What are facts? Where are they?

Today on Facebook, I took the risk of talking about a political issue. One FB wondered why I said I was taking a risk in expressing my view on a social matter. She advised that as long as my views were based on facts, I had nothing to worry about. Another FB friend pointed out that very often people mistook their suppositions for facts.

We want to think that our views on social matters are based on facts, because we feel good about being ‘objective’ or ‘impartial’. Few people would admit to being biassed. But what are the facts? Where are the facts? Today, the ‘facts’ that are brought by us by the mass media have already been politically filtered by them. Is there one newspaper, or one TV or radio news programme, which is 100% impartial? I doubt it. Even if there was one, it wouldn’t please the audience, because today, most people just want to read what they want to see, and listen to what they want to to hear. News is now a consumer product.

But even if we are on the scene and able to witness what is happening , are we getting the ‘facts’?

When I was doing my doctoral studies, I was introduced to an approach in qualitative research which is called phenomenology. The essence of phenomenology can be captured in this maxim: ‘There is no reality, only perception.’ This was an eye-opening lesson to me. Prior to that, I thought I had been an ‘objective’ person throughout my whole life. But writers in phenomenology cite example after example to show us that what we see to be the ‘fact’ is actually conditioned by myriads of personal human factors: our upbringing; our education; our life experiences; our disposition; our present situation; the company we are in; our current mood ……

For example, when there is a mass rally, and some protesters are arrested by the police, what are the facts? Some people see an overuse of force by the police. Others see the police as being too tolerant.

Unfortunately, in much of our social discourse today, participants assume that they have got all the ‘facts’, that they are seeing the reality, and that they have found the truth. As a result, they only thrust their own perceptions on others. Theoretically, we should be able to advance our understanding of a social issue through discussion. Through discussion, we enlarge our worldview, become more empathetic and sympathetic, and sharpen our thinking skills. But there is seldom any meaningful discussion around today, because no one has the patience to listen to and chew on opposing views, and this is because everyone thinks that they have got all the ‘facts’ already.

And this is perhaps why those who do think will gradually become silent.


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