Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Fact check

Just lately I've found myself drafting little essays on significant issues, like divorce or welfare reform, only to find that I'm citing trends or "facts" for which I don't have immediate corroboration. They are probably factoids I picked up from books by people smarter and more footnote laden than I.

In previous times I might have been able to get away with bold assertions or casual references without fear of immediate discovery . . . but the existence of Google and Wikipedia are changing that. I know that anyone who reads my blog will be able to find out my errors in less than a minute if I don't bother to check them myself. Though many pundits malign the web for its profusion of false information, it is still remarkably good at ferreting out blatent errors.

I never completely realized how uninformed my opinions are . . . or, I should say, how little I remember of the facts that originally formed my opinions. I hope I'm not merely wallowing in my own blind prejudices, but until you have a discipline to expose your thinking to scrutiny, you don't really appreciate it.

My friend Kenny had a good way of illustrating this dearth of information. He would ask people: "Are we spending enough on education?" And most people would say, "No, we're not." And he would ask, "Well, how much should we spend?" And most people would give blank stares. "Ok, well tell me this," Kenny would continue, "how much are we spending now?" And, ninety-nine times out of hundred, most people would have to admit they had no idea how much actually did get spent on education, or where it went, or how much it compares to other countries . . . nor could they really quantify how much more money was required, or make an intelligent case about why more money would necessarily solve the problem. So . . . how did all these people get the opinion we weren't spending enough? If they dug back far enough, I suspect they would find they were repeating the opinions of others that they had heard, and (for whatever reason) accepted.

So . . . ask yourself, next time you're sounding off at a party or chat room . . . "how much do I really know?"


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