“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
The latest Harris polls have come out this past week regarding the state of the country’s confidence regarding the nation’s management and future and they are grim. Powerline reviews these polls in anticipation to the President’s State of the Union address and finds that Americans by an almost continuous ratio of three out of every four citizens feel the direction as to managing the large challenges of this country, whether the environment, economy, education, health care, jobs, or foreign policy, is poor. The conclusion is that this is one of the most comprehensively pessimistic index of American confidence ever. What contributes to such pessimism and drives the most self correcting government mechanism ever developed to drive a Lamborghini of countries off the cliff?
I think it is as John Adams once said – “Facts are stubborn things.”
The country has spent the past fifty years of its history increasingly turning philosophically to the measuring stick of Values rather than Facts to guide its direction. Values and what they say about us are infinitely more comforting then dealing with the harsh realities of facts. Values declare an ideal world as it should be and define a truth that does not require a carefully constructed argument based on facts. It is an unpleasant sensation to recognize that people should respond and how they react in reality to facts are dissonant. The very liberal but factually enlightened Daniel Patrick Moynihan discovered this almost fifty years ago when he made the mistake of critically assessing the social effect of government’s war on poverty on a specific group, the nation’s African American poor. As a disciple of Lyndon Johnson, Moynihan was determined to find the government’s aggressive effort to wrench the nation’s poor out of poverty successful, but found instead dangerously opposite trends in the reaction of the population to the “help”. The positive values in the civil rights movement overlaid with the timing of the war on poverty were assumed to create an environment of opportunity and safety net that would improve the situation for the average urban poor – but Moynihan was finding disturbingly opposite trends. The crux of the issue seemed to be the fact that illegitimacy and single parent families were exploding in what had been a population that had lagged but at least paralleled the rest of the nation’s population in terms of economic progress and family stability.
This wasn’t a liberal versus conservative argument. Certainly Moynihan as a staunch liberal wasn’t rejecting the concept of the nation providing a strong hand in helping its nation’s poor or overturning hard won civil rights. He was instead pointing to facts and the need to understand them in guiding policy. What he and other factualists were not prepared for was the spectacular blow back from value biased proponents that vilified the report, not for its logic, but for its argumentative ‘illegitimacy’. In the values world, the facts suggested an effort to “blame the victim”, and imply a racially tinged “promiscuity” to the urban poor that was opposite of Moynihan’s argument. Although many bright individuals saw similar trends to Moynihan’s observations, the corrective actions that might have helped generations of poor were stamped out by the a progressively entrenched group of powerbrokers that felt they ‘owned’ the values argument, and that being non-judgmental regardless of outcome was the appropriate judgment.
What neither Moynihan or much of the nation recognized at the time was this values movement, philosophically being non-judgmental about fact and result meant being progressive and politically correct, would overwhelm all the naturally corrective capacities of adjusting to facts.
Fifty years later, and trillions of dollars of right minded non-judgmental expenditure has left us with gaping holes in urban poor education, family stability, economic capacity, and confidence in the future. No set of facts are up to withstanding the blizzard of invectives regarding victimhood, accepting any socially dissonant behavior, or continuing to explode the budgets of failing programs designed to “help”.
This willful ignorance and war against facts and their basis to constructively correct actions is the foundational cause of this nation’s pessimism.
The values movement has metastasized in many elements of policy discourse, particularly the economic ones, as significant money is to be made from arguing victimhood. The enormous redirection of funds to “modify behavior” in order to “save the world from global warming” continues despite the overwhelming evidence that the so called “settled science” of anthropomorphically induced global warming has collapsed. The pouring of trillions into “stimulus” projects when economic fundamentals suggest the opposite effect to economic growth incentives is created. The crash of health care stability against the desire to make it more fair or equitable, rather than better. The value of democratizing populations that hunger for stability rather than unencumbered elections before any other societal stabilizers are in place. The throwing away of thousands of years of educational concepts on formative development for the desire for each individual to be allowed to ‘ seek their own place’ in what they are educated on, with its resultant disastrous effect on cultural literacy.
And on and on and on.
Facts are stubborn things. Human behavior follows fairly recognized paths that our social engineering efforts often helplessly thrash against. The country is growing increasingly pessimistic because it can’t discern a way out of this mess; it can’t see that good intentions unencumbered by factual adjustment lead only to further deterioration. We are trying to be good by trying to do good, with the opposite effect resulting and contributing to our fatigue. The cure would be in accepting facts to lead to improving the conditions that would lead to progress against society’s ills, rather than projecting value judgements that perpetuate their very existence. The cure would be in listening to voices that discern the balance between values and facts necessary to begin to build some confidence back into the system, and trust the correcting capacities of the system as it was designed, not as we wish to manipulate it. As Senator Moynihan presciently stated so many years ago, no one owns the facts.