Thursday, March 8, 2018

Truth is always factual, but alleged "facts" are not always truthful

The controversy surrounding South Africa's decision to "nationalize" white-owned farmland without compensation (which I covered here, and in a later elaboration of the underlying reasons here) has caused a lot of debate among commenters, on this blog and elsewhere.  Some respondents tried to be rational and factual in their approach.  Others scoffed, scorned, and generally derided those behind the decision.  In some cases, there were indications of potential racism and other prejudices.

What struck me most of all was the refusal of some commenters to face facts, or their insistence on advancing alleged "facts" of their own that were either half-truths, or not correct.  This is a besetting sin on both sides of many debates in these politically charged times, so I thought it might be worth considering it in a little more detail.

Facts are funny things.  The "hard sciences" speak of scientific fact, which is (at least technically) something that's been confirmed by observation and/or experiment, is reproducible, and empirically verifiable.  However, let's not forget that science has itself been wrong on many occasions, usually because the technology or scientific literacy of the day has been unable to properly analyze or explain what was observed.  Earthquakes are a good example.  Until the development of plate tectonic theory early in the 20th century, and the subsequent emergence of the new science of tectonophysics, no-one knew for sure why earthquakes occurred.  There was considerable controversy over and resistance to these concepts, until testing, observation and research finally confirmed them.  It's still a developing field, so there may be new discoveries to come that will refine our understanding of tectonics, perhaps radically.  Who knows?  Arthur C. Clarke's fictional hypothesis of "tectonic engineering" may yet come to pass.  (I just hope I'm not around to be one of the early experimental subjects when it does!)

Scientific fact does not necessarily translate to generally accepted truth.  Cultures, superstitions, religious beliefs, traditions and other elements of our make-up, individual and collective, can drastically limit or change their effect.  In more primitive societies, the concept of plate tectonics would be regarded as laughable.  Earthquakes have been blamed on divine punishment for the sins of humanity (a superstition that is still sometimes found today), the movement of giant subterranean catfish, a god (Poseidon) striking the earth with his trident, and so on.  Someone sufficiently convinced of the reality of such myths might well reject the scientific explanation.  I've come across that in Africa, as I've mentioned before:

I once sat out a severe thunderstorm on the porch of a farmhouse in the Northern Transvaal. With me was a school-teacher from the local town, a man with a Bachelors degree and a post-graduate Diploma in Education. He solemnly informed me that the animist spirits of the trees were at war, and the spirit of that tree – the one that had just been struck by lighting – had lost his battle. He was an educated man, who knew all about, and daily taught, physics and chemistry to school pupils… but he was also a product of his tribe and his culture. He really believed what he’d just said. He absolutely was not joking. When I tried to argue, he told me openly that he pitied me, because I was so blind to the spiritual reality that could be seen, plain as a pikestaff, right in front of my eyes.

That's what we're seeing now concerning the confiscation of white-owned farmland in South Africa.  We can argue until we're blue in the face about the damage it will do to agriculture, and its unreasonableness from any logical, rational, or economically sound perspective . . . but all our words are so much hot air to those who've developed a blind belief that their economic woes are all attributable to white "colonialism", and that, unless and until they "take back the land", things will not improve.  Their beliefs are, of course, strengthened by the poorly performing economy, to which they point as additional evidence of white "conspiracy" to prevent them sharing in the "fruits of the land".

It's hard for many intelligent people in the First World to accept or understand this.  We're accustomed to looking up the facts for ourselves, determining a logical, rational course of action based on those facts, and pursuing it.  However, the evidence of our own blindness to reality is all around us.  Just look at the current political polarization in the United States.  The left, "progressive" side wants all sorts of benefits to be granted to citizens and residents "as of right", including free health care, free tertiary education, and so on.  The question of who's to pay for all those benefits, and how, is blithely dismissed as inconsequential.  On the other hand, some of the arguments on the right wing aren't much better.  Their prescriptions for economic and political insularity, refusal to face up to the human and societal costs of some of their programs, and penchant for management by decree rather than consultation (a flaw shared with many on the left) are equally unrealistic.  Perhaps both sides would do well to re-read Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias".  It might remind them of human fallibility.

The same blinkered vision and blindness to facts can be found in many aspects of our modern, First World culture and vision of reality.  Just look at how historians argue about the US Civil War.  Was it caused by slavery, or a dispute over states' rights?  I won't even attempt to unravel that tangled web!  Culture, tradition and other less-than-rational perspectives affect each and every one of us.  Take religion.  I'm a Christian, partly (I suppose) because I was brought up as one, partly because of a conscious decision I've made as an adult, based on my experience of what I believe to be God's grace in my life.  I'm not going to change that commitment of faith - but I must also acknowledge, in all honesty, that I can't advance empirical, scientific evidence for it.

