Vivek's blog: Fact is opinion. Isn't it?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fact is opinion. Isn't it?

My partner, Janet, enjoys telling me that in a postmodern framework, there is no objective truth.

If that's the case, then we are truly living in a postmodern world, at least politically. Never before has reality been so divergent depending on one's political point of view.

Take the United States as a case study. Unending strife between Republicans and Democrats is nothing new, but the field of disagreement has moved to the arena of fact rather than opinion or philosophy.

In general, Democrats believe that there is scientific evidence of global climate change caused by humans. Republicans, looking at the same numbers, dispute this conclusion. Similarly (to stereotype crudely), Democrats believe that there is evidence that humans evolved from an apelike ancestor. Again, Republicans dispute this. This occurs despite the fact that a liberal or conservative view of government has, theoretically, nothing to do with conclusions about biology or climatology.

What's more, political belief systems increasingly appear to control people's perception of history. Many conservatives believe that a link was proven between Saddam Hussein and the events of September 11. Many liberals believe that vote recounts demonstrate that Al Gore defeated George W Bush in Florida during the 2000 election.

Although this trend may be disturbing, it shouldn't be surprising. From a young age, I quickly learned that point of view colors reality to a frightening degree. If you're a sports fan, think about how what team you support alters your view of events. What's clearly out of bounds to one team's supporter definitely clipped the line to the other team's supporter. An obvious rule violation to one is well within the spirit of the game to one's counterpart.

So next time you are 100% clear on the facts, and your opponent seems to be ignoring them in favor of other facts you've completely discounted, pause a second. You might just get at some form of objective truth.

How modernist of me.

(Image courtesy chibart, Flickr Creative Commons)


  1. Nice dude. I still think the Redskins suck though (fact AND opinion) :)

    Congrats on the blogspot and I look forward to more.

  2. I find the trend to dispute facts along political lines quite chilling.

  3. Alex: no argument. The Redskins are terrible.

    Steve: is this a new thing? Or have i only just cottoned on recently?

  4. There has never been objective truth, in the sense that it can be proved beyond doubt. The weight of facts leads to the truth. The recent problem(in postmodernity) is that the increase of communication leads to the use or abuse of facts without direction.

  5. Mark - agreed; from Descartes machinations to Kant's waffling to Putnam's "it's like that because I say so," objective truth has been elusive. However, it appears as though even preponderance of evidence is less and less agreed on by people in the same society. That seems new - and, as you point out, may be a function of increased quantity and variety of communication.

  6. I agree that increased access to information is part of this phenomenon. Not only do we have access to more information, we have access to information that we may not have the expertise to fully understand. Climate science is a good example - lay people, journalists, pundits and politicians are not the most qualified to interpret the data, and yet they are the opinion-makers on the issue. It also seems that political power is increasingly becoming an end in itself for many. This leads to the cynical manipulation of people's fears an prejudices in the service of vote-winning: facts be damned.


Please keep comments as concise and relevant as possible. Limit profanity, except if it's really funny.