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The Informed Citizen vs. Facebook

25 Aug

San Diego — Oh dear God, I am hard put to express my disgust over the level of verbal offal passing for political brilliance now increasingly posted on Facebook.  I am going on to Facebook less and less because I want to NOT read it due to the diminished respect I will have for anyone who would post it.

And upon being questioned on openly invalid assertions of quotes or taken to task for blatant lies is simply shrugged off as if the jist of it was accurate (in the eyes of the poster) so any fabrications to support that underlying truth are justified.  Let me be as clear as I can about how I feel…

In a context as important as our upcoming elections, the use of fabrications and open lies, the refusal to find the truth or the proclivity to take individual facts out of context and from that weave vast and demonic conclusions is not only the act of someone coming into a battle of wits completely UNARMED but also of someone, in my opinion, treading on the edges of treasonous activity for so damaging our system at its core as to give aid and comfort to the nations enemies. 

To be blunt, since I do not want to fire any big words over your heads, if this includes you, I think that readily accepting any third party’s scurrilous, defamatory demonization of someone trying to offer a solution to the nation’s ills, is the work of a mental midget and moral deviate; and if you read this blog post but are unable to restrain your continuingly using Facebook to post little cartoons and links to equally insipid sites, please “unfriend” me on Facebook and no longer assault my space, my eyes, or my brain with your stupid, moronic drivel and no longer insult me by implying that we are friends of any kind.

You do not have to agree with the proposed resolutions of issues by those whose major crime is belonging to the other party or at least, not yours.  Further,  if you disagree then I think you owe the country your best efforts to properly, even passionately counter them by presenting YOUR solutions for review as well.  But to lower the debate to the bumper sticker level, draw vast negative conclusions from a complete void of real data while relying on innuendo or the spin of others, is cowardly and beneath contempt for me.  Do it anonymously, please, so I do not know that I even know who you are.

Meantime I do have real friends who are interested in trying to find the truths from which to make an informed decision in the upcoming elections.  One great friend of long standing sent me this email…

——————————

David –

I have tried to gather some websites that might help me determine the truth or fiction of so much of the rhetoric being thrown around lately. Research is such a pain!!! Anyway, the below listed sites are some that I visit, and was wondering if you know anything about these, or can recommend some that would be reliable:

    www.loc.gov

    www.politifact.com

    www.factcheck.org

    www.truthorfiction.com

    www.straightdope.com

    www.factorfictionblog.com

    www.snopes.com

    www.stephenfraiser.com/blog

If any of these are not worthwhile, let me know and I’ll delete them. Any good ones that you could recommend would be appreciated. 

See, I am trying to be informed! 

Thanks, friend

——————————

Here is my answer (with a few edits).

Like all good research over controversial topics, you will find the sources vary a little since no one is completely objective.  The specific facts are whatever they are unless someone decides to simply lie about them (which is increasingly common) but thus far I’ve not caught any of these sources in an out-and-out lie.  Nevertheless, the lack of pure objectivity shows up in a couple of subtle — sometimes not-so-sublte — ways:

  1. There is the usual ‘spin’ based on how one site or the other might attempt to “interpret” the facts to conclude one thing or another especially if the context is a little vague.  This is the most common problem.
  2. The other is in doing what is sometimes called “selective documentation” which is to tell SOME of the facts involved in the question or event, but not ALL of them.  Like taking quotes out of context or cherry picking facts, especially out of a complex multi-fact containing event, this can lead to a wide variety of interpretations and conclusions, may wrong, even though the “reporter” can say accurately that their facts are correct.

Rarely do these sites (or any of them) come to a question with a complete lack of bias.  Some of them, like Snopes, is extensive but politically quite biased (in their case, liberal).  To be fair, I’ve never found a blatant lie but have seen some selective documentation.  And, regardless of any intitial bias, if it involves some historical event they then have to do their OWN research into already biased or editorialized material unless they can quote the entire relevant sections written by eye witness authors and historians.  So you can see it is a huge problem even if you are trying very hard to be accurate.

Don’t be too hard on them.  It is impossible to fully grasp and comprehend some of the incredibly complex events of history and certainly of our modern times.  To make sense of it, we all, ALL, will tend to filter it through our own perspective and grasp on to parts that make sense and discard those that do not.  It is a natural human response to things we cannot fully deal with.  However, if, as it is here, it is important to find the truth of or behind some particular events in order to ascertain who might best represent your own positions and views for the country, then it is unfortunately incombant upon you to take the trouble to check every source possible and from every perspective available to be able to ferret out that core truth.

