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'Facts' aren't enough

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In a recent letter to the Independent, Michael Kuiper calls for a "community dialogue on how to improve our dialogue." Here is my contribution...

Kuiper's main beef seems to be the publication of letters that are "factually wrong." Sidestepping the rather obvious point that "letters to the editor" are written by laypeople and not professional journalists with the skills and resources necessary to do extensive fact-checking, Kuiper cites some comments that he finds particularly distasteful. "George W. Bush," Kuiper writes, "was not a 'Hitler' executing a blitzkrieg on Iraq."

Mr. Kuiper you are, factually, 100 percent correct. It cannot be said that George W. Bush is Adolf Hitler, nor that the United States is Germany or that 2000-2008 AD is actually 1937-1945 AD. By calling Bush "Hitler," the author of that letter was employing a "metaphor," a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one thing is used in place of a word or phrase which literally denotes another thing.

It could be argued that this metaphor is "hyperbole," also known as exaggeration: Hitler invaded Poland, a sovereign nation, despite vociferous opposition from the international community, sparking a war that lasted for over a half-decade and killed millions of soldiers and civilians. Bush invaded Iraq, a sovereign nation, despite cantankerous opposition from the international community, sparking a war that has lasted the better part of a decade and which estimates claim has killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians and 4,500 U.S. soldiers. True, the details do not align exactly, making it a metaphor. Whether or not the Bush-Hitler metaphor is poignant, however, is a matter of opinion, and, being a metaphor, can never be verified objectively as "fact."

Your stubborn predilection for objectivity, even regarding published letters from readers of a local newspaper, is evidence of our culture's deeply grounded reductionism. You wish to create a higher standard for public discourse, yet, paradoxically, you seek to achieve this through the censoring of impassioned citizens based on the empirical validity of their claims. Metaphor is not used, as science is, as a way to scrutinize falsifiable claims about reality; rather it is used, like mythology, to make shorthand sense of the world that surrounds us.

Your heart does seem to be in the right place. We should desire, as a society, a more sophisticated public discourse. But the way to achieve this is not by culling everything deemed not "factual," because that's a power open to the most insidious forms of abuse. If you would like to fact-check this statement, contact Pfc. Bradley Manning, currently facing a 52-year sentence for leaking video of a military helicopter strike onto the Internet.

Besides, complete objectivity is a pie-in-the-sky dream that is not even remotely achievable. Physics, the granddaddy and benchmark of all modern science, is well into codifying this truism. Correspondents who sweat under the paradigm of "objective" journalism, often working for Associated Press and other wire services, have become so disassociated from their craft that they use templates for articles, filling in the particular "facts" the way a child fills in a Mad Libs. If you think this leads to better journalism, Mr. Kuiper, then I am surprised you have ever even scanned a copy of the Independent.

Just to make my effort bipartisan: You refer to the statement that Obama is not a citizen as "factually wrong." Last I heard, the administration had chosen not to address the allegations in any way, the spin being that they would not dignify them with a response. This means you cannot say with certainty whether Obama is a U.S. citizen, unless of course you forgot to mention the extensive research you have undertaken and the missing documentation you have uncovered.

We are lucky to live in a place where people can make such polemic statements about the most powerful individuals without direct threat of retaliation. Silencing people does not make them less ignorant.

In fact, if the corporate state allowed the use of elaborate metaphor and conjectural controversy in our mainstream media outlets, we would probably see our culture begin to emerge from its amnesiac torpor.

Sam Kovarik is a Colorado Springs native and a recent UCCS graduate.


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