Against facts, logic and reasonBy Sam West | 09/17/2017 11:21pm
I hate Ben Shapiro.
The conservative commentator and editor of The Daily Wire, who recently spoke at Berkeley to kick off their “free speech week,” is contemptible for many reasons, not the least of which are his awful politics. But what irks me most about Shapiro is his sneering, pedantic attitude toward political rhetoric he doesn’t like and seemingly bottomless hatred of campus activism.
Shapiro, who maintains an inexplicable popularity with young conservatives and libertarians, has a pinned tweet which reads “facts don’t care about your feelings,” and this mantra is also something of a personal slogan for him. The writer believes all disagreement [with him] essentially boils down to a lack of knowledge; if you don’t buy his reactionary hot takes, you must just be an easily-triggered Millennial snowflake who refuses to accept the truth.
Unfortunately, this attitude goes far beyond Shapiro. Political commentators on the left and right have become obsessed with a cult of facts, statistics and data. They are strident in their belief that political rhetoric should be bloodless and objective, they disdain emotional appeals in writing or campaigning, and they believe that ideology is poisonous. I have a nickname for this increasingly common attitude: the politics of Mr. Spock.
This hectoring mentality comes naturally to conservatives, but you can find it in the neoliberal center, too. Political manager and Clintonite sycophant Peter Daou recently launched a website called Verrit, a service designed to combat “fake news” on social media by posting infographics with codes which ensure their truthfulness. Daou seemingly believes that Hillary Clinton’s loss in the last election comes down to the fact that people didn’t know enough factoids about her.
Absent some sort of moral narrative or framework, politics doesn’t make any sense. It’s a debate about the division of resources and a fight about who has power in society; facts are useful in these discussions, but they mean nothing without ideology backing them up. If good governance came down to nothing but understanding the truth, you could have a robot lead us by programming it to make the most efficient decisions.
This, of course, is why the cultish worshippers of the free market are the biggest adherents of the politics of Mr. Spock. To conservatives and neoliberals, emotions, ideology and the opinions of the pesky public are all obstacles to overcome on the way to a perfectly managed society.
Let’s say you think everyone has a fundamental right to healthcare based on their humanity alone. This is evil ideology to a Spockian; it’s “feelings,” not “facts.” Here’s a graph which will show you the cost the market will bear for a human life. Logic and reason above all else is the sort of political dogma that might motivate someone to write an opinion piece defending price gouging as good and moral.
I understand why many people, especially those in the broad-left-of-center, are concerned about spreading the truth and fact-checking conservatives. Donald Trump rode to the White House last year on a wave of lies, and the Republican Party he leads is the only major political grouping in the world to deny the truth of man-made climate change.
But the media and commentariat tried for two years to #wellactually Trump into obscurity and it didn’t work. Saying, for example, that his plan for a border wall was politically impossible or ridiculously impractical or prohibitively expensive didn’t sway his supporters or stop his rise. The wall was never about realism; it was an outsized symbol of white resentment, nationalism and violence. Such a thing can only be defeated by a clearheaded defense of human rights and equality, not by dry statistics.
Bowtie Ben Shapiro frequently uses “logic” to justify his Islamophobia, hatred of trans people and contempt for “political correctness.” But of course, none of his ire can be justified in factual terms, and it can’t be refuted that way, either. The politics of Mr. Spock is just sophistry; it’s a way of dismissing arguments you don’t like and nothing more.
Politics isn’t debate club. It’s a fight over right and wrong and a literal battle for life and death. It’s a place for emotion, ideology, philosophy and morality as much as it is one for information, logic and science.
Here are some facts: half the world lives on less than three dollars a day. The United States of America pilots a fleet of murder robots that kill indiscriminately and extralegally. The sea is rising because of the greed of a few. If you can look at that world and say people need to calm down and argue rationally, you are silencing dissent and endorsing quietism.
Ignore the sneers of the hectoring nerds of politics. The world is broken; we need to get mad about it.
Sam West is a senior majoring in journalism and history. He is the managing editor of The Crimson White.