Often you will find it does not well support EITHER of the opposing positions and then, alas, it forces you to come to grips with it and work out other possible solutions and wonder why the candidates or legislators are not doing the same thing. Too often when a partisan runs headlong into such a complexity, they simply cherry pick the parts that fit their preconceptions and go on from their citing perhaps accurate but misleading “facts” to support their positions.

The only way to try to get a good grip on the “reality” involved is, unfortunately, to read as many of the resources as possible and compare them.  Sometimes I’ll keep a notebook handy or create a comparison table on the computer as I’m readying resources.  If they ALL recount a fact it is probably true.  But if other “facts” appear in other versions, then the interpretive fun begins.  And as noted, a “Fact” even if true, is not the end of it.

There is no reliable second hand source that can match exposure to the real event, i.e. watching the actual or replayed event or listening to the actual or recorded speech in their entirety or reading the original letters, journals, or books.  And by the time the report is third hand ( a person telling you what they heard from someone who themselves read about or even saw the event — what the legal professional calls “hearsay” and properly rejects it as evidence — all bets are off.  Too many chances for spin and interpretation have intervened.

The good news is that many such “current” or modern events are on the web somewhere and many of the old writings are also available to help. Places like U-Tube has an incredible collection of taped events and speeches.  Be aware however that in many cases these are edited by the poster.

What also helps is to know in advance through what philosophical/political filters a given resource will view events; that helps to identify the little twists and tweaks in their narrative for what they are.  What tends NEVER to be honest, objective, or accurate, is overt hyperbole and demonization.  Those are ALWAYS the tactics of speakers who have stepped out beyond their actual knowledge and understanding of a subject and will not or cannot admit it.  And it is almost always wrong except now and then by sheer coincidence.

Individuals from all sides occasionally do it so it is not a unilateral tactic.  Blind partisans don’t care and in this case and point in time that seems to better define the left.  But some on the right are not beyond it either.

As a nation, culture, and society, we are, more than ever I think, at the mercy of truly educated and informed voters and perhaps less than ever in possession of enough of them to save us.  I’m impressed, pleased and glad to count you among them but being so informed is tough work.  Even blind partisans who draw revenue as pundits for one side or the other spend all their time on it and they generally only listen to sources from their own side.  I doubt Hannity reads the Huffington Post or Daily Kos and I doubt Maddow reads the Heritage Foundation newsletters or Newsmax.  I try to at least skim all of them and watch as many of them as time permits.  Sometimes I have to turn it off because the sheer lunacy makes me ill but I do try.

To add some sport to it all, few politicians, made up mostly of lawyers, are quite as in command of the language as they would like to pretend.  They have their legalese down but regionalizations and otherwise limited vocabulary sometimes lead to slips that are unintentional as they grasp for the right word and in the heat of a speech or debate, settle on one that sounds right.

This happens to both sides and in all cases the other side will, with the help of media who generally is more in command of the language as a necessary job skill, be used as a bludgeon and hammered on as if the word used was the word intended.  With the exceptions of William Buckley on the right and, farther back, Adlai Stephenson on the left, we’ve had but rare political individuals who were able to spontaneously and unscripted or unprompted, hold forth in passionate debate without an occasional gaffe or missuse of a word.

To add to the confusion, the old true liberals on the left such as Stephenson and John Kennedy, would be tossed out of the modern left.  Remember Ronald Reagan was a Kennedy democrat and if you follow his positions honestly he never changed… what changed was the party’s platform.  By the same token, the true old conservatives would have a hard time recognizing what has happened to their party as well. It was not, for example, the democratic party but the republicans who supported civil rights in the 50s but both have changed.  It was republican THeodore Rooseveldt that really did more to champion environment issues of his day and voer the objections of his political opponents.  But times and platforms have changed and more than once.

Johnson did virtually everything Goldwater has proposed but after calling Goldwater a fanatic that would lead us to WWIII.  Geopolitically a President’s position is generally meaningless since no matter who they are they will be driven by world events not drive those events themselves though they can accelerate or decelerate them a little.  They can certainly act in such a way as to ignite wars they cannot control the other actors on the world stage no matter how sincere their desires to do so.  Just ask Carter and Obama.  THey can take advantage of openings and mistakes of other world leaders or they can let opportunities slip through their fingers but that is all utterly reactive not proactive.  It is nice but irrelevant to know what they want; what is essential is to know how they will react.  Knowing the former is easy, just listen to them.  Knowing the latter is hard since you ahve to do your homework and it has to be done accurately anf objectively.

