In a recent reply to NBC anchor Chuck Todd, Kelli Ann Conway included the term “alternative facts.” The term was immediately questioned by Todd, and then repeatedly mocked by media as somehow dim-witted. Or at least a synonym for “misleading.” But such is certainly not the case.
Folks deal with “alternative facts” every day, in ways that range from selective memory to profound. Two people see a car accident, but report two different events. Each reflects their own particular set of facts as they honestly report what they saw. (Memories are not absolute, but are re-created from cognitive, affective, and behavioral regions of the brain in the moment. Individual preferences distort the way and degree to which various elements are remembered.) These alternate sets of facts may be processed in a court of law, each side emphasizing “their side of the story” (alternate facts), in order to get at “what really happened,” or, at least, to win the case for their clients.
A more profound example of alternative facts are the two major competing theories of light. (I’m delving into my college-level Physics here.)
The photon theory, which can be proven by experiment, holds that light is formed by the flow of packets of energy (photons), much like electricity is formed by the flow of packets of energy (electrons). https://www.quora.com/What-Is-the-Photon-Theory-of-Light
The wave theory of light, which can also be proven by experiment, holds that light is formed by waves of energy (frequencies of which range from invisible (low-energy) infrared to invisible (high energy) ultra-violet, with the visible range of rainbow colors in between. As such, light shares the same spectrum with radio waves (low) and gamma rays (high).
Each theory has its own set of “alternative facts.” Each is true within its own sphere, but — as far as I know — the two have not been melded into a single explanatory theory of light.
Back to political discussions, the same events will yield very different “reporting of facts” by various news agencies, from Left-wing propaganda sites to HuffPost to MSNBC to CNN to MSM (NBC, ABC, CBS) to FOX to The Blaze and beyond. We are naturally biased as a result of prior experiences over time. Biases emphasize “facts” that line up with their own views, and reject “facts” that oppose their views, producing sets of “alternative facts.”
This is what Kelli Ann Conway meant when debating Chuck Todd over an issue with the Trump administration. Chuck was presenting his set of facts (his “alternative facts” selected and homogenized by his core values (and, no doubt, those of his employer, NBC). Conway pointed out there is another way of looking at the event, another “alternative set of facts” that need to be taken into account (which Todd was either ignoring or rejecting).
Timothy Keller points out in his book “Making Sense of God” that modern American society suffers from moral schizophrenia. This is relevant to our present discussion, because this schizophrenia drives the variant “reports of facts.” Keller explains this schizophrenia in terms of two mutually exclusive elements.
1) all moral codes are individually relativistic ~ I determine my own values from within, based on my own feelings, not subject to any external codes (cultural, religious, spiritual, communal). But while many declare themselves free of any outside influence on our own moral views, or views of truth or reality, they also . . .
2) hold that these views are universally true, and that anyone who disagrees with “my view” is evil. That each person declares Self as arbiter of real, true, and good, and then declares “evil” anyone else who disagrees, sets up an impossible standard. All that can result is chaos and violence as the various Self-generated “absolutes” clash.
The recent violent rioting this week at Berkeley and the violent “protest” at the Portland airport (one innocent bystander knocked unconscious without provocation) shows “agents of peace” fighting against “Nazi tyranny” with burning vehicles and broken glass. The mobs consisted of Leftist individuals who, in the name of free speech and peace, waged war against speech they did not like. “Since you do not agree with me, you are evil, and therefore earn the violence you receive.” “What we do is not war nor tyranny, because we stand for peace and freedom! Don’t you see that?”
Alternate sets of facts. Alternate worlds. Created by individuals and groups who choose their facts according to their ideology, demanding that everyone see things as they do (or pay a price). It is the end of academic freedom, freedom of speech and assembly, and freedom of conscience if allowed to metastasize.
We cannot stop Chuck Todd from pressing NBC “alternative facts” or the Trump administration responding from their own, but we can deal honestly with our own. We can reject dogmatic adherence to subjective perceptions of truth, and embrace the objective pursuit of Truth, casting aside distorted facts (lies) used to gain political power, even when such fact-sets help us.
Finally, we can bow before God, Our External Standard for Reality, Truth, and Good, for He has invited us into dialogue with Himself.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa 1:18-20, NIV)