We can’t even agree on the facts anymore.

From “20 Myths about Religion and Politics in America” by Ryan P. Burge

I was doing what I knew was a mistake. I got into an argument with someone on social media. They were making a point using statistical evidence that I knew to be false. So I did what I always do in situations like this: I made a graph. I sent that graph to him with a note that simply said, “I think that data you are relying on is faulty,, and I have more confidence in these results that I’m illustrating here.” The reply I got a few minutes later  was direct and demoralizing: “I don’t believe your data.”

Trying to be date-driven, neutral, and objective is my entire career, my life’s purpose, something I’d like to think that I am pretty good at. But no matter how much data, how many graphs, how much evidence I muster, this guy will never believe me. And he’s not alone. 

A growing segment of the population is completely unwilling to even entertain facts that may contradict the way that they think about politics, culture, and society. Huge swaths of the public seem to express no desire to rethink their worldview. I like to believe that American discourse used to be focused on high-minded ideas like freedom, morality, and the role of government in the lives of its citizens. Debates about the purpose of life, what is true, and what constitutes a good life are worth having because they focus on what we value, how our life experiences shape our worldview, and what we hope and fear for the future.

The ancient Greeks believed that to bring your best argument to a debate was to give a gift to your opponent. It was understood as a means to help your opponent understand another perspective and to give your opponent the opportunity to rethink their own view of the world. Now, verbal exchanges are just about finding the wittiest comeback. We have strayed far from that Grecian model of public discourse. We can’t even agree on what is empirically true. The line is our heads that separates what actually exists from creations of partisan media is unnervingly blurry these days.