SYNTHESIS: Values matter more than facts

John Winstead mug

John Winstead

The social value we place on “facts” is generally an anxiety that stems from wanting to avoid moral questions.

In times of legitimate moral dilemmas, the lack of access to “all the facts” is the primary source of anxiety. Which is why focusing on attaining “all the facts” side-steps the more salient moral question: what do you do when you do not and cannot have all the facts?

This is the root of moral dilemmas; uncertainty.

How we deal with and examine the problems that come with uncertainty in the best possible way is, in broad strokes, the aim of the ethical life.

What do we do when the answer is not obvious or apparent from the material facts alone? Our disposition toward uncertainty, and how we choose to proceed despite it, largely constitutes what counts as one’s moral character.

With the recent murders of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by police, we’ve been fortunate to have video and eyewitness accounts to detail the circumstances of these deaths. We’ve been given the closest thing to “all the facts” technology currently can supply.

That slight conciliation, although, is immediately soured when you wonder how many wrongful deaths went unnoticed because no one had a phone to record it?

The world we live in is imperfect, complicated and contradictory. Some problems are intractable. Some murders will go unsolved. This is because we are finite beings with limited knowledge. This is our condition.

If facts were all that mattered, then we could stop there. But we can also resist against our condition by using technology and finding people with shared values. We are not radically atomized beings. Some of us have common interests and goals. We can find solidarity with one another. We can decide to care for other people and help he or she reach his or her goals.

This is why I believe that finding the right values and, by extension, the right politics and commitments to justice is more important than the mere consumption of more facts.

George Orwell said, “[W]hen I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”

You might say Orwell is just being biased. He’s biased toward workers, for sure. I don’t think he would disagree with you.

Evaluations of the “good” are necessarily based on values. Biases are sympathies toward people. Biases are values by another name. When in the absences of all the facts, our biases are all we have to determine the decisions we make and the lives we lead.

Learning knowledge and ruthless intellectual self-criticisms are virtues, no doubt, but so is compassion and indignation for justice.

When the next murder happens, will you anxiously wait for omniscient or will you have recognized the injustice inherent to policing people of color in this country and made your choice?

Synthesis provides analysis on topics from a perspective of social justice often allied with a healthy dose of sarcasm.