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Playing with the Facts and De-Worming your Mind

January 09, 2019

If you are morally right about something, is it acceptable to play with the associated facts?

In politics today, there seems to be widespread agreement that the answer is “go ahead”.

True, there is widespread disagreement as to who is morally right. 

Nonetheless, many would hold that IF a person is morally right, then go ahead and play with those facts.

Let’s call this “if supposedly morally right, then it’s okay to play with the facts” the “play principle”.

Of course the biggest user of the play principle has to be President Trump. 

He’s the biggest, but not the only user. 

Plenty of politicians, from all parts of the political spectrum, are users.

“Listen to the signal, not the noise”, Trump supporters say.  In the eye of his hurricane of outbursts, is a supposed “moral position” of some sort and that position’s assumed moral correctness justifies fact-playing. 

To keep Americans safe: play with the facts. 

To get America out of a war: play with the facts. 

And so on.

The play principle is psychologically compelling, arguably insidious.

Hence, to reveal to his supporters that Trump (to say the least) plays with the facts has little to no impact on them.

But the futility of revealing that a politician fact-plays is not limited to Trump and his supporters.

Consider a politician closer to home: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also uses the play principle.  He campaigned hard on voter reform, reneged, and said reform would lead to people starting undesirable political parties. 

That’s fact-playing. 

Keep the current system, Trudeau implied, and such parties should be blocked from forming.  The moral claim is essentially that he is protecting the electorate from “unwanted” political parties. 

Despite the cancellation of voter reform and the preservation of the status quo, Maxime Bernier formed a political party, one which would most likely fall into Trudeau’s “unwanted” category.

Consider that Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer also uses the play principle pretty well any time that he speaks about irregular border crossings, calling it all a “crisis”. 

But he is “out to protect us”, so that supposedly makes fact-playing okay.   

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, as distant as is possible from Trump on the political spectrum, also uses the play principle. 

In a recent 60 Minutes interview she nicely articulated the principle. 

When challenged regarding her use of statistics, she admitted making errors, but then said that her cause was just and that in such a case strict adherence to the facts was not crucial.

I will put aside who is “morally correct” and just make a few remarks. 

In this war of politics, as in regular war, the first casualty is truth.

I suspect the “play principle” is a particular kind of confirmation bias.  If someone says what you want already believe (or want to hear), then you will tend to be forgiving if they play with the facts, even to the point of bending and breaking the truth.

Sartre liked to say that “nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being, like a worm”. 

I would echo that, saying that the play principle lies coiled in our thinking, like a worm.

We all need a good de-worming from time to time.

Truth is important.  It’s not a toy.

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