Serious post alert. This post isn’t in line with the mostly light or kind of weird ones I’ve done thus far. I felt the need to change gears somewhat this week I guess.
Recently I read an article concerning residential schools. This was not the first time I was exposed to this information, I’ve been reading any article I come across for some time now. This story struck me a little differently for some reason. You can read the story here. Reading about any of that even happening disgusts me to be completely honest. I don’t feel it’s my place to tell stories about it, because I feel I’m still too ignorant on the matter. I do however, think we should shut up and listen when others need to tell theirs.
That article set me onto a specific train of thought. Some of this may be relatable to my American counterparts with all of the Trump media surrounding ‘alternative facts’ and such. Another article I read this week posted in Longreads containing and interview with Paula Hawkins touched on my theme of thoughts as well, which you can read here. It has a fantastic quote referencing being right vs actual facts that I’ll let you read for yourself in the original post.
My train of thought brought me to the idea of hidden information and what has been passed on as ‘knowledge’ in schools. It had me specifically reflecting on Social Studies books and all the ‘facts’ about the history of our nation that we were taught as children. It left me with the uncomfortable idea of leaving out information to make it true just to suit what some others want us to believe. Not only do I find this just morally wrong, it’s unsettling because it has probably been happening to us for a lot longer than we would like to admit, and about more topics than we’d like to name. So here are the ramblings that spawned from all of that:
Facts are what is known to be true**, we can supposedly prove them. I provoke by saying, all things can be proved or disproved depending on who looks, what their agenda is, and what they add in or leave out.
Most of what we know is only what we’ve been told. You can try to tell yourself otherwise, but if you really admit it, that’s the truth, or pretty close to it. Or so I’m telling you… In school you were told Math stories, and English stories, stories about Geography and Social Studies. Fairy tales, stories about rules and stories to teach you morals. Everyone around my age group that went to the same school probably remembers trying to not forget the story of “How a Bill Becomes a Law” in around grade 9 I think it was. Fascinating tale that one was.
You can try to argue with me that some of these things are most definitely not just ‘stories’, they are indeed facts. “Facts are real” you’ll say, “they are what is, and stories are made up”. Then I’ll say “Poor dear, facts are just stories people made up to prove to other people that what happened is what they wanted them to believe”. Facts are what someone measured from their point of view. Facts are only supposedly objective. Usually they are things that were tried to be proven in isolation, removing them from all of their natural context. And by doing so it changed the conditions that make them real. They are things that exist all the time. We are surrounded by facts. Facts keep happening, and they change depending on what happens to them. All by themselves they most definitely ‘are’, existing and factual that is. But alas, facts by themselves don’t mean anything. It’s our interpretation of them that give them their meaning, that’s what makes them matter.
If you don’t interpret them, they’re just data. In order to convince anyone of the purpose of your data, you have to interpret it. So, you make it into a story. There becomes a beginning, a middle and an end to your data. You create an ‘experience’ that resulted in your findings. You manipulated circumstances, created characters, changed the setting/environment, you added stress, you outlined precursors and led us to believe that something specific was going to happen. You might have even stated your guess officially. Then you reflected on it, told us what happened. You even went so far as realizing and formulating suggestions on how to make a more consistent, reliable and exciting story in the future. Just in case someone wants to copy you. Now you want to start a series with spin-offs!
No you didn’t, you’ll say. You just ‘reported the facts’. Is this better referred to as denial or ignorance? The facts are: the powder turned from white to blue. The facts are: the object moved from point A to point B. Why it mattered is what turned it into a story. It mattered to you. Something happened to you as you observed the ‘facts’. You are a person who wants other people to know about your experience with this data. You want them to know why it is so interesting and what it can do for them. You want them to get caught up in this story. Not just because, let’s say you need their money, but in essence you do, to make a bigger story. You want them to ‘know’. You want to ‘inform’ them. Data and facts by themselves don’t teach people. How they are interpreted to matter is what does. And in light of the topic that eventually led to this piece of writing, how can we be sure which interpretation of the facts is true? It’s different depending on who tells us.
So remember when you’re telling your story of ‘what the facts are’ to make sure it’s not just a story from your point of view. Remember that ‘facts’ still need interpretation to be more than data. Or at least state that it is an interpretation of the facts as you see them from your point of view. Ask yourself, do you really ‘know’ something, or is it just what you were told? If so, could you have just been fed a misinterpreted story from someone else’s point of view?
Sorry if that made your head spin, but these concepts kind of set me off into a rambling philosopher! Any thoughts on facts and their manipulation/misinterpretation?