In a way currently both are now delusional.  The hard left looks forward a world that has failed at every attempt to work and the hard right looks back fondly to a world that never existed.

With both sides coming from foundations based on political hallucinations they are both so vulnerable to guidance from vastly smarter individuals from without as to give rise to a wondrous set of “conspiracy” theories about oligarchies from illuminati and Bildergergers.  One cannot easily follow the thread of logic from either side because, in fact, there does not seem to be one.  No wonder in the midst of such confusion misspeaking is becoming an art.  Equally easy to explain is the rise of a whole new army of “useful idiots” to parrot talking points, selected quotes and actions, and draw the most inane and unlikely conclusions that will be swallowed and embraced by those other useful idiots on their side of the fence.  In a world increasingly dedicated to instant gratification, thinking and research takes to long; too many simply want to be told what to think just as they want to be handed goodies at the government trough.

The raw “facts” will always be that they said what they said. Period. The objective researcher’s tough role is then to figure out what they really meant to say and that can be done by examining the evidences of their philosophy and how rigidly it is held to on a personal basis.  But it also opens the floodgates to spin.

Sometimes words of art from the individual’s life come out and are misunderstood out of the context not just of that “speech” but of their life and history.  In a studio I tell students to use a slave to fire the mono-lights.  I’ve had a lighting director yell to the gaffer crew to “throw out the babies and bring in the broads.”  But I was referring to the optical slave units in those lights and the director was referring to different sizes of Mole-Richards lighting instruments.  Reporting on our word usage alone though could lead to some ugly conclusions.

To report honestly on those occasions would require delving into the lives of the speakers as well as the context.  It takes some doing to get to the truth.  So much so that anyone wanting to hurt either of us would assume, correctly, very few others would do, take our words, accurately but out of context, to draw conclusions about our beliefs.

I also think it important to include hearing the “other side.”  For one thing it sometimes adds important “facts” left out in the spin from one’s own side.  Those additional facts may not change a conclusion but they are another piece of armor in a debate and without them you are left speechless when hit with a unknown weapon but sense it probably is, as far as it goes, accurate.  And they may, if you are truly open and objective as opposed to one of those brain dead useful idiots, make you think differently about things.  I do not want anyone ever to vote based on my opinion alone.  I want them to do the deep research for themselves and let it take them wherever it may.  If they happen to arrive at the position I have, great, but if not I prefer them to be honest to their own research.  I don’t want them to vote based on someone ELSE’s opinion either… just their own following their own deep, insightful research.

But, in the end, comes the ultimate question and only careful and constant research and diligence will be able to answer it and fix it if necessary.  And that is this… does what they say, even if accurately reported, really matter?  Could they do what they propose even if they really wanted to without, as is currently being done, doing perhaps permanent violence to the Constitution.  And if they could would you want them to?

And while you are grappling with that answer, take out your copy of the Consitution.  If you claim a standing to vote in a federal election you of course will have one and be familiar with it since you are voting for people who swear an oath to uphold it as their first duty.  How dare you claim your right to vote when you do not intimately know the groundrules your candidate will swear to uphold?  And if they swear a sacred oath to uphold that document but do not, why would you believe you could trust their word on anything?

So open it and look for the terms “executive order” or any other means by which the executive branch can, by personal fiat, override laws made by the legislative branch or create agencies that can do the same thing. Read again the very specific powers that are enumerated for both the executive and for congress.  And then think very carefully about what YOU say in your discourse to follow and whether or not you want what the founders created. i.e. a republic run under the guidance of our existing Constitution, or would prefer a country run under some other system under the guidance of a completely different foundational document.

And then be honest about it and support your arguments as the debaters of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers did.  Otherwise, please, I beg you, shut up and stay away from the polls.  Having an opinion, especially a rehashed opinion of someone else, does not equate automatically to having an informed opinion. Facebook and the web have proven beyond doubt that an infinite number of monkeys typing away will not manage to write the great books… If we end up with a country run by individuals whose political brilliance is indicated by the posts i see on Facebook, then we are in trouble so deeply I am not sure we can ever recover.

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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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