An opinion of fact

Many a debate is punctuated with a reference to the difference between an opinion and a fact. A fact is said to be an opinion of a higher order: it is an ‘irrefutable statement’. Given that very few statements made in political debates can be said to be irrefutable why is there such a widespread belief in their existence? Certainly, an informed opinion has more value than an uninformed opinion but how do we choose between two diametrically opposed opinions held by those who are equally informed?

A political debate is not a mathematical equation with only one correct answer however much we might wish it to be. In the sciences we refer to empirical study and peer review in deciding the ‘facts’ but in politics, history, economics etc. this is not always so relatively easily ascertained. Of course, many seek to elevate their opinions to the level of facts for purely egotistical and ideological reasons. Political facts do exist such as: ‘racial superiority is a lie’ and ‘the first victim of war is the truth’ but unfortunately not all statements can be so conveniently separated into mere opinions contrasted with superior facts. Let us examine the process involved in elevating certain opinions into facts.

As with most elements of social and political phenomena we must start with economics and the relationship between wealth and power. ‘Public opinion’ is created by the propaganda of the media owned by the parasite class. The sole purpose for the existence of the mainstream media is to create a consensus among the exploited that their exploitation is both necessary and normal. Is the preceding a statement of fact or just this author’s opinion? Obviously, the majority of journalists would agree that it is the latter and that this article and the journal it is printed in represent a minority opinion and are therefore outside the consensus on which the creation of ‘facts’ is dependent. This is how power works – it creates a majority consensus suitable for the needs of a minority.

The first step towards the birth of a political ‘fact’ is to acquire the support of the powerful. In this way it becomes a ‘fact’ that people wouldn’t work without the threat of poverty or that global democracy is too complex to become a reality. The next step demands some superficial level of pseudo- scientific coherence and methodology. Genetic determinism and other theories of ‘human nature’ together with the inevitability of tribal (national) identities fall into this category. Finally, the creation of some kind of authority or establishment to back up the credibility of certain factual information. We’ve all encountered various types of ‘fact checkers’ but their origin must always be ascertained and even then the best we can say for many of their ‘facts’ is that they’ve proved that a statement is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ which falls far short of the metaphysics needed to establish a fact as understood by many.

So what is the origin of this ‘tyranny of facts’? As we have seen, the element of control it provides for those who wish to preserve the status quo is invaluable but this was not always the case and indeed there was a time when such an ideology was revolutionary. We call this ‘the Enlightenment’ and it was at the forefront of the bourgeoisie’s ideological struggle against religion and the old ruling elite. The industrial revolution, with which it had a symbiotic relationship, was in need of ever more precise measurements for continual technological innovation. Precision became a necessity for all machinery and this could only be achieved through the application of mathematics in the creation of universal standards for weights and measures etc.

This fitted neatly into the capitalist perspective as the measurement of the level of profit also depended on similar arithmetical precision. Everything was transformed into numbers and the rule of quantification was absolute. Not only was human labour defined exclusively in terms of wages but even the workers’ role as consumers became commoditised. Today everyone has become part of an algorithm in terms of their purchasing demography. The Enlightenment provided us with the hope of science but also with the curse of human economic objectification. Truth was transformed into an equation.

The perceived relationship between a fact and the ‘truth’ is what gives it such ideological power in the minds of many. Indeed, in science it has given us a very successful insight into the workings of nature but it never represents the whole story of a human’s relationship with themselves, their culture and the nature from which it all originated. It is a fact that Russia invaded the Ukraine but that doesn’t tell us why this happened or how it might have been prevented. It is a fact that the present government’s language concerning ‘illegal’ immigration is reminiscent of elements of 1930’s Nazi propaganda but again that doesn’t tell us why some highly educated people would want to use such a disgusting demonisation of desperate and vulnerable people.

Karl Marx himself was an immigrant who found a last refuge in this country where he laboured for countless hours within the British Museum Library poring over government statistics to transform his theory of capitalism into a thoroughly empirical study of the ‘facts’. He did this not only to counter capitalist propaganda by using its own statistics but with the hope of transforming our lost humanity of alienated labour back into creative meaningful production that is our true nature. The next time someone attempts to trump your arguments with reference to a ‘fact’ you might like to try countering them with the idea that mere facts are superficial compared with an informed opinion. At the very least such a heretical idea might create pause for thought as to the origin and usefulness of such a widely used but poorly understood metaphysical concept.


Next article: The Old Lie ⮞

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