Monday, October 12, 2020

Facts, Opinions, and Lies

A friend on social media recently posted to ask the difference between facts and opinions. I assumed they already knew, but it is a useful exercise to ask ourselves that question periodically, and ruminate on what constitutes truth and honesty versus lies and manipulation. The following is an abbreviated version of my own assessment, please take from it what you will. You are also encouraged to share your own perspectives in the comments. United States readers, please exercise your right to vote next month.

Facts are, ideally, bits of information for which there is widespread consensus as to their validity, achieved through independent and unbiased evaluation with reproducible results. This is essentially the scientific method, writ large to cover non-scientific subjects. Consulting documentation from a variety of resources that yield the same answer is usually indicative of something factual. There is consensus that gravity exists, for example, and no one is going to suggest water is any other compound but H2O.

Are facts absolute? Not always, and not always indefinitely. This is another lesson science can teach us: today’s conclusion may not hold up tomorrow, if a newer, better tool of evaluation is made available, or the same tools do not yield the same results as those found previously. This demonstrates the importance of peer review, and continued repetition of experiments and observations.

An opinion is a personal interpretation of observations and experiences that lead you to a perspective or conclusion that may or may not reflect reality. Opinions are important, as they can illuminate another side to a subject or condition that others may not have entertained previously. The overriding emphasis here is on “personal.” You may share this opinionated definition of “opinion” with me, or you may have a different description. Perception is very much reality for individuals in abusive households, toxic workplaces, and similarly oppressive conditions. The reality of the abused will differ from that of the abuser.

A lie is a knowingly false assertion disguised as fact. The important aspect here is intent, not the tidbit of “information” provided. A lie essentially has an agenda, or is used to further an agenda. An agenda is irrelevant to a fact. Let me repeat that: an agenda is irrelevant to a fact.

One can argue that politics and religion are the least fact-based endeavors of humanity, overrun with agendas, opinions, lies, and manipulation of the English language. This is because the principal agenda is one of power-seeking, or maintaining power that is owned already. Any matter of genuine importance to the citizenry is fair game for twisting, depriving, or enforcing in order to strengthen the power of those with existing privilege.

The worst kind of lie may be in architecting a false agenda and assigning it to the opposing party (and “party” refers to any individual or group, political or otherwise). We see this abuse committed repeatedly in campaign advertising leading up to elections. Marketing professionals are ninja-level experts when it comes to manipulating language to trigger the desired audience response. “Defund the police” is graphically equated with a flaming cop car by opponents of those who seek accountability of law enforcement, for example.

How can we avoid becoming susceptible to lies, distortions, and manipulation? Dust off the dictionary and keep it handy. Avail yourself of dependable fact-checking sources online. Be more personally inclusive of people of color, lesbians, gays, transgendered persons, non-binary individuals, and others who suffer from a profound lack of privilege and respect. Broaden your circle of associates to include those who may be of differing political or religious affiliations.

Cultivate a sixth sense of truth- and motive-detection. Ask whether media use of the word “democracy” is habitually conflated with “capitalism,” for example. Such exercises can help unmask hidden agendas, in this instance related to the preservation of concentrated corporate wealth, as opposed to an altruistic pursuit of justice and equality for all, regardless of privilege.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Supreme Injustice

You do not know where this is going, just from the title, do you? Oh, he’s going to write about the rush to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat. No, he’s going to write about the verdict in the Breonna Taylor murder. The answer to both assumptions is “yes.”

The press and the pundits have revealed themselves to be tone deaf by not linking these two events. The Supreme Court is still viewed largely as all about decisions that affect privileged white folks, while individual cases at the local and state levels are of vastly more importance to people of color….at least unless and until they reach the Supreme Court, which they too rarely do. One decides what kind of life decisions you can make for yourself. The other decides whether or not you are, or were, entitled to live at all.

The Kentucky decision regarding Breonna Taylor’s assailants, and I don’t know what else to call them, regardless of whether they were representatives of law enforcement, completely devalued her life. That there was not a single shred of empathy is appalling. It is also evidence of no intent to hold police accountable for their behavior towards people of color. Ever. That we are not talking about how to elevate this issue to the level of something that should be addressed by the Supreme Court is telling.

No indictments, no appeals, obviously, but there should be another avenue for the victim and their kin, beyond civil litigation that does nothing but determine monetary damages. It is clear that this kind of preventable tragedy is going to keep on happening without intervention from some greater authority. Short of God, it would be the Supreme Court.

The high court (and I’m not talking about the basketball gymnasium in the same building) is entirely too politicized, and that is putting it politely. This particular vacancy could not have come at a worse time, when Republicans and Democrats are at such polar opposite ends of the spectrum, let alone right before a potential change in the party in power at the executive level. Fortunately, it is not lost on the press that to ram through a conservative nominee just prior to what could be another contested election would favor the incumbent President. That scenario alone should be the end of the debate: no nominee until after the inauguration.

Our judicial system is about one thing and one thing only: law. Please do not confuse the judiciary with religion, morality, or God. Those are all separate things. Religion is a human institution like business and government. Morality is an independent social construct to help inform our daily personal conduct towards others. One could argue that God, too, is a human invention, and It may be, but from my own perspective, I at least view It as an independent entity that does not play favorites, even between species. I digress.

The ideal nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court would be an individual with impeccable examples of personal conduct, who has respect for the history of the court, who has a depth of legal experience commensurate with the position, strong research skills, and a mind open to persuasion through constructive deliberation with their colleagues. They should be moral, yes, but not be a vehicle for imposing their definition of morality on the citizenry.

The ideal nominee realizes that respect for previous decisions is at least as important as the impact of what they rule for future generations. Lastly, but not least, they recognize their power to elevate the lives of minorities to the same level as those who enjoy white (male) privilege.

Justice and equality and ethics should all have the same definition. At the least the application of justice should have ethics as its driving force, and equality as the goal. That ethics so seldom plays a role in the process is heartbreaking and infuriating, at all levels of our judicial system. I’ll be paying more attention to the judges on my November third ballot this year.