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Facts, Fear, and Footnotes

This tidbit landed in my Inbox this week. At first read, I simply agreed with it. As I’ve thought about it, though, I keep unpacking layers.

I’m sitting outside in the sun at our new house writing the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper on my knee, which is crusted with dirt. The knee, I mean, not the pen and paper! It’s too bright for my laptop out here. Inside, our plumber and his assistant are deconstructing our upstairs bathroom. Fortunately, we still have a dumpster. We are pleased to have our plumbing issues addressed: slow drains, old water damage, leaking pipes, and an unpleasant whiff of sewer now and then. We will be even more pleased to have a working shower.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

And it all costs money. A lot of money.

With no work as a distraction on this day off, I spent the morning in the garden, where I was thoroughly happy and busy. That took care of the morning. I got dirty (knees) and bug bitten. We have no water at the moment, so I’m going to stay dirty until the plumbers leave for the day, although, come to think of it, I don’t know the water will be turned back on when they leave. Hmm.

Anyway.

Near noon I went inside for shade and a cold drink, but the sounds of banging, sawing, and the shop vac, along with a steady stream of construction debris and old bathroom fittings being carried down the stairs and out the door on the way to the dumpster fueled my anxiety, so I turned to the comfort of writing, as I so often do. I started by catching up on my email, where inspiration frequently lurks.

It was then I read Godin’s brief thoughts about fear and footnotes. He suggests when we feel nervous and afraid about the “information” we’re writing or speaking about, we don’t show our sources, references, and work.

It made me think about my own fear about scarcity today. If I showed my work about that, about the fear I’ll run out of money and have to spend the rest of my life under a bridge, what would it look like?

Has that ever happened?

No.

Have I ever been in serious want?

No.

Have I ever been homeless or truly hungry?

No.

Do I have a job I love and for which I’m paid?

Yes.

In essence, I have no work to show because my fear of scarcity is nothing but an old ghost, an ancient traumatic wound, irrational and mostly in my head.

Photo by Mar Newhall on Unsplash

Interesting. Does lack of research and background information indicate a measure of fear in our discourse, a measure of uncertainty, a degree of irrationality, even?

Perhaps.

It’s a fact that I like my information (facts) served up with links, references, and footnotes. Content presented as information (facts) without such foundations is suspect in my eyes, and I do further research. Far too many people in cyberspace call their opinions, pathologies, disorders, fetishes, and lies facts.

On the other hand, some information (facts) is so widely accepted, taught, and promulgated footnotes are hardly necessary. An example of this is diet. Much of our (broken) healthcare system is built on the foundation of “facts” about what constitutes a healthy and appropriate diet.

But what if these “facts” arise from corrupted data? What if the real truth is less profitable for those in power and thus has been buried? For decades?

Collecting data and testing hypotheses requires funding. Doing it well requires a lot of funding. Corporations and other entities with deep pockets may have a vested interest in the outcome of studies. It’s not impossible to imagine unpalatable findings (by which I mean findings which threaten profit) are buried or deleted. It’s also not hard to imagine studies designed to explore data contradicting the (profitable) status quo can find neither funding nor support in the most powerful scientific schools and journals.

An unhealthy population is enormously profitable for some people, and those people have a lot of power.

This sort of thing has, after all, been going on since the time of Galileo, the sixteenth century astronomer who was interviewed by the Inquisition, forced to recant his scientific findings, and spent the end of his life under house arrest.

The thing is, he was a scientific genius, and he was right.

But the Catholic Church, very powerful during that period of history, felt threatened by his conclusions.

In other words, they were afraid. So they shut him up. Fear = silencing.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he was right.

Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

Tens of thousands of articles are available online about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. The better written, more thorough ones contain resources and links to various studies and data. However, one can also find studies and data by well-qualified scientists and doctors (mostly in other countries) indicating the reverse: a plant-based diet may cause a myriad of health problems.

Critical thinking, the ability to assess a problem or question, research, look at data, ask questions, and analyze findings, is an equal opportunity playing field unless we have no access to information (like the Internet) or are unable to read and write. What this means to me is we all have a right to question information, research for ourselves, and look for a variety of sources and references. Critical thinking in the modern age means we must be able to separate a fact from an opinion, information (facts) from lies.

That’s a big problem. I’m quite confident a plant-based diet caused me years of health problems and pain and the biochemical results (demonstrable data) my current carnivore diet provides to my doctor are not dangerous or problematic. My healthcare provider disagrees. Vehemently. I want to talk about my research, resources, and links. I want to ask questions. I want resources my provider might have access to which I haven’t found or don’t know about. I believe I have some solid data to back up my questions and concerns. I also know I am frequently wrong, and I’m as susceptible as anyone else to the glamour of bullshit wrapped up in science.

My healthcare provider refuses to discuss it.

So there we are. I’m not afraid to be wrong, but I am afraid to be in pain. My healthcare provider is part of a broken system. How much power does she have, really, to deal with someone like me? How much time does she have? How much energy or even interest? It’s much easier to fill out a one-size-fits-all prescription for a plant-based diet or pharmaceuticals. Her job may be in jeopardy if she doesn’t feed me with the medical establishment’s current party line.

Meanwhile, in the eyes of some others, I’m murdering the planet, taking poor care of my health, and clearly believe in hate and violence toward animals. Any self-respecting member of PETA would set my house on fire.

Photo by Lukas Budimaier on Unsplash

None of that is true, from my perspective. None of it is even fact. I could provide several links and resources challenging those statements, many of them by scientists and including studies and data. But many, many, people would believe all those things and more about me based on my dietary choices, and they too could provide links, resources, and numerous studies and scientific conclusions supporting their point of view.

