REBUTTAL: In defense of factsBy Ben Jackson | 09/20/2017 8:35pm
America has a tenuous relationship with the facts. Which is why, when I read Sam West’s piece “Against Facts, Logic and Reason,” I was dismayed. It was particularly discouraging to hear those words from the Managing Editor of our student paper, an institution which ought to depend on facts and truth.
It’s no wonder many Americans no longer trust the media.
West argues that Americans are obsessed with data and reason and that our obsession has yielded many undesirable outcomes. The exact opposite is true. West’s vision for our political discourse is dangerous at best and apocalyptic at worst. In proof by negation, let us follow West’s prescription to its logical conclusions.
Imagine a system whereby courts dole out justice not in accordance with the law, but in accordance with how happy, sad or angry the judge is at the end of the case. Imagine a system where the central bank adjusts the money supply not based on inflation and unemployment data, but instead on how busy Janet Yellen’s favorite soup kitchen is. Imagine a political candidate whose campaign has no basis in verifiable fact, but gets elected anyway.
The differences between this example and the reality for most of our institutions is the difference between the rule of law and the rule of man. These examples are not contrived, either, they are real today and litter our history books. Totalitarianism depends on presenting the emotion of a few as fact of the many. We must fight to maintain the distinction.
As opposed to the rule of law, where facts and reason ultimately prevail, the system for which West advocates is the rule of man where emotion reigns king. If rationality is the politics of Mr. Spock, then his system by contrast must be called a cult of experience. I beg you not to drink the Kool-Aid.
The cult of experience argues this: My personal experience contradicts the facts of the case, and therefore is more correct. Without fact and verifiable statistics, there is no benchmark, no measurement to compare differing policies. All that matters in a cult of experience is who has the “correct” viewpoint, and whoever is chosen as supreme faces no opposition or challenge. This is akin to an accused murder saying, “I know you have footage of me killing the subject, but I personally didn’t see it that way.” In West’s world, the killer goes free.
Already, rule of law is threatened in the U.S. as fringe elements on both sides of the aisle advocate for the rule of man. Riots, spurred on by few facts, seek extrajudicial condemnation before courts are convened. Media outlets are unable to present certain stories for fear of violent political backlash. Free speech is becoming a distasteful phrase. Mr. West, we are not devoid of emotion in our political discourse, we are dying from it.
Not only does America not suffer from a lack of emotion in our political discourse – on the contrary, unchecked emotion is to blame for many of our greatest blunders. Here at home, our failure to think rationally has led us to an obesity epidemic, uncontrollable debt and daytime television. Abroad, our tenuous relationship with fact has lead us to military conflicts on every continent but Antarctica, but if we decide to again throw facts out the window, we can perhaps blame the glaciers for melting themselves and declare war there too.
This has serious and obvious political ramifications. We are already witnessing the effects of a government which feeds off the emotion of its constituents rather than facts. An addiction to reason did not cost Clinton the election, Trump’s mastery of emotion did.
Facts must inform our ideology, not the other way around. Policymakers should make objective decisions based on data, not sob stories from constituents.
What’s more, we needn’t confuse ideology with morality. An ideology is relative, and subjective, and can be inconsistent with the facts. Morality is distinctly different. Our moral imperative is to legislate in accordance with the real world, not emotional representations of it.
Emotion is an important part of the human experience, but it cannot be allowed to overshadow reason, lest we make some horrible mistakes. To paraphrase Ben Shapiro, facts don’t care about your feelings, and neither should policymakers.
Ben Jackson is a senior majoring in finance. His column runs biweekly.