The Broader Arc of the Story

February 28, 2006

They [the Bush administration] don’t care about people who read the New York Times, for instance. I use that as a shorthand. They don’t care about people concerned with facts. They care about the broader arc of the story. We sit here constantly citing facts — that they’ve broken this or that law, that what they originally said turns out not to be true. None of this particularly interests them.

I have no real idea who “journalist Mark Danner” is, but this passage from a very interesting interview of him at Salon reminded me of something I myself wrote a while back. The idea that people don’t shape their behavior out of a dispassionate weighing of available facts, but rather choose a story that seems good to them and assemble the facts which support it afterward, is compelling.

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  1. So, serious question time: is it more correct to choose a more leftist story that seems good and assemble facts, or select a more rightist story and assemble facts?

    The reason I ask is because I find both to be deplorable — might be because I started out studing science, which I always thought was the pursuit of truth, even if that truth requires the destruction of what is currently the truth…but choosing facts to back a nice story just seems more like science fiction rather than science, regardless of agenda….

  2. People of every political stripe engage in this kind of thinking, that’s for sure. Having admitted that, however, I don’t think we are left to throw up our hands and say political differences are simply a matter of personality or ice cream flavor preference; one side can still be empirically right and the other empirically wrong. One has to appeal to impartial authorities and one has to go with the preponderance of evidence.

    Here’s a simple case. The American right lines up a dozen important-sounding scientists to say that there is serious doubt about global warming. The left could line up their own experts to say the opposite thing. The tie breaker? The left has the overwhelming majority of scientists both in and outside the United States backing up their story,while the right tends to have only a small number of often politically connected ones for their side. Preponderance of evidence and proper consideration of one’s sources lead one to conclude that the left’s position is probably the more correct one.

    Critical thinking can discern which stories cling tighter to empirical reality and which stories are comforting tales with only cherry-picked facts to support them.

  3. Actually, the case you brought up is the one I had in mind…and I disagree with your findings…not necessarily your conclusions, just your findings.

    As an EMPIRICIST I would say the results are inconclusive and that anyone who is making a conculsion (one way or the other) based on a lack of actual, measured, historical, empirical data is being somewhat irresponsible.

    That said, I would still tend to agree that given any chance that global warming exists, steps should be taken to reduce the impact. OTOH, another answer may be that the same catastrophic event that took out the dinosaurs may be taking out the humans. Furthermore, some of that historical, empirical data may be skewed as the effects of a further enlarging sun may give skew the results.

    I do, however, find this one empirical fact interesting: the annual earth day celebration in Washington, D.C. has one of the largest post-event cleanup budgets…

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