Do facts matter?

If you’re currently immersed in season one of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, and wish to preserve the suspense surrounding its narrative, then the opening of this article is probably not for you.

But if you aren’t too bothered about discovering the conclusion of ten gripping episodes in a couple of sentences, or simply have no idea of what Mr. Robot is, then let me begin.

In the aftermath of the ‘5/9 attack’, a hack orchestrated by Elliot – the show’s main protagonist – that brings down a dystopian conglomerate known as E Corp (which in turn brings down the USA’s entire consumer credit industry, eradicating all debt), the company’s CEO, Philip Price, is told to resign.

Hearing this, Price does that typical draconian corporate overlord thing of leaning back in his chair and looking into the distance, before telling a story – a story I will share with you all now.

“In the fallout of the Great Depression,” he begins, “FDR closed all the banks for a bank holiday. And then he reopened them in stages when they were ‘reported’ to being sound.

“Later, historians discovered what we all now know – that those reports were lies. Nevertheless, it worked. It worked because the public believed the government had everything under control.

“You see, that is the business model of the American dream. Every business day, when that market bell rings, we con people into believing in something.”

He concludes ominously: “As long as the con works… we can get people to do whatever we want.”

The point of this story, I guess, is that society is – and always has been – able to function on the pretext of a lie, as opposed to any solid facts.

I mean, fast-forward to the present day and the same principle applies. Think back to the months leading up to the EU referendum – that bile-spewing cacophony of disregard and slander; a seemingly endless barrage of conflicting statistics and right wing sentiments, ending, of course, in one of the worst practical jokes ever – the decision to actually leave the EU.

A leading symbol of those murky few months will always be that famous ‘promise’ made by the Leave movement: to siphon the £350m given to the EU each week and inject every single penny of it into a wilting NHS.

Such a guarantee was, as hilariously admitted by Nigel Farage in the aftermath, completely baseless, never even likely to be fulfilled.

But did it matter? After all, it worked, didn’t it? It convinced enough people and, in turn, Leave won. Farage may have looked ridiculous on national television, but do you really think that bothered him?

All that’s required, it seems, is the appearance of a fact, a statistic of some sort, providing an illusion of objectivity. But I’m not saying anything new here. Of course politicians – along with the supervening Murdoch-infected tabloid industry – lob false facts in our direction.

But it seems as if the world is plunging even further into the doldrums of blatant fabrication, so much so that even the appearance of a fact is no longer needed.

Take, for example, everyone’s favourite wotsit-faced demagogue across the pond – Donald Trump. An abhorrent individual, I know, and yet somewhat fascinating at the same time: he has managed to bend the axioms of what can be considered acceptable, of what can actually inform political ideology, to the extent that the idea of an objective, knowable fact is about as incongruous in America as a pot-smoking Stalinist.

Charles Sykes, a conservative activist who, like all conservative activists, thrives off complete untruths, recently admitted himself that things have gone too far.

When Trump says something racist or blatantly untrue, he points out, there is no demand for him to retract it. Rather, his supporters actually expect him to defend it, branding him as a sell-out if he doesn’t.

“We’ve created this monster,” he adds. And make no mistake – this monster is making its way onto our shores. A brief look at Prime Minister’s Question Time illustrates this point in glaring fashion: you’ve got Jeremy Corbyn – poor Jezza, just trying (in my opinion) to be an honest, nice politician – at the dispatch box, with hundreds of sneering egocentrics ready to pounce at any moment, raising serious points on housing, backed up by genuine facts, and what does he get in return? A prepared gag from Theresa May; a prepared gag about ‘Train-gate’, for God’s sake; a piece of crass slander excreting over legitimate facts and concerns.

Reflecting on this exchange, Owen Bennett, a political reporter for the Huffington Post UK, noted that May “misjudged” PMQS. The sad reality, though, is that the opposite is true. May’s complete ignorance of facts, of real problems, electing instead to spew meaningless calumny is entirely in keeping with today’s political climate.

