Mourning Facts

Did you know that Facts has died?  On April 19, the Chicago Tribune published an obituary for Facts brilliantly conceived and written by Rex W. Huppke.

Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012

In memoriam: After years of health problems, Facts has finally died.

Over the centuries, Facts became such a prevalent part of most people’s lives that Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.”

To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.

Facts held on for several days after that assault — brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason — before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.

It’s very depressing,” said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of “A History of the Modern Fact.” “I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We’ll never agree on anything.”

Facts was born in ancient Greece, the brainchild of famed philosopher Aristotle. Poovey said that in its youth, Facts was viewed as “universal principles that everybody agrees on” or “shared assumptions.”

But in the late 16th century, English philosopher and scientist Sir Francis Bacon took Facts under his wing and began to develop a new way of thinking.

“There was a shift of the word ‘fact’ to refer to empirical observations,” Poovey said.

Facts became concrete observations based on evidence. It was growing up.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Facts reached adulthood as the world underwent a shift toward proving things true through the principles of physics and mathematical modeling. There was respect for scientists as arbiters of the truth, and Facts itself reached the peak of its power.

But those halcyon days would not last.

Yes, anything can be stated and if done so with enough authority it is believed to be factual.  There is, in my opinion, a failure to distinguish between fact and opinion.  It is a fact that I am sitting at my computer on Aril 27 at 6:11 am typing these words.  It is my opinion that the budget plan proposed by Paul Ryan is bad for the economy.

Facts was wounded repeatedly throughout the recent GOP primary campaign, near fatally when Michele Bachmann claimed a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease causes mental retardation. In December, Facts was briefly hospitalized after MSNBC’s erroneous report that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign was using an expression once used by the Ku Klux Klan.

But friends and relatives of Facts said Rep. West’s claim that dozens of Democratic politicians are communists was simply too much for the aging concept to overcome.

As the world mourned Wednesday, some were unwilling to believe Facts was actually gone.

Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.

Services are alleged to be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that mourners make a donation to their favorite super PAC.

Representative West can be proud:  He is responsible for finally killing Facts.  But we all helped.

And Scalia, too

A few days ago, I posted about Justice Thomas and his conflicts of interest.  Now it seems that Justice Scalia has his own ethical problems.

td110701.gif

Looking around, it appears that ethics are not a huge consideration for a lot of judges and politicians these days.  Massachusetts has two political leaders currently serving time and a third one is likely on the way.  Plus, a former Senate President, William Bulger, has got to be concerned about his reputation as his brother, James, faces trial on 19 counts of murder here as well as others in Florida and Oklahoma.  There have always been hints that William tried to shield James while James was on the run.  William’s son has been implicated in conflict of interest in hiring at the Massachusetts Department of Probation. 

There is a new translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics reviewed in this week’s New York Times Book Review.  While I’m not sure I agree with the reviewer, Harry V. Jaffa, that Leo Strauss was the “greatest political philosopher of the 20th century”, a couple of sentences caught my attention.

The existence of politics before political philosophy is what makes political philosophy possible. Politics is inherently controversial because human beings are passionately attached to their opinions by interests that have nothing to do with the truth. But because philosophers — properly so called — have no interest other than the truth, they alone can bring to bear the canon of reason that will transform the conflict of opinion that otherwise dominates the political world.

Unfortunately, what has been called philosophy for more than a century has virtually destroyed any belief in the possibility of objective truth, and with it the possibility of philosophy. Our chaotic politics reflects this chaos of the mind. No enterprise to replace this chaos with the cosmos of reason could be more welcome

Maybe Aristotle should be required summer reading for the Supreme Court, the Massachusetts General Court (Legislature) as well as for the rest of us.  My husband pulled our copy of Aristotle down from the shelf last night.  Neither of us have read it since our freshman year at St. John’s College:  Maybe it is time to read it again.  Maybe Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas need to think about whether the opinions they are writing as influenced by interests “that have nothing to do with the truth.”