Objectivity vs Progressivism

February 17th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

I’ve been meaning to write a piece on objective versus subjective reality for a while now, and I was given such a perfect opening to the subject the other day that I simply could not resist any longer.

A newspaper in Atlanta, called Atlanta Progressive News, fired a reporter for… get this: trying to be objective.  Literally.

Jonathan Springston served as Staff Writer, then Senior Staff Writer for a total of four years. During that time, he has grown as a writer and has produced a lot of content which has served to inform our readership on issues ranging from Troy Davis to Grady Hospital. …

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported professionally, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News. It just wasn’t the right fit. …

In the meantime, here is some information from our Frequently Asked Questions page: “Progressive news is news that brings us closer to universal health care, living wages, affordable housing, peace, a healthy environment, and voting systems we can trust.

“We provide news of concern to working families, and therefore, our writing is geared toward a specific audience. Fortunately, our audience — working families — comprises a majority of people in the United States who are largely ignored by corporate media sources.

“We believe there is no such thing as objective news. Typically, mainstream media presents itself as objective but is actually skewed towards promoting the corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy.

“APN, on the other hand, does not pretend to be objective. We believe that our news coverage is fair and that our progressive principles are fair. We aim when possible to give voice to all sides, but aim to provide something different than what is already provided by corporate sources.”

We wish Mr. Springston the best of luck in his future endeavors and in fact we think he would be a good candidate for Creative Loafing or even the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  [Emphasis mine]

So what does all of this mean in blunt English?  Mr. Springston was a good writer who did not share the biases of the newspaper he worked for (since from this newspaper’s view, the claim to objectivity is just another bias, and a deluded one at that).  The trick to fair reporting, since objectivity is impossible, is not to report the facts and then attempt to explain them, but rather to first pick an agenda (such as universal health care, living wages, and affordable housing) and then shape your reporting to fit.  To do anything else is not only deluded, but invariably serves to promote the “corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy.” 

Of course in an objective universe, APN’s statement that attempts at objective reporting tend to favor a certain set of biases might be taken as evidence that the “corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy” could actually have a finger-hold on objective truth.  Fortunately for APN, however, since they have already openly thrown objectivity out the window, they don’t have to worry about the possibility of having to confront this little demon. 

And it’s not just that one demon, either.  In fact, this entire statement is an open confession by APN that they do not believe the progressive agenda to be supported or borne out by objective reality.  After all, which statement would be more suasive when arguing in support of your conclusions?  The statement that you came to your conclusions after examining the objective evidence to the best of your ability, accompanied by said evidence to match?  Or the assertion that there isn’t any objective evidence and that everyone who disagrees with you is merely a biased and delusional supporter of the “corporate agenda”? 

However, for the sake of argument let us briefly assume that APN’s statement that there is no such thing as objectivity is true.  Let’s assume that their particular set of biases is correct and the only reason I disagree with their agenda is because I have been duped by the biases of the corporate agenda.  Well then, how does APN propose to prove this logically when they have gone on the record as stating that there is no such thing as logic or proof?  How are we to know, truly, that a single-payer system is better than private health care, or that human beings are indeed owed a living by the government?  Going wider, who are we to declare that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a better man than Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi a better man that Saddam Hussein?  Who is to say that the United States of America is a better place to live than Iran or China, or even Europe?  And if there’s no objective reality to appeal to as the ultimate arbiter of differences of opinion, then how are we supposed to live and deal with one another — except by force? 

People who say that there is no objectivity think that they’re just being honest about the world when they say it, but the truth is that they’re the most bigoted people of all.  An honest seeker of objective truth might end up at the wrong conclusion, but at least the fact that he thinks there is an honest and objective answer to his question means that he will make an honest effort to find it.  Once you’ve accepted the idea that objective truth is both impossible and nonexistent, however, where’s the motive for questioning yourself and your stances in that premise? 

And for that matter, why am I getting so worked up about it in the first place?  Well, let me cue you in on a little secret about scientists and engineers.  All over the liberal media outlets you will find the same remarks over and over that conservatives are invariably foolish, racist bigots, that no educated person could honestly believe any of that Republican nonsense, and that you’ll never find any intelligent people who support those stupid ruses from the right, such as ClimateGate.  However, it has been my experience that engineers and scientists will on average fall right-of-center politically, and that the more politically aware they are, the further to right-of-center their political opinions will be.  Further, the degree of competence they exhibit at their work is also a major factor in their political positions: the truly good engineers and scientists will on average fall further to the right; the more mediocre ones are more likely to be moderates or slightly left-wing.  Why?  Because despite the progressive claims to the contrary, there really is such a thing as objective truth.  And when we fail to acknowledge and conform to that objective truth, nasty things start to happen.  Like bridges collapsing.  Or shuttles blowing up. 

