Fact If I Know What I’m Talking About

Commenting about the UK being post-fact seems to have garnered some outrage. You might think that it was a position that people would be keen to understand and, if proven, to rectify.

Apparently to talk ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth‘ is to talk through one’s porkie-pie hat. To the naysayers, our current ills are driven not by the absence of facts but by the prevalence of lies in certain sections of society only. Next, they’ll whip out the revelatory white rabbit that the fine line between genius and insanity is measured only in terms of success.

I prefer the term post-fact, because any statement with truth in it is already halfway towards being bent when the context is adversarial. Facts that are stated as so can by all means be interpreted as truth by the audience. Think that I’m splitting hairs? Well, be thankful that somebody in these times is.

I also have a problem with the idea that the prevalence of lies and emotion-laden argumentation sits in only certain sections of society. It’s everywhere. We’ve had a wholesale downgrade in terms of logicality.

I don’t deny the power of lies, fuelled more than ever before by the creation of mass audiences who become ready receptors and propagators of whatever message is selected to be conveyed. Everywhere you turn, you will see bluster replacing cogent contention. One stone in my shoe is that factual ripostes are frequently lacking and what is more concerning perhaps is that those who are well-informed very often elect not to even articulate their arguments.

They just don’t bother.

It’s not just the UK though. Several EU bigwigs have remarked in recent days that they regretted not getting involved in the 2016 referendum campaigns and debates. I mean, why would you even hesitate to intervene in a matter of existential criticality to your own life’s work? It’s hard to fathom unless you accept that the world is now sailing into the sunset on a raft of complacency that is so endemic that facts really don’t matter. Until the point where you have already plunged over the waterfall.

My argument about lies is that they are often the natural consequence of a fact vacuum.

In the absence of facts, others will fill the gaps with whatever they think will get them their desired result. And that’s the real tragedy of complacency. Well-informed folk relegate themselves to parity with the ignorant. In the Brexit debate, EU hierophants got a little too cocksure and their silence – combined with a Remain default to emotion and pushing panic – pushed them from an odds-on favourite to questionable even-money.

You can ask yourself what is worse: lying or not bothering to even volunteer the facts of a strong argument? To me, it’s pointless to debate the degree of culpability when it’s all reprehensible and beneath your capabilities.

It won’t stop the retrospective finger-pointing though. And while the EU debacle was a wide-ranging example, it happens at every level.

Look at our recent election, with politicians making up bonkers numbers about new nurses and slavishly sticking to them even when the facts disproved the claims. No worry though because adherence to the party line will be rewarded with a peerage.

Why aren’t we analysing, understanding, and acting with the same rigour that we retrospectively convene a multi-million-pound enquiry? You might then avoid waiting until 72 people had to die in a building wrapped in flammable materials before somebody would sit up and take notice.

Even on a subject as routine as road safety, it will likely come as no surprise that Department for Transport (DfT) criteria for the installation of safety cameras states that the majority (85%) of cameras must be in areas with a specified minimum level of death and injury within 1km in the previous three years (4 collisions resulting in death/serious injury for fixed cameras, 2 for mobile).

You would think that any sensible organisation would just undertake a risk assessment before anyone actually lost their life, but prognostication appears to be a dying art. Or rather attending to horses and stable doors is.

Either way, our failure to build logical arguments and make effective decisions on the basis of this is proving to be a false economy for the man in the street. But of course, it’s trebles all round for the charlatans in authority.

I think that in general we are swamped with so much data that there is a shortage of people who know how to interpret it. Or perhaps a perception that the general public to not have the skills to understand it. Probably both are real factors.

But you will get closer to the real picture by considering that you cannot push through unfair and biased policy by relying on factual justification if the facts don’t buttress your case. You have to smother the arena with so many trees that the public cannot see the wood. You then pick up the tab only of you need to – if a problem arises.

The truly contemptible part of the equation is that human lives just don’t outweigh pound notes. And they get away with it because for all those who are not directly involved, time is a healer. People simply move on. The Grenfell disaster was white-hot when it happened, yet Joe Public probably doesn’t even know where they are with the inquiry. It no longer registers.

Think of Hillsborough. Grenfell will go the same way and it’s already on the public backburner. The end result will be a gargantuan wedge of documentation that is so convoluted that nobody will be able to untangle precisely what it all means. Nobody’s going down – unless they can eke out a patsy who will take a fall for institutional ignorance and malpractice that stretches back decades.

So, if anybody still wants to query whether we are post-fact, look at just how retroactive this society is. It has become institutionally cost-effective to recourse to facts only when digging ourselves out of the holes that ignorance and complacency hollowed for us in the first instance.

What a time to be alive.

unsplash-logoStanislav Kondratiev

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