alt-leftist, wrote in the Guardian that Obama’s cheerleaders in the media had rendered him a disservice by failing to hold him to account. When Cornell West is thinking more clearly than you are, you have a problem.