Instapundit links to two stories: his column on the 135 girls to 100 guys that graduate each year from college and the Times-Picayunes’s reporting of the inaccuracy of reports of violence & death in New Orleans:
That the nation’s front-line emergency management believed the body count would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans’ top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent.
And of course, I, too, was at fault – whipping out Melville far too quickly.
We tend to forget advocacy “facts” – like these – influence perspectives and these perspectives lead to policy; the policies have consequences. How much was our understanding of New Orleans defined by such news coverage, such statements by officials? We readily accept and even promote them because they support theories we accept. That is why some observe the readiness of this acceptance is racist – though I must say, one would expect the mayor to interpret the people he represents in the most rather than least positive light.
But policies based on these are untethered to reality. We can endlessly seek out & spin “factoids”; we can construct a city in the air from them. This is what liberal arts people do – at their best and worst. And the social sciences provide mushy & even untrue facts. The world constructed obscures the real one; in fact, it may be quite at odds with it. But, removed from reality, that very abstract nature of such a city can seem profound. Our imaginations (especially in our rebellious adolescence) are piqued by theories that seem counter-intuitive. And so, ersatz facts come to support ersatz theories that give rise to ersatz profoundity. Thus, as women of my generation move into retirement, they leave the consequences of such obscured truths to be borne by the men of the next generations. And even now, as the Summers incident shows, it is not they who are held accountable; instead those who observe that the theoretical world is made of air are left apologizing for pointing to the separation between theory and grounded reality. Just as it was not Rachel Carson who died of malaria.