Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Fact Claimers of Old Twitter Town

Recently I got myself into a hefty row with a bunch of Labour supporters on Twitter. Clearly, I should have known better to have poked the hornets’ nest; the trouble with platforms like Twitter is that the buffer of anonymity that hovers in between the idea and the click means that very often we feel just that tiny bit less inclined to bite our lip when we read what we consider to be gibberish and within seconds the floodgates have opened. 

The tweet that drew my attention was buried in a thread on one of the "current affairs" list contributors that I follow and contained a graph purporting to show the steady decline in police officers since the 1970s with particular focus on the Tory party and their role in public service cuts. The graph was headed with a tweet insinuating that this trend had in some way contributed to the recent Manchester bombing and that similar terrorist atrocities would likely follow as a direct result of these cuts. Within seconds I retweeted this in the form of a quote, stating that it was a typically pathetic attempt by the left to try and politicise what happened according to their own agenda. Before I touch upon the barrage of responses, perhaps I should explain the flurry of thoughts that led to my hurried retweet. Firstly, the graph itself was  something I took at face value; had I the time or inclination (not to mention a full time job, two young children, a tight schedule and a hundred other more exciting or pressing matters to attend to) I might have researched the validity of the "fact"; as it was I assumed for the purpose of the discourse that it was correct. Secondly, the reduction of front line police numbers is something that can be viewed in the same context as the "cuts" to the NHS, it is the tendency of Tory governments to try and reduce the size of the state in order to live within our economic means. Moreover, with the wastage that exists throughout the public sector it is no wonder that budgets end up being cut. One only has to look at the prevalence of diversity officers, chaplains and community managers who earn massive salaries whilst at the same time we are told to make do with fewer nurses and police officers. Thirdly, and most importantly in the context of this particular tweet and the recent events, one has to consider that the Manchester bombing was carried out by a radical Islamic terrorist. This guy was a suicide bomber who was prepared to blow himself up in order to kill others at a pop concert, especially young children with their families. These are people who will get into a lorry and mow people down in cold blood, hack people's heads off and detonate bombs in crowded areas. As such, an increase in front line police officers is arguably of limited use when it comes to preventing such occurrences; this is a quite different game even to that played out during the Troubles.

Predictably, given that the woman who had posted the tweet framed herself as a die-hard Corbyn supporter, I was immediately hit by a flurry of responses and a huge amount of abuse. The first response was actually from the poster who suggested that I remove myself from Twitter as I was offended by facts. Many others then piled in, liking her response then adding further left-wing sound bites, berating me for typical Tory views and suggesting that I prepared myself for a huge change that was about to come. Apocalyptic stuff. As I began to respond, the inevitable abuse began to rain down. I was a moron, I was this, I was that. Naturally, having a short fuse, I gave it all back and within minutes it descended into a full-blown slanging match. Beyond all the name-calling however, the bit that I just could not get across to any of these people was that it was not the fact that I was attacking but the narrative being built around it. An argument is a constructive viewpoint, often built around facts but always using the interpretation of them to end purpose. If at any point during the resulting debate the person simply responds by screeching "I've got a fact," then they seem to be missing the point. 

And this is really the problem with the Twitter landscape these days - as is the case with most landscapes - we have been distracted by this curious phenomenon of fake news and the intellectual left. There is a growing suggestion from the liberate elite that anyone on the right is anti-fact, anti-intellectual and lazily accepts mainstream media narratives without any form of consideration. In essence they are thick (and by extension racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic and anything else you might wish to throw in). The cushion of insurance used by these enlightened left wing thinkers is that they are armed with facts. Facts, facts, facts. And data. Lots of data and statistics. They are professors, lecturers, human rights lawyers, technicians and economy analysts so they must be correct. Never mind the fact that these occupations tend to exist on the periphery of working life, rarely soaking up the stresses and strains, triumphs and tradegies of the economic treadmill, starting businesses, paying taxes and balancing plates as many of us have to do. No, these are textbook commentators, life-guiding geeks who have a view based on their own theoretical interpretation of statistics rather than cold, hard experience. Facts are fine. Facts are important. What is more important is the ability to strategise. To make decisions based on the world around us, choosing paths based on the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities, rather than to sit behind cosy graphs and idealistic beliefs. We live in an aging society with high levels of immigration. The NHS is not sustainable in the form it first took back in its post-war infancy as people these days see it as a free ride to irresponsibility and entitlement. Similarly, we face a massive threat from radical Islamic terrorism that will stop at nothing at maiming and killing indiscriminately. There are over twenty thousand on a watch list, of which around three thousand of those are on a high-level of scrutiny. I don't believe that we can afford to simply watch these people, they need to be arrested, in some cases deported or imprisoned, or in other cases quite simply bumped off. Spending more and more money and not solving the problem in the process is a policy of madness. 

But then free stuff works as a socialist policy, right? A left-leaning liberal will happily post a graph showing the percentage contribution to NHS staffing by immigrants over time and use that to claim unanimously that any attempt to curtain immigration would destroy the NHS. A sensible counter-argument would be that firstly immigration could quite comfortably be reduced without impacting doctors and nurses (I don’t see them in the dole queues) and moreover a reduction in net migration would help to ease pressure on the NHS overall which in time would lead to fewer additional doctors and nurses being required. However, those are future states and therefore do not have any data to support them. Anybody offering up arguments or points of view on that basis are almost immediately shot down as being reactionary or having “non-evidence-based-opinion.” The hypocrisy on offer here is mind-blowing. Take the current Labour Party manifesto for example. Many of the big state spending policies are costed by raising corporation tax and assuming that revenue streams (i.e. performance from the companies falling into these buckets) would continue according to past and current trends. Conveniently, no provision is made not only for drop off as a result of corporate cut backs to retain profitability in the face of higher taxation, but a hit in the economy overall as a consequence of making the UK less attractive to foreign investors at a crucial point in our economic history as we embark on Brexit negotiations.

In other words, facts are great if they can superficially be used for platitudes. They are also great if left wing geeks can use them to support the notion that liberals are all academic and therefore possess superior intellect than anybody else. As soon as they are countered or approached by a different angle it is another matter. Perhaps we’re best when we just think for ourselves – if you want a hand with this then I’ve got a hint for you; simply ignore anything written by anyone with an EU flag with a tear drop or a “I’m with Corbyn” profile shot. It’ll save you so much time in the long run… 





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