Andrea Morisette Grazzini

CEO, WetheP, Inc.


This conversation is closed.

What facts are factual?

A politician telegraphing early strategies for his 2012 US presidential candidacy was speaking of what he referred to as facts. Not surprisingly they buttressed his platform.

A political researcher and I engaged with him in a dialogue about the relative factuality of facts. And how less-robust but rhetorically expedient sound bites can be problematic.

The researcher said, "Facts without data are like a canoe without paddles." His point was facts must be data-driven to meaningfully change citizen’s minds.

A challenge all candidates face, include findings by the researcher, which indicate most people distrust politicians. Due, not least to tactics used to distinguish campaign platforms and gain votes.

This Q of relative factuality is ever more salient. As people worldwide sort and filter fictional rhetoric from objective research.

The relationship between real facts and rhetorical frames calls for understandings not only of political campaigns, but also of methods (and motivations) communicators of them use. And how they are interpreted, if not propagated, by organizations, consumers and citizens.

For example, data communicated by respected PEWResearchCenter regards perceptions of Muslims and non-Muslims, on closer examination, reveals population-based differences in collection methods.

Survey methods are here:

Face-to-face collection methods (considered more nuanced) were used for Muslims, while phone data collection methods, (considered less sensitive) were used for non-Muslims.

These methods amount to overlooked but relevant facts, if not potential bias-provokers. Likely bias is not Pew pollsters' intent. But, in this case may amount to consequences of their method.

The Q is:
How do we determine what published research, politicians’ rhetoric, other people's views—and our own, are of most factual relevance?


Closing Statement from Andrea Morisette Grazzini

Thanks to all who offered views here.

I'm left with a prevailing sense that fear is a primary motivator for lack of transparency. This fear could be internal or externally motivated, and often is both.

Fear of the revelation of one's wrongness or complicity about the facts. Fear of the truth we have long denied. Or fear of repercussions truth telling can elicit from others.

Ironically, this fear of the truth is exactly what leads to the corruption of it.

Which leads me to wonder what would happen if we acknowledged our capacities to miscommunicate facts while continually seeking the deeper contours of our misunderstandings? Rather than the path of least resistance that falsely implies we know all.

It seems to me this stance would convey a more congruent reality, and invite greater trust in the communicator of it.


  • Sep 24 2011: Distinction between fact and opinion: A fact is an objective description of reality. A - The sky is blue is a fact. B - The sky is pretty is an opinion. This is partly because the generalization makes the statement inaccurate due to the subjectivity of the statement. Sky is pretty to me but not to him/her. Is a fact because it removes the subjectivity of the statement and recovers objectivity by accurately pointing out who believes the sky is pretty. (Note: for analogy purposes please ignore colorblindness.)
    Distinction between fact and true or True fact: A true fact is the most accurate and/or objective description of reality. A. The sky is red. B. The sky is blue. While A statement is a fact it isn't the most accurate and objective description of reality. But then add a qualifier like this C. The sky is blue during the day. Now this is a more accurate description of reality it is more true then statement B and A, It is a more truer fact then A or B.

    Statistical facts are more accurate and objective then generalized statements because 1. Units to measure, compare, and removes linguistic subjectivity. For example, A football field is 100 yds., not about 100 yds, and not long, or short. And also, 100 yds to me is also 100 yds to you. Objectivity is preserved and nearly guaranteed when using statistical facts. This is, of course, if statistical facts are used correctly and not dishonestly.
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      Sep 24 2011: Thang Tran your post is a sintesis of real knowlegde about the opinions. Here at TED theres a lot of "opinion people" because they believe in freedom of theres a lot of nonsense.

      Pure logic your post.

      BRAVO¡¡¡ I hope TEDsters read carefully your exposition. And learn.
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        Sep 24 2011: Luigi, questo è un posto per il quale non sarò inviare email direttamente dal chiedere scusa. Non sono sicuro di quello che ha fatto di essere così arrogante e condiscendente recentemente, ma sono rapidamente perdere il rispetto che una volta ho avuto per voi oi vostri pareri. Io non credo che tu sei sia più qualificato o che quello che vi offriamo qui sul TED è di qualità superiore rispetto alle persone che abitualmente criticare. La tua visione del mondo è solo una visione del mondo. L'Italia una volta era grande e ha molto da insegnare al mondo, ma uno che afferma costantemente che solo lui deve essere rispettato, ascoltato o possiede la verità non è un esperto, ma semplicemente una magniloquenza.
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        Sep 24 2011: Non quelle veritiere.
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      Sep 24 2011: OK Tran. How then do you propose that we discuss issues that have no measuring tape attached to them? This world is a complex place that defies such simplistic answers and yet our very future depends on someone getting a handle on those issues so that our children and our future are secure. I love the old adage that if you are going to criticize try to bring some solutions to the table. Merely spraying everyone with condescension usually is not very productive even if it makes you feel good when you press submit.
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      Sep 24 2011: Tran --

      I think your explanation of the distinctions regards the accuracy of relative facts and the greater potentials for objectively statistical facts can prove is good.

