It is definitely strange times we live in. To me, it is just tragically funny to watch the new world of 'Fake News' and 'Alternative Facts.' As a real fact, these aren't exactly new. It's just now they've been given a label and talked about in the media.
The Origin of Alternative FactAccording to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_facts,
"Alternative facts" is a phrase used by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway during a Meet the Press interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's false statement about the attendance at Donald Trump's inauguration as President of the United States. When pressed during the interview with Chuck Todd to explain why Spicer "utter[ed] a provable falsehood", Conway stated that Spicer was giving "alternative facts." Todd responded, "Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods."
"The press was trying to make that seem like we were ignoring the facts," Spicer said. "You can look at a weather report and one weather report comes out and says it's going to be cloudy, and the next one says there's going to be light rain. No one lied to you, it just means you interpreted the data in a way that you felt got you to a conclusion."
Alternative Facts and Objective TruthIt's an interesting question with an interesting answer. An alternative fact is easy to call out as lying when you disagree with the position. This happens on all sides.
Consider this original term, it surrounded the case of Donald Trump's inauguration and whether or not it was the largest attended in history. The Trump team of course would like to say it was and stated some estimate. The news outlets and others provided other numbers showing it was not large.
There is an objective behind the inauguration numbers. If someone was capable of counting every single person or they had an entrance gate where people could be tracked coming in, they could have found the objective truth and it would be an exact number. This would have had to be done in all previous inaugurations for comparison.
Yet, that was not the case, instead we're dealing with estimates, which you can say are more or less likely to be accurate, but this is going to be heavily influence by which report you wish to read or which interpretation you wish to have.
The best example I can give is the legal system. The law has to deal in unknown and yet still come to a verdict. So you will have things like
- Beyond a reasonable doubt (for criminal matters)
- Preponderance of the Evidence (civil matters)
Choosing the Alternative FactEveryone chooses the 'facts' that best suites them. Which fact actually matches the objective truth is another question altogether. Often one that we just don't know. Or one that no one is truth worthy enough to provide it.
Let's give an example of an Alternative Fact that I've seen my whole life.
From a religious stand point, one of the controversies is the Prophet Mohamed in his 50s married Aisha when she was 6 years old and consummated when she was 9.
Most Muslims; especially in the West can't bring themselves to think this is 'right'. Some deal with it through saying it was a 'different time' back then or whatever. But others choose an alternative fact. They choose to ignore was is plainly written in the books they claim their religion is derived from, and try and raise her age to something more palatable for the modern mind. Maybe 15 or 19.
Or for that matter take a recent case where Conservative MPs appear to be laughing at a Liberal MP who mentioned he used to be a bus driver.
Progressives are of course choosing the take it as a fact that the conservatives are laughing at him because he was a bus driver.
Here is https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/02/18/in-what-world-is-it-laughable-to-drive-a-bus-for-a-living-mallick.html taking it as pretty much fact they are laughing at him for being a bus driver.
What would be called an alternative fact would be that they were laughing because of the softball question parties often serve themselves. I've seen this a lot in politics and it causes me to chuckle as well. The party wants to boast about it's new investments in some area. So they have an MP ask a silly setup question that blatantly sets up an answer where the government can boast about its new program.
In this case there is actually some debate as we're dealing with people's intentions which you can't really observe as an objective truth.
Medical Prevention Saves MoneyHere's another classic one. Pretty much all the evidence seen constantly indicates that most healthcare spending occurs in the late years of life. So when this study came out, it didn't really surprise me.
It was done by the Dutch Minitry of Health, so it wasn't like a for-profit private company did it.
Basically it says that people who are healthy; they don't smoke and are not obese, actually cost the healthcare system more money because they live longer and spend more time/money in old age healthcare.
Yet, I've had such little productive conversation with this 'fact' with people who normally are all about 'facts'. People who talk about 'evidence based' policy in general seem to turn a blind eye to such studies. I've heard all kinds of alternative facts in response to this study.
- The study didn't take into account the productivity in the working years. Maybe healthy people are so much more productive while they're alive that it makes up for their increased old age spending
'The Truth' is all about who you Trust and what you WantWhat I think is coming out all this is that your version of 'The Truth' is all about who trust. If you don't trust the USA, then maybe you think 911 was an inside job. I heard this alternative fact all my life in the Muslim community.
If you think conservatives are all snobs, then you will think they laugh at a bus driver as his job is low class.
If you think the the media is against a candidate, then you won't trust their numbers or truth.
If you trust Mohamed to be a perfect man, then you will not accept negative things about him.
If you follow a particular ideology, then you choose your 'facts' appropriately.
Is Talking Facts Useless?That is the question isn't it. We spend so much time today in the public sphere talking about facts and truth is as if they're meant to convince people.
I think it really depends on who you are talking to. If someone can be seen to have a reasoned discussion based on facts, then bring it up to them.
If not, or your initial opinions/wants differ so much, is there a point in talking facts? When you're just going to call each other liars as you don't trust the same sources and come from the same starting position.
I do think it is sad that as a society we have become so invested in our opinions that speaking of facts is problematic. This is especially true in a multi-cultural and multi-ideological society.
SummaryAlternative facts are nothing new to the world I've seen. What is new is the blatant state of affairs and branding of it. What is new is the bringing out into full public view what many people think are facts.
Power is ultimately what moves society, not facts. This is something many people have not been taught. Our educational system seeks to instill discussion and science, but reality is so much driven by power.
I don't know. Maybe the world has just made me too cynical. Lies still rip at my soul. Yet, it seems they're everywhere and no one really cares unless it is being told by their enemy.