Stand in the place where you live, now face north… Cherry picking ‘facts’

In a debate about homosexual marriage, a friend of mine trumpeted: ‘Christians weren’t even interested in marriage until the 13th Century’.  When I noted that there were references to marriage in Ephesians, my friend was unaware that Ephesians was a book of the New Testament.

I find it increasingly strange that people will ‘know’ all kinds of wacky, obscure ‘facts’ which support their position, but won’t know basic, entry-level facts about the subject first.  My friend is lovely and I don’t think it’s a reflexion on her.  We see it far too often in public debates.

Consider people who deny climate change and anthropogenic climate change.  Holy crap, those people must be reading all of the journals published everywhere in order to find tiny ‘factoids’ which support their position.  Don’t worry that 98% of climate scientists agree with anthropogenic climate change; we’ve found the one crank who disagrees.  Mention very basic things about climate science and their jaws slack gape.

We are building an information landscape in which people never have to be confronted by anything which does not agree with their prejudices.  We’ve even got people arguing that children shouldn’t be exposed to things which disagree with their parents’ biases.  How did we get to this point?

This morning, I read more of George Orwell’s essays.  In an unused preface to Animal Farm, Orwell complained that:

If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion.  In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.  [Source: George Orwell, ‘Proposed Preface to Animal Farm’]

The newspapers, he noted, were ‘extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.’

Instead of silencing ‘alternative’ viewpoints, there is money to be made in drowning them out.  It makes me cringe to think that I just referred to best available science as an ‘alternative’ viewpoint, but that’s what it’s become.  Just as in Orwell’s day, the publishers are frightened of public opinion.  Views which challenge readers will get overlooked if readers are able to shield themselves from challenging views.  If readers shield themselves, then they can’t look at the pretty adverts publishers are trying to sell.

But surely there are places for public debates in the media.  Doesn’t Andrew Bolt appear on Insiders every week or so to provide a contrasting view?

Not really.  Dissent is okay so long as it’s arena-style combat, providing a spectacle which will attract advert-reading viewers.  The point is not to challenge the reader: the point is to attract attention.  The reader has their champion in the field ready to use whatever rhetoric device is necessary to shield the viewer from being challenged.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think this is a right-wing/left-wing thing.  My Greens friends are generally more shielded from reality than my Nationals friends.  For every ‘Climate Change is Crap’ chanter on the right, there’s a Green blowhard on the left chanting similarly asinine mantras.  Post what you like to refute their arguments; they’re not going to listen (and try to justify why they’re not going to listen).

Infotainment killed news, but when did we all start thinking that it was okay to just cherry pick convenient ‘facts’?

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