      Most important of all is, as you point out, is what one might think of as the "honesty factor." Without honest sourcing and communications of them, statistical facts regress to generalized opinions, at best.

      • Sep 28 2011: I think the basic question and discussion is fundamentally flawed. It all seems to be looking for a quick way to get to determine a fact without applying reason.
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      Sep 24 2011: Thang
      Can't you see that your facts are mere opinions?
      The sky isn't blue, not at daylight nor at night. The sky can be seen in all kinds of colors that are independent of the sky itself which has no color at all.
      Your field has a length and width, that's all. To compare this you can decide for a unity to convert distance into a number. That number tells you nothing about the size but that you can compare it with other things. To be precise no number is correct for the closer one gets to the exact measure the wider one gets from any result.
      Objectivity is the illusion of any subject.
      • Sep 25 2011: Hi, Frans
        Objectivity is subjective, no doubt,/ am I objective enough here?/
        but it's a pretty useful tool
        for measuring a field, don't you agree? :)
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          Sep 25 2011: Hi Natasha
          You said the right word.
          To all that our senses generate we add any meaning that is useful according to past experiences.
          This process is a tool to see order in the world and benefit from it.
          All this activity has only to do with us and our life in relation to all what is outside and it has nothing to do with what or how things are.
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    Sep 15 2011: Exchange the word "fact" for "propaganda" and you're getting closer to the mark. Spin has always been a tool of the public figure.

    To say we live in the Information Age is a gross misnomer. If I haven't experienced the phenomenon directly, then I am automatically skeptical of the messenger's purpose for bringing me the message as well as the content and form the message itself takes.

    They used to say "Don't shoot the messenger". These days it would make sense to, at least, interrogate all messengers..
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      Sep 16 2011: Scott--

      Your characterization of the Information Age is provocative. On the one hand we have an overwhelming ubiquity of information. On the other, there is so much, it is impossible to determine which is relevant and which is extraneous. Let alone which is factual.

      I've come to think of this as something of a syndrome. A "statistics saturation" or "solutions saturation." The concept of analysis paralysis seems almost quaint in comparison to the intellectual incapacitation all these piles of data can produce.

      Even so, interrogation can impede forward movement, too. By injecting distrust into the equation when it may not be necessarily be warranted. Or when a spirit of engaging the truth v. probing for mistruths can be more effective.

      I like how Bill Moyers put it. He practices an approach he adapted from Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci., which Moyers refers to as "the pessimism of the mind but the optimism of the will." In other words to be both.

      My version of this regards politicians is: "they are humans, too." Though many people disagree with me.

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        Sep 16 2011: Pessimism of mind and optimism of the will - preparing for the worst, hoping for the best. A good way to be.

        Politicians are all too human which is mostly the problem. We need visionaries when we have bean-counters and box-tickers.

        When I say messenger, I largely mean the mass media. If it's second, third or fourth hand information, it is possibly corrupted from it's original form or, more likely, doesn't really affect me and my life all too directly.

        Most International "news" is irrelevant beyond it's entertainment value. Much national "news" perpetuates the status quo, which is as unfortunate as it is cliched.
      • Sep 17 2011: Not so provocative when so many messengers try to make the news about themselves.
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    Sep 19 2011: The search for fact or truth is so hard these days..seems like all sources speak from a point of view of bias and spin.

    Debra Smith's question about the loss of true journalism points to a serious gap in our resources for seeking and knowing the truth

    .I think when I see facts arrayed accurately and neutrally..with no biasing point of view or narrative ( interpretive framewoerk or story) I can orient myself more effectively and see what is ( rather than than forming judgments, or loading it down with my own bias)..because rhe truth is really distributed through many "facts"..even errors and false information contain some element of truth

    .When the press operates as was intended..unbiased and factual reporting about both sides or all sides of an issue we have that array of facts ( maybe not all the "facts" but hopefully the key ones and we have a better opprtunity to find th e or see the whole truth.I also believe in the power of group discussion to do this. There's an indian tradition where every one speaks in trun around a circle and eventually 100% of the time there is a truth that is discovered..that no one possessed at the satrt of the process and binds all at the end of the process.

