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The Myth of Fact Checking

January 12, 2019

When sites like google and when media outlets employ “fact-checkers” what they are doing is creating a disingenuous illusion of certainty to provide comfort to people who cannot handle living in uncertainty. The “fact” is that reality is fundamentally uncertain. And there is no safe person you can turn to to tell you the facts of reality. What you are looking for is an authority to trust in and a myth to believe in. Not facts. If more people would be honest with themselves and accept this “fact” about their own motivations and inclinations we could avoid a lot of pointless shouting matches. Where each side has their “facts” and their “I told you so” moments, that all conveniently align with their agenda that they believed in all along.

This is not a good basis for a reasonable and mature discussion about the social and political issues of the day. Naturally it creates a partisan state of affairs where tribal group identity and narrative becomes the ultimate arbiter, not any reasonable argumentation, and certainly not any “facts”.

Philosophy knew a long time ago that in the humanities, the logic of discourse does not work in the same simplistic way as in the natural sciences. In these latter areas of pure discourse we can talk more safely of facts as neutral things arbitrating our judgements about a subject matter. In the humanities of social and political issues “facts” become just a disingenuous cover for ones own mythology, ones own group identities narrative having an imperialistic preeminence over all others.

What philosophy has to teach us here is that through the use of critical reason, we apply rigorous standards of honesty primarily to ourselves, before we start making arguments and judgements about the social and political world of other people. Only from a personal state of clarity like this, which very few people have, and of those few people, most only have it for short periods of time, can we avoid merely projecting our own prejudgments onto a discourse.

Only then can a discourse progress in a meaningful and real way, based on the content under discussion. Don’t think you have achieved something by linking some “fact-checking” article, with a “I told you so” triumphal moment of glee. You have only fed your pre-existent beliefs and prejudices and avoided having any real debate. That emotive moment of glee is the emotion of blissful and lazy ignorance. A moment of avoidance of painful self reflection that is much needed in our social and political discourse.

Facts are things, other people and yourself, are not things. If we cannot understand or respect this basic dignity and decency in our debating, we won’t get any way towards appreciating the multi-layered complex reality of our awareness and existence as human beings.

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