Feelings Are Not Facts
"Your main argument is unclear, and these are not valid sources."
I can still recall the confusion and embarrassment from one of the first essays I wrote as a child. My grade 9 history teacher was dressing me down over a poorly written essay about some topic that I've now forgotten. But I remembered the sting of hearing that my writing, MY writing wasn't good enough. Prior to high school, creative writing was my forte. I excelled at telling stories, inventing characters and constructing entertaining narratives. I had a solid grasp of vocabulary and had no problem conveying my thoughts to the reader. But by the time I arrived at my first high school essay, I realized that my perceived writing skills were about to be tested and ultimately refined.
We now needed to come up with a clear "thesis." We needed to cite "scholarly sources." There was something called "MLA." It was weird; when I was in primary school I had been repeatedly told that I could write whatever I wanted (as long as the spelling was good, of course), and that the thoughts behind my writing were what counted. Creativity was promoted along with structure. My personal opinion was always at the forefront of my writing whereas now it seemed to be nonexistent. Nevertheless I accepted these new guidelines and got to work. By the time I got to university, I had fully adapted and it was business as usual. There was a certain satisfaction on finishing an essay late at night, having it proofread, and knowing that you had real ammunition to back up your ideas. But I always remembered a certain student in one of my grade 9 classes.
Ryan (as we'll call him) was one of the "those kids." A clearly uncomfortable student, he was perpetually late and almost never finished any assigned work. When our teacher first announced the concept of citations, frustration ensued.
"Why do I need three? Why can't it be two?" he would ask. His complaints extended to the possible requirement of visiting the public library after school (the internet was around at the time, but scholarly sources were still not fully available as they were in paper format).
"I used this magazine as my source. I think it's 'scholarly,'" was yet another objection to this new regimen. To make matters worse for him, minimum word requirements were introduced. More words equaled more research and more typing, activities that took time.
It became apparent that Ryan, representing a certain percentage of the class, would not be able to adapt to this new standard of writing. Laziness played a role, but there was also a failure of the educational system to get through and emphasize that in the adult world facts mattered, sources mattered, and clear logical arguments mattered. As a child you could rely on your parents' word as gospel. You could perfect your handle on spelling and grammar without having to worry about content. But this was no more. And if you couldn’t differentiate between fact and opinion in high school, you surely would have a harder time in the real world where smart people prey on those who have no tool for detecting bullshit.
The irony of Ryan's frustration is that while he was confused and otherwise put off by scholarly writing, it was the writing that could have inoculated him against future idiocy from others. The ability to research facts and organize data would make him impervious to those who would take advantage of him. Those like Newt Gingrich at the RNC, emphasizing that feelings somehow trumped "liberal facts." Those like Donald Trump insisting that you can literally, effectively "wall off" crime and terror.
And this is what is at stake. With the RNC finished and the DNC about to wrap up, there is a stark difference between the two parties currently battling for the US Presidency. The Republicans have made no mystery of the fact that they don't really care for facts. They care about feelings and principles. Sometimes even these things have their own internal logical fallacies:
Hillary/Obama/liberals are weak and incompetent yet somehow powerful tyrants, they're stupid but somehow too smart. Academia is routinely slighted as being elitist and bad. But we know what they're saying. They're just like Ryan, and while they're partially to blame for being lazy, they are also casualties of an educational system that left them behind. They don't know anything and are frustrated that another group does. It really isn't fair. As an outsider, it is startling to watch the clash between Republican rhetoric and Democratic prose, Conservative rants with Liberal explanations. A party which deals in amazing fiction against one with mundane reality.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, reality runs on facts, not opinions, and this is the current fork in the road. One party has almost nothing but opinion, and the other mostly facts. Which one do you think can deal with reality better?