There was an election once…

Jack Finnigan – unsplash.com

“Facts never mattered to me as much as opinion.” I paused and blew a smoke ring, “But then I have always been a little ahead of my time.”
“You can’t mean that!”
I gave her a look I hoped indicated I was suffering from unjust hurt. “What, that I have always been a little ahead of my time?”
“No…about facts not mattering as much as opinion!”
I nodded, exhaling a plume of blue smoke into the grey air above our table as I flicked the ash from my cigarette. “Of course I do.” I said, taking a last drag, “People can argue facts all day long. Opinions are not open to debate.” I put out my cigarette by dropping it in one of the the empty bottles before me on the table. I watched the smoke curl out of the mouth of the bottle for a second. “In fact, I think we have finally moved into the post-fact era.”
She sat across the table just looking at me. I didn’t say anything until I saw her blink.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She blinked again and then smiled, taking a sip of her beer. “You’re just putting me on.” she chuckled.
I shook my head.
“No, you aren’t following me. I am deadly serious. In math class or history class or science class facts may have actually counted for something. Leave academia behind, get out into the real world and you figure out in a fast hurry that they don’t mean a thing.”
She put her beer down and leaned in towards me, pointing forcefully at the table with her left index finger, so forcefully that I could see the cuticle around her fingernail turn pink and her knuckle turn white as her finger bent backwards against the table top.
“You have it exactly backwards!” I could see the red creeping up from under her collar. “I don’t understand how you could be so wrong, you seem like a smart guy!”
“How am I wrong? Give me any fact of any value that you can name. I will bet you the next round that I can point out a case where that fact is in dispute.”
She shook her head and leaned back in the chair. “You are just being silly.”
“I am not!” I leaned into her now. “How old is the earth?”
A quizzical look came over her face.
I waved a hand over my pack of smokes and lighter on the table. “Does smoking cause cancer? Is climate change a real thing?” I didn’t even pause now, “Is the national crime rate lower now than it was four, eight, twelve years ago? Do vaccines cause autism?”
She scoffed, “Does two and two equal four? Where is the dispute about that?”
“No no! I said a fact of any value.”
“When do facts not have value?”
“Hardly ever, that is why I started out saying they never mattered. Any fact of any value, by which I mean any fact that someone has a vested interest in will never mean anything.”
“Oh and opinions will?”
“Absolutely! Opinions matter. Opinions get bills passed into law, treaties signed, cars recalled, presidents elected, certain types of people convicted of crimes and certain other types of people acquitted for the same crimes. Facts don’t even enter into it.”
I picked up my cigarettes and flicked another butt out of the pack. Holding it between my lips I tossed the almost empty pack back on the table and reached for my Ronson. I went on as I lit it, the tip of my cigarette bouncing up and down in the flame as I spoke.
“It’s opinion that has tossed tea into Boston harbor, outlawed slavery, gotten women the vote, ushered in prohibition and repealed it. Opinion made abortion legal. It’s opinion that has made same-sex marriage legal and it’s opinion that will make pot legal.
Opinion has kept us fighting the “war on drugs” long after facts showed that it was a huge waste of resources and was not something we were winning. Facts never entered into any of these arguments. Facts have never made any difference and they never will.”
“I just can’t believe you are saying this!”
“Why? Take a look back in time. When in your lifetime or mine has someone on one side of an issue argued facts and won because of those facts? People are not convinced by facts. They are convinced by opinions if they are convinced at all.”
She threw up her hands. “But we base our opinions on facts!” She exclaimed loudly.
The guy behind the bar looked over, squinting at us. Since I was the one facing the bar I was the one that bore the brunt of his warning look. I raised my hand in acknowledgement.
“We need to keep it down.”
She looked over her shoulder at the bartender and some of the couples at the tables around who were looking at us and waved. Message delivered, message received.
I leaned in again, speaking more softly. “Your opinions are not based on facts. You base your opinions on everything you learn, hear, read and so on. All this filters through everything else you have previously learned, heard, read etc.”
“This is crazy.” She said. “I see stuff too you know. I have first-hand experiences.”
“Probably not as many as you think,” I said. “in the times we live in most of the meaningful information we get is through third parties. We read magazines, websites, blogs, watch the news, TV and movies, and all these providers have their own opinions by which they color what they produce. We just consume it. If you think that what you get is fact you are deluding yourself.
“As far as personal experience, when was the last time you had a fight with your Mom or Dad or boyfriend or room mate about something that was or was not done around the house. There you are, two people who know and care for each other, looking at the same set of circumstances and completely unable to agree about it. Where do “facts” enter in there?”
She sat quietly for a moment, shaking her head with a pitying expression on her face as she looked at me.
“Facts matter. Facts are.” she pleaded, “Something can not both be and not be at the same time. There is objective truth!”
I sat back and blew a smoke ring into the light fixture above. “I never said that facts did not exist. I never said there was no objective truth. I just said that neither of these matters. We know so little that the amount of capital ’T’ truth we can bank on is small. There is little that cannot be successfully assailed by opinion. That is why opinion matters and facts don’t. You can’t even say that something can not both be and not be at the same time. Quantum physics is weird stuff! In Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, the cat can both be and not be at the same time.”
She looked at me as if I were gleefully strangling baby kittens in each hand.
“You bastard!”

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