Look at the facts; they’re what tell the real story, right?
And yet every politician, every activist, every public personality seemingly has the facts on their side. Charts are refuted with more charts, statistics with yet others, and it seems that the ‘facts’ bring us no closer to really understanding the problems – whether it’s gun reforms in the wake of tragedies, or climate change, or any other controversy for that matter.
Facts themselves are politicized. The information, supposedly neutral, loses weight when debates become symbolic – which they almost inevitably do. These seemingly objective data become subjective once they enter the polarized realm of our political, legal, and societal discourses. These systems have themselves become more divisive and polarized, and the commentaries have followed suit.
It’s no surprise that the conversation surrounding gun control in the United States is centered on questions of individual liberties and collective good. The debate is not about the practicality or wisdom in gun control or liberty; it’s about the ideals that have become inextricable from the respective positions. Removing nuance from discussion makes them more easily reducible to sound bites, attention grabbers for the public, and buzzwords for anyone with a platform. Information is simplified and attached to one side or another, propped up as token fact in support of the claim.
With this idealized and charged language, the debates don’t become about morality of a given action, but whether the action is suitably included in the language we have taken for granted as pillars of the issue. The scope of the most common conversations is limited to predictable, simplified talking points, further reinforced by the promotion of false dilemmas and nature of adversarial systems.
This is no new phenomenon – the rhetoric and strategies in any number of controversies today and the example of the tobacco debate are parallel in many ways: the association of ideals and values such as freedom and choice versus public good, the lack of ‘definitive consensus’ between the experts on the issues, all hallmarks of any mainstream issue today.
These tendencies bleed down into our own mindsets and everyday conversations as well. Until we are sufficiently aware of their impact, and work to broaden the depths of our understanding of issues, it’ll be easy to end up having the same fruitless debates with every new headline.