If someone wishes to accuse me of "primitive superstition" for believing in a Deity, they're free to do so.  I can't argue with them empirically - only philosophically, spiritually and theologically.  So be it.  I won't look down on them for believing differently, or on believers of other religions for their faith.  At the end of our respective lives, we'll all find out who was right.  (If the secularists are right, of course, I won't find out at all - I won't know anything after I die, because there'll be nothing to experience!)  Meanwhile, I have many friends, some with similar beliefs, some with radically different philosophies of life, the universe and everything.  We remain friends because we aren't trying to convert each other.  We all accept that we have the right to believe what we wish - and we all accept that we may, at times, be wrong.  In due course, we'll find out.

I think that's the important element that most of us miss.  I referred to it last week:

None of us is omnipotent or omniscient. We all have "blind spots". It behooves us to acknowledge that reality, and to keep it in mind when analyzing anything. As Oliver Cromwell famously put it:

     "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Too many of us refuse to consider that possibility.

We may be sure of our "facts":  but equally, we may be filtering those "facts" through lenses of culture, tradition, upbringing, society, spirituality, personality and many other elements.  Unless and until they're empirically verified, we'd best tread carefully.  The same goes for our dealings with other races, societies, cultures and nations.  They don't see things as we do, and probably never will.  That's not to say we, or they, are right or wrong.  It's just the way it is.  We want to believe that we're certain of what's right, factual, truthful, etc., and we usually act as if we are:  but unless we're dealing with the "hard sciences" (and sometimes even then), we seldom have that assurance, no matter how hard we might wish it.  (In that vein, economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc. are not hard sciences, and their claims and assertions are therefore not definitive!)

Reality is no fun sometimes, is it? - particularly when it's uncertain.


EDITED TO ADD:  It seems that some readers have misunderstood what I said above, and are responding to their own interpretation of it, rather than my actual words.  I've written a response to that in a subsequent article, which you'll find here.  If you're in any doubt about what I said or meant, please read that.  Thanks.


LL said...

Regarding South Africa's decision to "nationalize" white-owned farmland without compensation, I am an outsider, looking in and I can't help but feel my personal history and possibly hereditary prejudice well up. I didn't participate in earlier discussions on your blog or elsewhere on this topic. To me, an American (better traveled than most but still an American), depriving people of property by national edict without just compensation is 'wrong' (malum in se). If you go back far enough we can find that land grabs took place a century or more ago and argue that as a basis for another wrong done today. If that's the argument, I'm uncomfortable with its justification.

There is another question and that is what the proper reaction should be for this national policy - or theft - depending on which side of the argument your conscience falls out on. From an American nationalist point of view, what South Africa does or doesn't do has almost no impact on me or the price of tea in China.

From me, the Imperialist, there is a reaction wherein I would aid SA's enemies, engage in war by other means, sew political discord and work to isolate the country (even farther). This is far from a Christian approach to a country that doesn't have the capacity to harm me, my family, or my nation. But it's still my gut reaction.

Glen Filthie said...

This kind of sanctimonious posturing is the reason I rejected the faith for so long. I've got the blinders on, I'm the racist, and you're the only guy in the room with the smarts that can see what's going on.


Nice try, Pastor. But that land grab ain't about spirits, faith, or any other African boojum. It's theft, it's driven by greed, stupidity and racism and RATIONALIZED by the abuse of faith. Honestly - what are you smoking? Africans don't give a hoot about the environment! That is why they're turning the place into a dump, that is why they are bailing out by the boat load, and for some strange reason (probably all Whitey's fault, no doubt) - when they settle in other countries, they soon end up in slums that resemble the chit holes they come from. Maybe the trees in Detroit are telling them to do it?
Look, Pastor - racism is bad. I get it. But so is greed, stupidity, and dishonesty. I have no problem respecting blacks that are respectable. But I will not blind myself to the realities of their race and the way they behave in groups. Nor will I send one damned cent to Africa until Darwin and Murphy have cleaned the place up, and we can dispense with the politically correct virtue signalling. You aren't fooling me one bit, and I will remind you that discriminating against stupidity is as legal as church on Sunday.

Dad29 said...

Frankly, Peter, I suspect that the Democrat Party is Divine punishment for human misbehavior.

A bit more seriously.....recall that punishment for sins can be both temporal AND eternal. Therefore, it is not 'out of the question' that some horrible events have to do with the wrath of God. You DO recall that "flood" story--or the earthquakes following the death of Christ on the cross, right?

Not superstition.....

Gorges Smythe said...

It was just as wrong for the Europeans to steal African land as it was to murder and displace the "Indians" of North America. However, there is simply no way to rationally turn back the clock in either situation.

deb harvey said...

here is a fact.
if the farms are 'nationalized' there will be hunger, perhaps starvation.

whatever the politicians say you can be sure that they will not starve.

Anonymous said...

You can also be sure that the rest of the world will be expected to bail them out. Yet on the other hand, if we don't we will have more hordes of refugees o.o

Toastrider said...

While I agree that there may even be logical (if false, by our lights) reasons for nationalization of the farms, the -fact- is that SA is committing agricultural and economic suicide. It is doubly appalling because -there was a prior example to judge from-, in Zimbabwe.

