The death of facts

A commentator on the news this a.m. (sorry, I can’t remember who it was!) noted the link between anti-maskers and election-conspiracy supporters.  I’d not thought about this before, but there’s an absolute connection.  It all has to do with an increasing failure in our society to acknowledge demonstrable, provable, evidence-based facts.  
There are facts, and there are (in the famous words of Kellyanne Conway) “alternative facts.”

Ignorance is at pandemic levels.  

Fact:  Biden won the 2020 presidential election, by upwards of 6 million (and growing) popular votes, and 306 Electoral College votes.  Fact:  Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election by about 3 million popular votes, but lost the Electoral College, where Trump won 304.  Fact:  there was Russian interference in the 2016 election, but the extent (and votes changed as a result) is unknown.  The fact-based evidence of the above is unassailable.  Google it.  

Fact:  Masks save lives.  Fact:  masks aren’t perfect, and to avoid COVID-19, one must still social distance and engage in appropriate hygiene (hand-washing, sanitizers).  The fact-based evidence of the above is unassailable.  Google it.

But we live in a society where, to many, facts don’t matter.  Many prefer blithe ignorance.  Because of the ubiquity of the internet, false claims are spread more quickly than legitimate fact-checkers can repudiate them.  And the false-claim spreaders don’t listen to facts anyhow.  

The situation rather reminds me of a story my daughter told me many years ago, pre-internet.  I don’t remember all of the details, but she came home one day in the 80s (i.e., pre-internet) with a fanciful story about a woman on an out-of-town trip having some kind of interaction with a guy.  The relationship got serious quickly, and as he put on on a plane gave her a ring-sized box, telling her to open it on the plane.  She opened it, and there was a note inside that said:  “Congratulations,  you now have AIDs.”  According to my daughter, it was the truth, because it really happened to a friend’s mother’s sister’s father-in-law’s next door neighbor’s cousin, or something along those lines.  I sat her down and explained it simply wasn’t true.  (I think this may be along the lines of the 90s rumor of HIV-infected needle attacks.) 

Sadly, today we’re not dealing with verbal unfounded rumors that are passed on by one’s 10-year-old daughter.  Rather, today, falsehoods are passed along by legitimate-sounding “news” sites with names such as Brietbart, or false news sites.  One knows that fake news has gotten out of hand when even Fox News rejects some of the more outlandish claims.

I’m concerned that the current widespread rejection of provable, evidence-based facts (masks cause respiratory issues!  Hugo Chavez was responsible for election fraud!) will soon lead to a similar widespread rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine (the drug companies are conspiring to give us all cancer!).  

When and how can we get back to facts?  I’m well aware that reasonable people can differ on approaches based on the same set of operative facts.  Want to talk about Second Amendment rights?  Great – let’s start with the same facts (who owns guns, suicide rates, etc.)  Reasonable people can disagree, and there are solutions.  Want to talk about tax cuts or tax increases?  Let’s start with budget discussions, what we’re spending, and what we value as a society.  This list could go on and on about legitimate issues on which we should have societal dialogue.  

But masks?  Don’t insult me (or kill me) with your holier-than-thou opinions on personal freedoms.  Election conspiracies?  Get a life.  Biden won fair and square.  Vaccines?  Get them – for yourself, your family, and others in your life.  

I know that folks who don’t give two hoots about truth will never read this.  But if they do, my plea:  please, educate yourself.

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