Friday, July 29, 2005

How Do We Know Anything?

I have joined the blogger revolution. I have the opportunity to express myself in a way that perhaps thousands (or at least family and friends) will read. I work hard to be clear, succinct and pleasurable to read.

There are some problems with this entire scenario. In an age of instant information, how do we sort out facts from "factoids", considered opinion fron instant spin and solid data from subjective impressions?

Our problem is compounded by the rise of "edutainment" that promotes ideological sparring at the expense of clarity and complete information. Whose statistics do we believe on any subject? Which poll is the least tainted? Here are some examples that cause sparks to fly:
  • Everyone "knows that 10% of the population is gay/lesbian - right?
  • Problem : Some reliable studies place the percentage of exclusively gay/lesbian men and women at 1-2%
  • Fact or Fiction? "The 1980s were an era of unprecedented greed. The rich got richer and the gap between rich and poor increased..."
  • Challenge: The 1980s saw the largest rise in per capita charitable giving, and an explosion of home ownership among African-American and Hispanic groups. So the situation is not so simple, is it?
  • "Global warming is a serious ecological crisis and the Kyoto Protocols are an important step in protecting the planet."
  • Some observations: We may be in the midst of a 500 year cycle that explains the current phenomena. Lest the conservatives gloat, however, recent histroy proves thaqt our actions can transform the environment for good or ill - just look at the cleaner air and water we enjoy in many places since new standards were adopted after 1970. My 'We Are the World" friends, please remember that Kyoto means nothing unless China, India and Russia agree...and the first two are exempt!

So how do we start sifting and sorting? In my next article I will talk about how do find reliable sources. For now, let's consider the following thoughts:

  • We must be ruthlessly honest about our own conscious and unconsious biases that create the "lenses" though which we evaluate data.
  • This does not mean that there are no objective facts and that we can not ever get to the truth of any matter!
  • We must evaluate our sources carefully and NOT instantly dismiss insights from those who have a different ideology.
  • We should strive to find solutions that create the greatest common ground possible.
  • We need to find those "First Principles" that most can agree upon in order to build a sustainable future.

Visceral reactions are what they are - sometimes they reflect our deepest fears and prejudices; other times they are a wake-up call to defend what is enduring and precious. We must allow our affections to be the servant of discerning minds that are informed by our deepest values.

Will we choose the easy road of cliches and ideological caricature or the narrow road of "the pusuit of truth in the company of friends"? I pray we choose the latter.

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