Wednesday, June 14, 2017
“In Praise of Facts”
“In Praise of Facts”
by Robert Gore
"Facts rush towards us like an oncoming train, and facts tie us to the track. Your car won’t start. That’s a fact. You think the battery is dead. That’s a hypothesis. Your neighbor has jumper cables and you start the car off of her car’s battery. That’s an experiment that yields data supporting your hypothesis. Maybe you drive around for a while and your battery either recharges or it doesn’t. Either way, that’s another fact, which tends to disprove or support your hypothesis. Perceiving facts, developing hypotheses, experimentation, then revising, when necessary, those hypotheses in light of newly perceived facts are defining processes of the human mind. Humans continuously perceive, hypothesize, experiment, and revise, rarely even aware of the process: call it the empirical loop.
It’s easy to laugh at the academic and student primitives who deride the loop, who even question the concept of facts. Often this rejection stands on the notion that the loop is a package of “constructs” developed by white males to oppress everyone else. Credit for the loop to white males is a compliment, not a condemnation. However, they aren’t responsible for the epistemological process necessary for any human being to deal with reality, although some white males have dealt with reality extraordinarily well. Rejecting the loop, primitives will surely be oppressed…by reality. Let one of them, regardless of race, ethnicity, and gender, step in front of a moving train, rejecting the fact that it’s a train and the hypothesis of imminent impact. Before he splatters on the train’s windshield, he may realize his epistemological errors.
Thus, this anti-epistemology that has permeated the academy is not a laughing matter. It cripples young minds just as they should be launching their first independent forays into reality. Unfortunately, it can not and has not stayed confined to the academy. In the empirical loop, facts are primary; in the anti-empirical loop, perceptions and beliefs reign supreme. The unremarkable observation that beliefs can create facts - people believe Brand A soap cleans better, so they buy more of it than other soaps - has mutated into the mindset that facts either don’t exist or are irrelevant, only perception and belief matter. That precept is inherently collectivist, because the perceptions and beliefs that matter are those of groups. Patron saint of this movement is Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays (1891-1995), who has been called the father of public relations.
At root, economics is the study of how people deal with certain aspects of reality: scarce resources, producing goods and services, trade, and so on. A plausible hypothesis concerning the 2008-2009 financial crisis was that it was caused by years of mathematically unsustainable debt growth - promoted by central banks’ policies - in excess of economic growth. When the debt-stimulated housing sector - homes, mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities - reversed course and imploded, it took much of the world with it, because the global financial system is inextricably interlinked.
This hypothesis implies that restoration of the economy and financial system requires debt contraction to a point where the economy can support it. However, that hypothesis about the cause was never officially accepted, and neither was any other. To this day, policymakers within governments and central banks profess ignorance about the causes of the crisis. They may be covering their asses, because most hypotheses in some way implicate them. But the fact that none of them saw it coming suggests that perhaps they should be taken at their word. Their solutions - government debt, central bank debt monetization, and low or negative interest rates - suggest the same thing.
Such solutions replace economics with mass psychology. Promoting and increasing debt, policymakers reject the excess debt hypothesis. At the heart of feel-good operations, central banks exchange their fiat debt for governments’ fiat debt at suppressed interest rates. Low interests rates promote borrowing and stabilize falling asset prices, which makes people feel better. Feeling better, they buy goods, services, and financial assets, which, in a virtuous cycle called the wealth effect, make people feel even better, juicing the economy and financial markets even more. Edward Bernays would have been proud: prosperity via PR. One inconvenient fact: the feel-good cure hasn’t worked particularly well.
The aide [Karl Rove] said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will - we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Suskind, Ron, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” The New York Times Magazine, 10/17/04
Can anything be more arrogantly delusional than a belief that an entity, even an “empire,” can create its “own reality”? Some version of Karl Rove’s triumphal effluvia has been muttered by emperors, and their courtiers and courtesans, since Ozymandias. The US empire has been creating realities since Korea. They certainly haven’t been the realities, the sets of facts, the ruling cabal advertised or promised, although they may have been the realities it wanted. When one creates one’s own reality, facts are clearly superfluous. For the unenlightened remnant, “the reality-based community,” Bush, Rove, and company’s War on Terror is more accurately labeled the War to Promote Terror; terror now being more prevalent than it was when the war was initiated. Similar relabeling is apt for the empire’s other reality-creating wars: the War to Promote Drugs and the War to Promote Poverty.
The reality creators pursue a fact-free revolt against a duly elected president, hoping to, Bernays-like, conjure a perception that will drive him from office. Megyn Kelly’s recent interviews with Vladimir Putin (Link to ABC version; Link to part ABC left out) are instructive: the Witch Doctor versus the empiricist. Kelly incants all the right incantations: “Consensus view,” “Republicans and Democrats,” “17 intelligence agencies,” “experts say,” “reports today in the American press,” “US intelligence has concluded.” However, you can’t argue from authority when the other side doesn’t recognize your authority, which Putin did not. Did Kelly and those who vetted her questions actually think the ex-KGB agent (a fact that Kelly helpfully pointed out…twice) would acknowledge the expertise, accuracy, or integrity, much less the authority, of America’s consensus, Republicans and Democrats, experts, press, or intelligence agencies? Who in their right mind would?
Putin punctured Kelly’s word bubbles with two words - ”direct proof,” noting its absence. The closest Kelly got to facts is when she incanted “forensics,” “digital fingerprints,” “IP addresses” (Internet Protocol), “malware,” “encryption keys,” and “specific pieces of code,” all of which, she asserted, pointed to Russian hacking. Unfortunately, beyond briefing her on software lexicon, apparently nobody told Kelly that all her keywords can be faked - until Putin did…twice. He did not - but could have - cited WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 disclosures in March revealing that the CIA can engage in false flag cyberattacks such as the one of which Russia stands accused.
SLL has posited that the great divide in American life is between the useful and the useless. However, the divide is deeper than that. It’s epistemological, between those who deal every day with cars that won’t start and other facts, and those who believe that facts are irrelevant or a construct of their own choosing and construction. Facts can be ignored but not eradicated. The reality-based community will take grim satisfaction when ignored facts finally cascade down upon the heads of the reality-creators, as they assuredly will. Unfortunately, those facts will cascade down upon the rest of us, too, and we’re left hoping for one future fact: that we’ll be around to pick up the pieces."