It reminds me of a wonderful moment in Orson Welles’ F for Fake, where François Reichenbach says to Clifford Irving: “Enough of the truth; tell us the real story.” Like with Irving, famous for his fake autobiography of Howard Hughes, the current status quo has no regard for truth or facts.

So the answer, I guess, is no – facts don’t matter, and the damage as a result could be irreversible. If we refuse to agree on – or just ignore – a simple framework of objective facts, the ideological divide between the right and left can never be solved.

And this, no doubt, eradicates the possibility of cooperation in politics, and possibly democracy as we know it today.

By Leo Nieboer (@leo_nieboer), co-editor, 18


Positive Discrimination: Reversing Racism, or Reverse Racism?

As time ticks on, so does economy and population. And where populations and economies grow, so does the need for jobs, school places, and university acceptance letters.

But just because our acceptance of women, ethnic minorities, and non-heterosexuality has also taken an inclusive turn over the past 40 years, is the answer to these issues as exclusive as it once was?

Or should each case be talked about on its own? Is this new wave of social acceptance actually about individuals?

The obvious rival to positive discrimination is meritocracy – something that, on the face of it, is shunned in the name of correcting the historic wrongs against non-whites. If the two forms of social accession are to be argued as bedfellows, however, then it would be a worthy competitor to discrimination.

But in a society where discrimination is no longer an incessant problem, are we fighting against something which isn’t actually there? An invisible rival to liberty left in the bitter, smokey wake of the slave trade, aimlessly punching the lingering shadows of suffragettism. Are we avenging the long-dead ashes of those who were once under the discriminatory oppression of the white, straight, rich man, or are we ourselves now under the thumb of their history, and a timeless immature game of ‘he started it’?

The newly sparked and ever watchful eyes of the feminists has been baited by an inquiry by Commons Committees in the UK into the number of women MPs amid the proposed constituency boundary change, slicing the current 650 seats to a still sizeable 600.

It seems, just like many schemes to equalise politics, Labour’s ‘women only shortlists’, a previously productive enterprise, has now fizzled into a dark, meaningless crispy puck of manifesto pie. That said, it did plenty in 2010, with 50% of female candidates for seats being put forward by All Women Shortlists.

But has patriarchy not been made extinct, courtesy of liberalism? And if so, surely the fact they were needed in the fist place says little about actually fighting discrimination, and more about Westminster’s obsession with planting itself with women, trying to gain equality through some kind of feminist osmosis.

But why? Why is feminism redundant in politics, and why, therefore, is it fighting for what it is principally arguing against? Well, in both the UK and the USA there is the haunting assumption of degrees being necessary. And with tuition fees in the UK set to rise to £12,500 a year and US fees averaging $50,000, it seems great as if wealth inequality is flourishing over the pond, as well as at home. Just over a quarter of blacks and hispanics living in the US are in relative poverty, and the number of three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis by Trussell Trust foodbanks in the financial year 2015-2016 rose to over 1 Million in the UK.

It seems the road to Washington and Westminster is growing ever distant for those from the poorer definition of an estate. But this does not mean picking people off the streets and offering them a seat in the Commons or Congress; it means equalising the provision of education, irrespective of wealth. Americans would have you believe that such an approach is strictly socialist. It is not. It is equality of opportunity as opposed to outcome, a tenet of their beloved friend, LIBERALISM. Once they are given the opportunity to be educated, then it is down to meritocracy.

To combat the race, gender, and class inequality in politics, would it not be fairer and more economic to give ‘oppressed’ groups the opportunity to be successful by treating them equally, as opposed to handing them success and thus purporting inequality even more?

It seems the ‘fairer’ one wishes to make politics less democratic, rendering the groups who endorse positive discrimination incapable of remaining relevant unless they directly violate their own legality.

 I am aware that, whilst scepticism towards positive discrimination, right now, is acceptable, it may appear more sinister in decades to come in the ever more inclusive society in which we will continue to find ourselves in.

I mean, why undo the wrongs of the past if it means living in a regressive now? Would not looking forward through liberally-tinted spectacles be the most progressive way? As Ghandi once corrected the King of Babylon in Matthew 5:38, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

By Nick Ford, 18