I agree with Godin. We should show our work. It won’t make everything magically clear because information from different sources frequently conflicts, and not all information sources are trustworthy, but showing our work helps us remember science is built on the shoulders of those who came before us (like Galileo), and honors the scientific process. Heck, it honors creative process. Godin’s original post is three lines. I just wrote more than 1,000 words because he poked at me and made me think, explore, question, wonder.

We are all connected, whether we like it or not. Showing our work makes us a little more human, a little more humane, a little more thoughtful, a little more careful. People who won’t show their work set off my radar. What are they hiding? Why don’t they have the courage of their convictions? Why are questions and investigations so threatening they must be silenced or stopped?

As for the inside of my own head, I need to show my work to myself, too. Anxiety thrives on the stories we tell ourselves without regard to whether the stories are true or have ever been true. We all need to be clear about the difference between our stories and opinions and information (facts). Stories and opinions have their place, but they’re not facts we can research, footnote, and independently verify. If we can’t show our work, perhaps we’re no longer in the realm of facts. If we won’t show our work, we lose credibility with people who think critically.

Updating a bathroom costs some money. We have some money. Those are the facts.

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Fantasy or Reality?

I recently read a thought-provoking piece by Patrick Rhone about faith, fear, and facts. I’ve written before about my bewilderment concerning people who don’t want to know. This writer suggests fear is the root of such behavior.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Fear. It’s so mundane. It’s so extremely powerful. It’s such an extraordinary tool for manipulation.

Rhone asserts faith is frequently more powerful than facts. I might have doubted this once, but after the last four and a half years I agree. We continue to play out the conflict between those who are fact- and science-based and those who are not, especially in social media, steadily becoming more divided and disconnected as each side polarizes further.

We are evolved to experience feelings, and fear in particular is an important evolutionary advantage.

I think of faith as a spiritual connection, and we’re evolved, as social, conscious beings, to connect. Connection is a primary human need.

It seems to me a balance of faith, fear, and facts is optimal for navigating through life.

Where does the balance go wrong?

It goes wrong when we deify a misinformed or dishonest person. When we misplace our faith, in other words. We accept someone’s version of reality, their ideology, their beliefs, without question. Sometimes we do it because we believe they have power we need. Sometimes we do it out of fear. Sometimes we do it because we have no self-confidence; we feel powerless to think and learn for ourselves.

The balance goes wrong if we fear our fear and are unable to manage it. Fear becomes so consuming we’ll do anything for relief, including refuse to deal with facts that scare us.

So we develop faith in something – anything – that makes us feel better and relieves our fear.

Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

Perhaps our problem is not literacy, or education, or access to resource, or discerning fact from fantasy, but simply our inability to cope with fear.

Fear is a feeling. Managing feelings effectively and appropriately is emotional intelligence.

During my lifetime, I’ve watched our culture become increasingly inauthentic as we consumers demand more and better ways to live in a fantasy world. Role playing games, superhero movies, digital image manipulation, porn, virtual reality tech and special effects allow us to sink into illusion.

Over Memorial Day weekend I did an experiment. I installed a free hidden objects game on my laptop to see what it was like.

It was a big file and took several minutes to download. When I opened it, it covered my whole screen, corner to corner. I couldn’t see my task bar or clock. There was no obvious way to exit; I used the Escape button. The graphics were colorful, animated, attractive, and interesting. A pop-up suggested I use headphones to fully experience the sound. Constant pop-ups urged me to join social media communities playing the game. Constant pop-ups advertised other games (paid) I could play, or pressured me to purchase tools and tokens that would make me a better, faster, more successful player in the “free” game I downloaded.

Free, yes. Want to compete successfully? Want to win? Now you have to buy things!

By the way, if you play every day you get extra points!

The game was cluttered. It provided constant validation and reinforcement. The characters were good-looking, well-dressed and Caucasian. Beautiful food and drink, jewels, and true love were heavily emphasized. One collects points and objects and advances in levels. You don’t have to search for what you need, though, if you’re feeling fatigued. You can simply buy what you need.

The puzzles were timed, of course, which made them a lot less fun for me. Although one plays alone, the competitive aspects were continually reinforced.

The reviews of the game say things like “Beautiful!” and “Addictive!”

Because, you know, addiction is a good thing.

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

I played for a couple of hours. During those hours I didn’t invest in health, happiness, resource , resilience, or my own power. I wasn’t present in the real world.

I also didn’t think about climate change, politics, my job, or getting the car into the shop for brake work.

My feelings were numbed. I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t anything else, either.

When I exited the software, I felt as though I’d eaten a bag of jelly beans. I uninstalled the game Tuesday morning.

Have we become a culture that favors illusion over real life? Do we prefer fantasy, as long as it makes us feel “good,” entertains us, or distracts us? Do we prefer being led and manipulated to thinking for ourselves and forging our own paths?

I feel sad and scared after this experiment. If we don’t choose to live in the real world and deal with facts, we have no hope of solving the challenges and problems facing us, from maintaining our cars to managing climate change.

Fear helps us survive. The feeling tells us we must take action. If we refuse to feel fear, or respond to it, we will be deselected.

Facts can be inconvenient and unpleasant, but refusing to deal with them is like refusing to deal with fear. They don’t disappear if we deny them. Nothing can be solved or learned if we refuse to acknowledge facts.

Reality endures. Truth and clarity are powerful. Illusion lies. It might be seductive for a time. Illusion might pretend to be power. In the end, however, it’s empty. It only takes and weakens. It enslaves us, confuses us, and steals our power. It increases our fear while pretending to relieve it.

Faith is a choice about where we put our trust and confidence.

Fact or illusion?

It’s a simple choice.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash