T-shirts, bumper stickers and other social media

One of the few issues on which most of America agrees is that our political system is broken. The media, being one of the major culprits, is incapable of providing real, meaningful news and is unfortunately equally inept at presenting a meaningful debate. Then there is social media …

Social media falls in the class of T-shirts and bumperstickers when it comes to delivering a thoughtful, political message. I would say the likes of Facebook and Twitter are slightly better than bumperstickers because you don’t have to risk a car wreck to read them, but slightly worse than T-shirts because T-shirts don’t allow for follow-up commentary (outside of the couple wearing opposing “I’m with stupid shirts,” with arrows pointing back at each other).

This is to say that I should have been prepared for the “debate” that ensued after I posted a humorous, satirical quote referencing climate change.

The quote by comedian, news commentator and satirist, John Oliver, was, “One in four Americans is skeptical about climate change … who gives a shit? That doesn’t matter. You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking which number is bigger, 5 or 15? Or do owls exist? Or are there hats?”

This is a brilliant, albeit sarcastic, statement of what should widely be considered an obvious observation: facts are not subject to opinions. Opinions that form as a result of facts are perfectly appropriate. If you have an opinion about what we should do with all of these facts, I completely support your right to that opinion. But in the interest of intellectually honest debate, nobody has the right to simply not believe a fact.

It is a fact that two plus two equals four.

What ensued after this seemingly innocuous, light-hearted quote was a flurry of people commenting and debating climate change. While some responses were made in jest — which I grant is perfectly appropriate and well-received banter — an actual climate change debate was conducted on the merits.

LEO is, and should always be, a community forum, a place where issues are raised, debated and a platform is provided for every person, organization, business, entity or party to be heard. That is the spirit in which I strive to utilize this space every week; agree or disagree, let’s start the conversation, because that is the only way we are going to grow and learn.

That is to say, I welcome the debates and conversations. However we must debate honestly.

John Oliver’s quote may have been about global climate change, but the point of the message had nothing to do with that issue; rather, the point was that America’s opinions of facts do not matter. What we do as a response to those facts is perfectly fine (and appropriate) for debate, but facts should not be a poll question.

Back to the bumpersticker debate: I was behind a minivan this weekend with a sticker that said, “Abortion is big people killing little people.” This bumper sticker is about as valuable and accurate as the response to John Oliver I received, which said, “I believe in climate change, winter, spring, summer, fall;” the only difference being, the latter made me laugh. Nevertheless, there is no value in casually saying — or posting on the back of your vehicle — meaningless, inaccurate comments that will incite as much as they will convince.

It is a fact that you cannot abort a person. It is also a fact that babies are not aborted; never has a single baby been aborted. If we are having an honest debate, only fetuses are aborted. So if we are going to have a bumper sticker debate, let’s at least get the facts right.

Now, if you are reading this and getting fired up about the abortion-baby-fetus discussion, do not be fooled by the bumpersticker; stay focused on the important point, that debates and conversations matter. However, if we don’t start with facts, the debate is meaningless.

This reminds me of the classic legal advice: If the facts are on your side argue the facts, if the law is on your side argue the law, but if neither the facts nor the law are on your side, bang your hands on the table, yell and scream. Maybe once everyone is fed up with the screaming, we’ll look back and yearn for the good ol’ days, and just go for a walk with “stupid —>.”