Facts are lazy, and facts are late

Reflecting in a disjointed sort of way on this, it strikes me that inculcating a critically serious, historically informed, contextually-sensitive love of facts, reason and logic in Ben Shapiro’s followers may be the best way to deprogram them.

Two things about “facts don’t care about your feelings”. Firstly, since almost everything we encounter in daily life is already deeply intricated within the human social world, the existence of anything at all that doesn’t have some relationship to our feelings is a real marvel — facts of this order are among the most profoundly mysterious things we can contemplate, and require considerable discernment to separate from the ordinary furniture of a world we have very thoroughgoingly shaped to our own prejudices and preferences.

You can always point to something like the law of gravity, or (my favourite example for many years) the existence of quasars, but how many things we commonly find ourselves needing to argue about are really like that? In most of the things that matter enough to us for us to be arguing about them in the first place, there exists no straightforward fact of the matter which could decisively settle the argument all by itself. It’s extremely rare for this not to be the case.

(My go-to example of this has long been the irrelevance of questions about “when human life begins” to the matter of reproductive rights, whether the use of contraception or access to abortion. There is no fact of the matter about “life”, such as “life begins at conception”, that can decide the issue one way or another. That does not mean that there are no relevant facts at all, but simply that most if not all of the facts we should have at our disposal when thinking about this are already densely implicated in, and variously weighted by, human moral and political concerns. Contemporary TERF ideology — about which more presently — is similarly misguidedly concerned with establishing some definitive, argument-settling facts of the matter about the biology of human sexuation.)

Secondly: most of the target rubes for “facts don’t care about your feelings” rhetoric are, in fact, depressed and anxious young people whose sense of how the facts stand is powerfully, and distortingly, contoured by those feelings. Confirming young people’s deepest fears about the nature of their own identities and relationships to others as simply matters of hard fact which they must hardheadedly accept, and then build a worldview around, is an important part of the alt-right’s recruitment pitch. One of the reasons perhaps why it’s so difficult to get people to look at the ways their feelings are setting the tone for how they experience their facts is that the feelings involved are often pretty painful and ugly.

There are many ways to complete the sentence “I feel like I am doomed to remain emotionally disconnected from and sexually invisible to other people because…”, and one of them is “…my self-esteem is in the gutter and I am struggling with even basic social interaction”. But you don’t have to think that thought, or the thoughts that might come after it, if you’re given “…feminism has taken away the recognition that should be mine, and turned the people from whom I desire intimacy and attention against me” instead.