By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
Sometimes, inadvertently maybe, folks will say things that to a philosopher’s ear rings like a dinner bell to fine ham and beans (with cornbread). In a recent interview with Gayle King of CBS, Obama was told that seventy-two million people voted for Donald Trump. “What does that say to you about the state of this country?” she asked. “The power of…that alternative worldview that’s presented in the medium that those voters consume…it carries a lot of weight.” “Are you worried about that?” “Yes,” he answers. “It’s very hard for a democracy to function if we are operating on just completely different sets of facts.”
This is a loaded statement. First off, the term “worldview” admits that “Trump voters” and “Biden voters” operate on a worldview (Weltanschauung). Correct. They do. The phrase, “completely different sets of facts” means that “facts” (raw data) are being interpreted differently (Hermeneutics). They are being interpreted on the basis of a worldview (Presuppositionalism). Second, “hard for a democracy to function” means that unless one worldview succumbs to the other worldview, then the country will continue to operate under division. But this perhaps betrays Obama’s unclear answer. The good ole USA is not a “democracy”. This fact may be lost on students in the public schools, but it is a fact. The very understanding of a functioning democracy infers that factions exist. Let us quote James Madison from Federalist Paper 10: “The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended” (The Federalist, Regnery Publishing, 1998, p. 109). Madison then goes on to use words and phrases like, “factions,” “stronger party,” “weaker party.” President Madison continued, “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” A democracy is not the solution to national ills and cures. “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.” America is a Republic. America was founded upon the idea that multiple worldviews exist in its citizenry. America was founded upon an idea that function of principles (“we shouldn’t arbitrarily kill people”) in spite of factions would unify the Republic through fair representation (voting). Why have “freedom of speech” if everyone is forced to believe the same “worldview”?
Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion (Freedom of the Press, or “medium” – Media) is based on the fact that human beings do not agree on matters that define these enterprises. Arguments about what constitutes a “fact” has been debated for centuries. The reader may wish to consult Fritz H. Heinemann’s Existentialism and the Modern Predicament (Harper Torchbooks, 1958) for a fine discussion of Kierkegaard, Marcel, Heidegger and Kant.
One may use Merton’s guide for how one acts in a given culture. If there is anomie, or social breakdown, then stress is produced in a given section of the population. Merton defines a people as having “culture goals”, “norms”, and the “institutionalized means” which are the structures that let people achieve goals through norms (Social Theory and Social Structure, New York, Free Press, R. K. Merton, 1957). Strain arises from “a sense of frustration, despair, or injustice” (Grunlan & Mayers, Cultural Anthropology, Academie Books, 1988). Drawing from Merton, there are five ways to operate under a sense of political strain: 1. Conform. 2. Innovate. 3. Ritualize. 4. Retreat. 5. Rebel (p. 209-ff.). Conform means to simply go along with what one is told to do. Innovation accepts the norms or goals, but bypasses the means; i.e., they cheat the system. The Ritualists are those who hallow the “laws” of a given party or idea and have no ambition of changing them. The retreatist simply opts out and “goes off paper”. The Rebel seeks to replace the system by revolution. Each of these types operates on the basis of given facts as they see (interpret) the world(view) around them. It is precisely here that President Obama appears to suggest that having differing worldviews is wrong for America if his version of America is to survive and thrive.
Finally, the idea between what constitutes a “fact” and an “opinion” is very difficult to split. “This is a rock”. “Karl Marx had some good ideas.” “God created the heavens and the earth in six days.” “This universe is a happenstance collision of photons.” Can you spot the fact from the opinion?
In Leftist thinking, the idea of a Freedom of Press simply means that the society can never come together in order to achieve the social goals necessary for the true emancipation of the human species. All opposing “views” must, then, be curtailed to the singular Truth of the collective representation of the People that get to run the government. There does not exist the idea that two human beings can look at the same rock and come to two different interpretations of how the rock got there. We agree to call it a rock. We are free to say the rock is six thousand years old, or six million. Both cannot be right. However, both interpretations can be argued for rationally. A true form of government lets and protects these interpretations and does not interfere either for or against them. It also will function in such a way that certain laws will be followed by both views when it comes to killing, stealing, eating and the like. In our case, we have a Constitution. A Republic. It’s messy. There are hoops and hurdles. Checks and balances. There are also “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, [who] may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” If you think Trump is such a character, that’s your right and your opinion and no censorship should defrock you. If you think Biden is such a person, the same applies. Free access to information (facts) and the freedom to put together evidence is a right. Thus, when the Media begins to clearly favor a political idea, it is the right by innovation to create another form of Media to compete. The Government would make no decision to censure whatsoever the media outlets. The People get to decide what they will watch, read, and collect. You have a right to be wrong, and you can be wrong but still right when you insist that your opponent is also guaranteed the same equity. Both must insist, however, that the right to collect “facts” together under a particular worldview will not at all be restrained by the State. Without developing a further inference from this conclusion, let me state that the issues facing our nation are debatable precisely because the methodology of argumentation utilized for these issues are the same while the conclusions cannot be definitively (absolutely) absolved. No man and no Party is omniscient. The inerrancy of Scripture? Debatable. Climate change? Debatable. Evolution? Debatable. Social constructs? Debatable – and so on. What we all have to agree upon though is that we are allowed to debate in the universities and marketplaces these ideas without fear from the State. If that agreement is ever lost, then this great experiment in social engineering and culture is lost and the prediction of its future is dim.