Every once in a while I wonder if I’m the only person left on the planet who thinks that facts matter. Tonight I ran across a column by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald which shows that I’m not, in fact, alone. He writes of a correspondence with someone for whom facts are fungible, and who thinks something he doesn’t like is just someone else’s insidious “bias” (WebCite cached article):

Facts no longer mean what they once did

Igot [sic] an email the other day that depressed me.

It concerned a piece I recently did that mentioned Henry Johnson, who was awarded the French Croix de Guerre in World War I for singlehandedly fighting off a company of Germans (some accounts say there were 14, some say almost 30, the ones I find most authoritative say there were about two dozen) who threatened to overrun his post. …

My mention of Johnson’s heroics drew a rebuke from a fellow named Ken Thompson, which I quote verbatim and in its entirety:

“Hate to tell you that blacks were not allowed into combat intell 1947, that fact. World War II ended in 1945. So all that feel good, one black man killing two dozen Nazi, is just that, PC bull.”

In response, my assistant, Judi Smith, sent Mr. Thompson proof of Johnson’s heroics: a link to his page on the website of Arlington National Cemetery. She thought this settled the matter.

Thompson’s reply? “There is no race on headstones and they didn’t come up with the story in tell 2002.”

Judi: “I guess you can choose to believe Arlington National Cemetery or not.”

Thompson: “It is what it is, you don’t believe either…”

At this point, Judi forwarded me their correspondence, along with a despairing note. She is probably somewhere drinking right now.

You see, like me, she can remember a time when facts settled arguments. This is back before everything became a partisan shouting match, back before it was permissible to ignore or deride as “biased” anything that didn’t support your worldview.

What has happened is that, for most people, “truthiness” (or something that one intuitively accepts as “true” even when it’s not) is more important than “truth.” Pitts echoes this:

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

No one is really interested in anything other than his or her preselected ideology. Everything else is out. Entirely out. Unacceptable and even sinister. One’s own side is saintly, the other is Hitler. (Reductio ad Hiterlum is a common propaganda trick.) What the average American wishes to be true, s/he claims is true; what s/he doesn’t want to be true, s/he claims is not; and Americans refuse to actually look into things to find out if they’re correct.

P.S. For a taste of how irrational and fact-deprived Americans can be, have a look at the comments to Pitts’s article. They prove his point every bit as much as the correspondent he quoted. What a bunch of children.

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