Facts Are Not Facts!

A long time ago, I was debating with my girlfriend at the time. I should say that this woman was straight-up brilliant. A wickedly smart person with a great command of facts and information, coupled with formidable debating skills. I was in over my head to begin with but to make matters worse, our relationship was already well on its way to an acrimonious end, and so we were prone to being argumentative, unreasonable, and mean-spirited with each other. I can't remember what the debate was about, but I do remember that she had laid out an impressive array of supporting arguments, and then finished with a triumphant and smug, "Facts are facts."

In my stupid exasperation, my retort (yelled of course) was, "Facts are not facts!"

Yes, in my early twenties, I often distinguished myself in the annals of debate. Occasionally I still come up with gems like that.

That little episode lodged itself into my memory with more permanence than anything else from our relationship. My epic logic fail made me look pretty damn stupid and I certainly lost the debate (if you consider coming out on top of a debate with your lover, "winning").

But I've always disliked that phrase, "Facts are facts." It seems simple and true enough on the surface. However, it's typically used to mean that the facts presented lead inescapably to one conclusion. But the world is just swimming in facts, data, statistics, anecdotes, specifications, principles, and platitudes. And by cherry-picking the right ones, you can put together a fact-based support structure for just about any loony position on any topic. That's how people can come to such radically different interpretations of the same situation, using exactly the same data.  In fact, people generally don't collect facts to figure out their position on a topic. They collect facts to support a position they already held. Worse, many "facts" are half-truths, embellishments, long-debunked theories, rumors, or outright lies. But people still trot them out and point to them as unassailable evidence of their rightness about something.  And for the record, I've done this too. But in my moments of honest reflection, I know I've done it, and I'm not proud of it. I consider it an intellectual dishonesty, perhaps helping me win a battle but ultimately lose a war.

If those many years ago, my mind hadn't been so clouded with frustration and the raw emotion of an extended breakup, my response would have been, "Facts are facts. But facts aren't necessarily truth."


  1. Face it - the fact ( wink) is that you're a big picture guy. A forest for the trees person. A holistic a guru. A buff thai walrus. (okay, I don't know what I mean by that last phrase. And that's a fact.)

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3I97IFc_zU


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