Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Facts Are Important, But Not All That's Important

FLG gets extremely frustrated when people say stuff like Moynihan's statement, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts."

Don't get FLG wrong!  Facts are important.   He is not in favor of Post-Truth world.  What drives him nuts is not the statement, but that too frequently the person who utters it assumes that their conclusion of what must be done follows directly from the facts.   This isn't the case.

FLG's favorite example is --  You're wet; here's a towel.   You're wet is an empirically verifiable statement.   (Let's assume it for the sake of argument you are wet.)  A fact.  However, my handing you a towel implies a value judgement -- that being dry is better than being wet.    That may or not be the case.   Maybe you prefer being wet.  Maybe it's hot outside.

X might be fact.  Y might be a fact.   But recommending Z action in response to those facts requires a value judgement, which people who claim to be purely fact-based and results-oriented the loudest and most strongly often seem to be completely unaware that their values are entering into the discussion.    If X and Y are true, then Z must follow.  QED.

(This is separate from the often difficult aspect of determining an objective fact, particularly in the social sciences.  Lies, damned lies, and statistics, as it were.)

Anyway, this all comes up because FLG read this article about Obama's foreign failures:
I, or any critic of Obama’s foreign policy, could sit with an Obama administration official, and, even if we agreed on all the facts and specifics of a particular country or conflict, it wouldn’t matter much. Divergences in how people interpret Obama’s legacy have much more to do with fundamentally different starting assumptions about America’s role in the world and even human nature—in other words, the very reasons why we do what we do. In fact, looking back at my own meetings with officials during the Obama era, rarely do I ever recall hearing something and thinking to myself that I had just heard some gross error of fact. This is why I found such meetings so frustrating and circular: The only things we disagreed on were the most important.

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