It's like someone throwing themselves off a rooftop, insisting they can fly. When they splat on the concrete, their buddy looks down, and then says 'Eh, he did it wrong. I can TOTALLY get this right!'.

And of course, you get another 'splat'.

So yeah. It's impossible for me to feel any sympathy for what's about to happen.

Peter said...

@Toastrider: Oh, I agree. There's no rational excuse for what's going on, and what it will lead to. However, I can feel sympathy for those who are being manipulated into demanding it, and approving it. They're going to be the pawns in the politicians' hands - and pawns are sacrificial pieces.

I've seen too much of politicians and their ilk who don't care for anything or anyone except themselves and their bank balances. It's tragic that they're going to rape yet another country, particularly one whose people have already suffered so much.

Anonymous said...

"I can feel sympathy for those who are being manipulated into demanding it, and approving it."

Sentiment is the reason that you are an African apologist. An emotional reaction is, by its very existence, not a thoughtful approach. When making an intellectual argument, the specificity of words matter. When making arguments based on feelings, neither specificity nor words matter.

Let Africa sort itself out.

vorkosigan said...

The problem with your cultural relativity--"The same goes for our dealings with other races, societies, cultures and nations. They don't see things as we do, and probably never will. That's not to say we, or they, are right or wrong. It's just the way it is."- is that it ignores the fact that some cultures are better than others. Some cultures provide more freedom, more prosperity, more rational medical care, less corruption, less tribal warfare and genocide,fewer people that are willing to murder albino children for body parts, or rape virgin children to cure AIDS. Less hatred for those people of a different race or not a member of your tribe or family grouping. Some cultures are better than others at not turning your countries into hellholes like Rwanda,Uganda under Amin, Zimbabwe and all the others.
Modern medicine and germ theory is better than witch doctors and shamen. Rational thought and logic provides for a better world than animism,superstition, and the spirits.
The colonial times are past, but would that we could have the clear headed "cultural relativism" of Charles James Napier-"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours." Charles James Napier

JK Brown said...

Unfortunately, while they now speak of taking the land (back), I do expect that should the displaced White farmers bulldoze the irrigation ditches, burn the buildings and remove the farm equipment and other products of their and prior improvements to the land and capital, it will suddenly be about more than just returning the land.

As to religion, or aligning oneself with something larger than oneself, I found 1908 this article to be enlightening

What Is Religion?
Author(s): Frank Sargent Hoffman
Source: The North American Review, Vol. 187, No. 627 (Feb., 1908), pp. 231-239
Published by: University of Northern Iowa
Stable URL:

"Whenever a man knows enough to distinguish the outside world from himself, and tries to act in accordance with this knowledge, he begins to be religious.

"The first element, therefore, in religion is the recognition of the existence of a power not ourselves pervading the universe. And another is the endeavor to put ourselves in harmonious relation with this power. Of course the feeling or affective element is presupposed as coming in between the other two. For without it the endeavor would lack a motive, and could therefore have no existence whatsoever. Every sane man believes, at least, that he is only a fraction of the sum-total of things. He also feels some dependence upon this sum-total, and he is obliged to put himself in some sort of accord with it. This is what [Edward] Caird has condensed into the statement, "A man's religion is the expression of his ultimate attitude to the universe" ("Evolution of Religion," Vol. I, p.30)."

vorkosigan said...

A small slice of what South Africa, under the ANC is descending into-- Watch and be apalled at what land reapportionment means. Also, a look at Jacob Zuma Loyal ANC member( he served with Mandela!) and rule the country for the last 10 years, finally became so corrupt, even the ANC wanted him gone.

dave said...

Peter, your linked (and reproduced) post on animism, even among educated people, got me thinking: it's exactly how leftists view guns. They don't see the problem as being with the individual misusing them, but rather with the evil spirits inside the inanimate object, and if we could just get rid of the object, the evil would vanish with it. Patently absurd, just as the evil-spirits-as-meteorology theory is absurd, but they've internalized it so well that even otherwise-educated people don't feel an cognitive dissonance.

deb harvey said...

dave, excellent analogy!

Dark Enlightenment said...

Peter you claim to be broad minded, and open to the possibility of being wrong. At the same time, completely reject the possibility of the AWB and the apartheid regime being correct. the scientific and empirical facts show that black Africans lack the iq to build a civil society. You have made dozens of post on this blog detailing the superstition and backwardness of African blacks. How are industrial economy whites to share a political order with people who believe in raping babies as a way to cure AIDS? The hard scientific facts support racial segregation. Empirically we can see that blacks and Hispanics do not share the interests of whites in america and are implacably hostile. Just like in SA, we will face guerrilla ethnic warfare in the united states, and something like apartheid will have to be re instituted for the same reasons. communist terrorist war against the state, crime by blacks, and the inability of non whites to vote in the interests of the common good and complete lack of respect for liberty. Call me all the names you want. the facts are on my side.