It’s not an iron-clad rule.  You do occasionally run into competent engineers and scientists who are so apolitical that they’ve never bothered to examine the issues or have been deluded into thinking they only need to be objective “sometimes.”  But by and large, people who don’t recognize the absolute objectivity of reality tend not to last very long in the fields where truth is truth.  The declaration that there is no such thing as objective truth is therefore both a slap in the face to my work and a deathly blow struck at the foundations of our scientific, rational society.

As an isolated incident, Mr. Springston’s unemployment really isn’t that big a deal.  Whatever APN may think about the existence of objectivity, the fact that this story came out about him will probably work better than any recommendation ever could with respect to helping him find a new job.  But as an indication of the direction society is heading, the full implications of APN’s statement truly do not bear thinking about.  In the words of the ultimate advocate of an objective reality, Ayn Rand, “There are only two means by which men can deal with one another: guns or logic. Force or persuasion. Those who know that they cannot win by means of logic, have always resorted to guns.”  Should the rest of society join APN in its advocacy of non-objectivity, civil war is really the only possible ultimate outcome.  And that’s not a scenario I ever want to see play out.

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6 Responses to “Objectivity vs Progressivism”

  1. Tom |

    Excellent article, Brianna. I’ve always been impatient with relativism and the idea that there is no objective truth, no good and evil, no right and wrong.

    Granted, in some cases the truth is easier to divine than in others. In science and engineering, you know the truth is there, and if you work hard enough and long enough you can usually find it, describe it, and measure it.

    In other areas, though, objective truth becomes more difficult to find. History and politics are good examples. Despite all the objections, historical truths do exist, and political truth, which may be the hardest of all, is there, too. It may be that political truth is difficult to find and define because the reality is that objective truth in this case is often having to settle for a statement that one thing is more true than another.

    You have to give credit to APN for one thing — they’re honest, which is more than can be said for the NYT.

  2. Brian Bagent |

    My all-time favorite self-contained contradiction: there are no absolutes.

    “well,” we are told, “that’s just semantics.” Yes, it is. Using a logical formula to prove that logic doesn’t exist is kind of like standing in a bucket and picking yourself up by the handle.

  3. d |

    Ahh,but whose idea of objective truth? Good one,Brian,made me smile.

  4. Tom |

    I agree, Brian. Kind of like “all generalizations are false.”

    We need to be careful about what we consider to be “objective truth” as opposed to simply questions about choices and beliefs. Some things are objectively true or not true, and other things are matters of belief that can’t be proven. Among the former is the ridiculous belief that the Earth is about 6,000 years old, or as Archbishop Ussher calculated it long ago, the earth was created on 23 October 4004 BC. Those beliefs are not objectively true. Among the latter is the idea that there’s a creator somewhere responsible for this mess and that there’s an afterlife of some kind. Although logic weighs against those ideas, neither can be proven to be objectively true.

    In politics and public policy, though, there many degrees of what some people consider “truth” when all that’s really involved is choices and preferences. One example among many is the issue of whether health care should publicly or privately funded. There’s no “truth” there; it’s a matter of choice and preference.

  5. Brian Bagent |

    Doris, objective truth has no “side.” It is what it is. For example, murder is immoral and unethical. So are robbery, rape, arson, burglary, theft, and child abuse.

    Tom, we’ve been through this. There is no way to commit an immoral/unethical act in order to undertake a moral one. That is an “ends-justifies-the-means” argument if ever there was one, and sets the stage for horrid abuse. Better would be that we never go there at all.

    Every tyrant in the history of the world has justified his means by his goals. No exceptions. Ever. As Brianna pointed out, there are only two ways to deal with men, and when unethical means are used to justify “noble” ends, what we will end up with is a society of thieves and murders, and eventually just murderers, for when the use of force becomes the barometer of ethics, the murderer will always triumph over the thief because he is willing to use more force. Is that what we really want for our government?

    So far, this “Great Society” government has simply contented itself with theft (mostly).

  6. Earl |

    ““Progressive news is news that brings us closer to …”

    That makes it propaganda.

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