Monday, June 05, 2006

Reckless Speculation

Speculation is easy.  Anyone can do it.  Take a set of facts and start thinking about how those facts might fit into other facts.  And the next thing you know, you’ve thought of something brand new that no one’s ever thought of before.  

Or maybe they have.  Maybe lots of people have already thought of that, independently from yourself.  And you go online or to your job or to your local watering hole, and you share your speculation.  And you hear other people giving that same line of speculation, and that just seems to confirm it.  One person can be crazy.  Two people can be on a bender.  But when enough people start talking the same speculation, it stops being speculation and starts becoming fact.

But it’s not really.  Nothing can make speculation become a fact.  And it doesn’t matter how true it sounds or how many other people confirm the same point or how much you want it to be true; speculation cannot become fact.  It can’t.  Even if the speculation is confirmed by reality, it was still speculation and had never been a known fact until it was officially confirmed.  That’s just how it works.  It’s much easier to be right than it is to know that you’re right.  And it’s a lot easier still to be wrong.

One-Trick Ponies

And yet we see people doing this all the time.  Conservatives are particularly prone to this behavior, but few are immune.  The media is really bad that way; particularly the Inside Beltway gang and the 24-7 Cable News talkers.  But then again, isn’t that all these people really have?  How often do the Beltway guys get facts before the rest of us, and how much is their gimmick straight rumor and speculation?  We criticize them for it, but that’s really their only game.  

And that just makes sense.  News folks with real scoops will rarely blab their facts before they publish them; but rumors only become better with the telling.  And the 24-Hour cable folks don’t seem to like facts at all.  They’ve got to talk about news all the time, and while facts spill out pretty quickly, speculation can go on forever.  Whole hours of television can be spent speculating about things that never happened.  So it just makes sense that their minds start wandering and they get to start about thinking where to take the news next.  

And of course, the real answer for them is to get really exciting news; like wars and international conflict.  Heck, for the joys of covering a war; they’ll gladly allow themselves to be spoonfed news from the government.  That’s been a standard practice of military journalism going back to the dawn of time.  War is good news, always.  And the easiest and best news to deliver is the stuff that the citizenry want to hear; which is exactly the kind the government likes to give.  And that’s good for news people.  Not only do they get their stories handed to them; more people will want to read them.  Or so goes the theory, anyway.  Your reality may differ.


Oh, and don’t get me started on the rightwing radio talkers.  I actually wrote a whole section on those bozos, but they piss me off so much that I decided to delete it.  I’ll just leave it at: They use speculation the way other people use crack.

Overall, there’s nothing inherently wrong with speculation, just as long as we recognize it as such.  Speculation happens to be a major part of my schtick, and is one of the things that make me so much better than all the rest of those punkass bloggers.  But we always have to remember where the real facts lie and not allow ourselves to turn speculation into fact.  

Facts can be fit together in lots of different ways, and just because you’ve found a good way to make the pieces fit doesn’t mean you’ve solved the puzzle.  Particularly not if you’re willing to disregard certain facts as “irrelevant”.  But no level of intellectual honesty is enough to ensure that you’ve got the right answer.  It’s necessary and fun to speculate about the unknown; but we’ve always got to keep things at an academic armlength.  Life doesn’t have to make sense and you’ll never know all the facts.  And the facts we don’t know are always superior to the facts we know.  

1 comment:

Bibblesnæð said...

Ooooh, you said a bad, bad word: "academic".
Limbaugh conservatives hate that word; they hate the thought itself. Maybe that's why they don't like to think through their speculation. It makes them feel like they're some kind of namby-pamby intellectuals, and they'd rather be thought of as almost anything other than intellectuals.