Facts enjoy mythical stature in our society. In a diverse community with many competing and often conflicting views, facts ring out with a promise of objective clarity. You are entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. I’m sure you’ve said that/had that said to you.
Facts are bullshit. A skilled lawyer can turn a competent eyewitness into a blathering idiot. A skilled rhetorician can make facts dance on strings for the amusement of the masses. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. Fact.
Truly objective facts are few and far between. Evolution is what happened. Annie is not okay. Light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second. Much beyond that, who can say? People like to say, “Let’s wait for all the facts to come out.” What they are really saying is, “Let’s wait for additional information that I can fit into my preconceived world view.” There have been studies about this. If a “fact” doesn’t fit into a person’s standing world view, that fact is likely to be ignored and have no impact on the person’s judgment.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the video of Kajieme Powell getting shot to death in St. Louis. You’ll remember Powell as the alleged “knife wielding” crazy man who seemed to be trying to commit suicide by cop when St. Louis PD eagerly obliged. Tell me what you see…
What I see is another, unjustified homicide committed by local cops. I see a mentally ill black man, something in his pocket. The cops say it was a knife — though they’ve been conspicuously silent on whether it was butter or steak. I see a person in need of help, and I see cops shooting him dead within 20 seconds of arriving on the scene. Fact.
I see BOTH officers shooting, including the second one who was behind the car an in no conceivable danger at all. AND I hear the shots continuing past the point where the man was on the ground.
I see members of an unaccountable paramilitary organization gunning down a sick man in the streets because they can. And if we look at this video spliced with the police chief’s official explanation, I also see a lying warlord defending his goons. You might see something different. The point is that we are looking at the same thing. We are witnessing the same facts. If you think that there is an objective truth here, if you think there are facts here that can prove or disprove what my eyes are telling me, well you need to help yourself to an episode of Through the Wormhole and tell me where an electron is at any particular time.
This is not a new problem. We have criminal courts specifically because when one man dies at the hand of another “facts” become impossible to know. We trust a justice system — be that system a King, a God, or a jury — to tell us what happened and who is to blame because we know that reasonable people will disagree about the facts of almost any homicide.