In Florence, Italy, there is a famous marble statue of two Greek wrestlers,nude, and magnificently muscular. The statues are, as we say, ‘anatomically correct,’ and one wrestler has hold of the other by an organ that my male friends tell me is quite vulnerable. I have forgotten the statue’s real name, but my husband always calls it "fight fair, dammit."
In Florence, Italy, there’s a famous marble statue of two Greek wrestlers—nude, and magnificently muscular. The statues are, as we say, “anatomically correct,” and one wrestler has hold of the other by an organ that my male friends tell me is quite vulnerable. I have forgotten the statue’s real name, but my husband always calls it “fight fair, dammit.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fighting fair, because increasingly, Americans aren’t.
I’m not talking about Truth with a capital T. You and I can look at the same facts, and—depending upon our backgrounds, worldviews, religious beliefs—we can draw different conclusions about the philosophical Truth to be deduced. And I’m also not talking about “spin,” even egregious examples like a “Clean Skies” initiative that permits industries to pollute more, or a “Healthy Forests” bill that allows favored industries to increase logging and sales. I’m referring to disdain for verifiable, objective fact.
That disdain takes two forms. The first is refusal to look at facts, or to base decisions on evidence. Indiana may actually hold the record for this approach; in 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives voted 67 to 0 that pi—the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter—would no longer be 3.14159, but would henceforth be 3.2. (The bill eventually died.) A more recent example is provided by the U.S. Department of Education. When its own national study of Charter Schools found that Charters weren’t performing as well as other public schools, the Department decided not to gather the data anymore. (Hey, why let evidence trump ideology?)
The second manifestation is the flat-out lie. If the facts don’t support your preferred worldview, just invent some that do! The most visible recent example of this approach is the despicable Swift-Boat smear of John Kerry. But other examples are everywhere: the Administration giving Congress phony cost projections for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and its claim that there were over sixty available stem-cell lines, to name just two. Employment statistics are routinely manipulated. A recent newsletter from Rep. Dan Burton’s office touted a “national average” of 211,000 new jobs per month, adding “Indiana has gained over 600,000 jobs in the private sector since January 2004.” (That is rather astonishing performance for a state populated by fewer than six million men, women and children.) Both numbers are false.
We can’t trust political partisans or government officials to tell the truth, and we evidently can’t trust the media to call them to task when they lie. Rather than providing us with critical, independent analysis, most reporters seem to operate on the theory that if they interview one liar and one de-bunker, they’ve been “fair and balanced.” Unfortunately, we citizens don’t have access to the information that would confirm or rebut most allegations, so we end up believing things because we want to believe them—not because they are true. We are bereft of the tools needed to “fight fair.”
It’s a recipe for disaster.