    Although we haven't really quite learned how to do that in our global conversation here at TED we are learning it.
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      Sep 20 2011: I hope that I am not straying too far from the topic here when I make the following comment. I find it fascinating that Lindsay (who was away for 6 weeks) and who lives on the eastern seaboard of the US in a contemplative life, Andrea who I think lives in the midwest (and I am not sure why I think this) and who is a researcher and I, a Canadian who works in infection control, all became concerned with the issues of facts, reporting and public trust at the same time. I know that my worries did not come from media per se. I am wondering what instinct is at work to bring us all to the same deep concerns in different garb right now? Comments?
      If this is too off topic just let me know and I happily will delete.
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        Sep 20 2011: I made the same observation..I think the three current conversations(this one , yours and mine) all arise from the same underlying larger concerns.

        I don't think I can summarize what I think that concern is but its about what I work in the world..the majority in free countries world wide being manipulated, living in disenfrachisement and alienantion,

        .I think the "big thing" is too big to name or tackle as a whole..that we discover it, consider, realize we are in it and need to move out of it one small piece at a conversation at a time. We here at TED are relearning the power of "we the people", realizing that through TED , the internet that that is now "we the people of the world?"I think its good to notice these three concurrent conversations really are all about the same thing..pointing to the same thing but I think the way we can come to see that more clearly is through these different facets of it in a way that is neutral that allows each person joinng us room to register and explore their own reactions and thoughts

        .We are beginning to learn as global "we the epople of the world" that underneath the consequences of horrific global politicis and global economics of the last decade, underneath the response to that we have been living with there is a common and awakening sensibiity that this is not what we want, we ,all of here at TED, are eveolving a co-intelligence that seeks truth and wisdom.
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          Sep 23 2011: Debra,

          I think your observation connects some important dots.

          It is innate, I'd argue, for humans to be concerned and due to this seek answers. Given the time, opportunity and sufficient Qs, many feel compelled to "follow the rabbit into the hole" that the upside-down world of fact-seeking can sometimes seem to be.

          The only obstacle (and it is a big one), seems to be fear.

          This fear seems mostly situational. Such as fear that fact-seeking will cause social, familial or institutional isolation, psychological or spiritual destruction or minimize our expression or experiences of more superficial things or distract us from engagement of our short term needs.

          The good news, if one dares and survives the journey (as the fictional Alice found), new understandings of the fine line that separates fact from fantasy emerge. And most important of these, in my mind, is how we as humans so often get lost in the latter in pursuit of the former.

          If fear is what holds us from facts, the converse can be true, too. Courage, supported by situational environments, draws us closer to facts.

          I must say, a situation that transcends our different geographies, relational and vocational realms, we share is media. Here, and likely elsewhere. Through it, we've witnessed glimmers of truths expressed. This catalyzes us to seek more. Furthermore, we've supported (as has TED) this shared pursuit, through dialogues recent and past.

          These co-present relationships, whether we are conscious of it or not, I'd say, strengthen our energies to seek and communicate more on themes we feel connected to. Layered on our physical and personal lives, which for us each intersect with, as Lindsay puts it, common we are the people awakenings -- ours and others--that collectively contribute to an environment that encourages us in our focuses and energies.

          The Q I have is this. How do we take this beyond somewhat abstract -- if valuable -- dialogues to clear and concrete outcomes?

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          Sep 23 2011: @Lindsay. It has honestly taken me three days to really absorb the eloquence of your response about 'we the people'. It struck such a cord, such a longing in me and it is exactly what I feel about TED, and about 'we the people'. It was written with power and passion and it helped me feel the matching longing within you for this better way.
          Thanks for that exquisite little entry. I will have more to say in a bit.
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          Sep 23 2011: @Andrea: I have been mulling over your last response for days too. I don't quite see fear as the problem. In fact, I am almost afraid that we have not been fearful enough. The PR and propaganda has lulled us into a stupor. It has sold 'we the people' down the river. I have been so busy with life for decades and with fighting other more immediate battles against injustices that I assumed someone was looking out for the ship of humanity as a whole and I am seriously worried that no one who cared enough was.
          People have been entertained to death. We have been convinced that all exposure of major wrong doing can be chalked up to nuts and conspiracy theorists.
          My worries did not come from media. Just the opposite in fact. My worries came out of my MBA when I saw the inner workings and the placid acceptance of what it took to do business on a large scale. I started to read about Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies and how often they have been fined for serious, serious violations of trust. It was utterly frightening. I started to read about companies which knowingly marketed tainted formula in Africa or convinced poor mothers in areas where there was no clean water to let their own milk dry up and thus put so many babies' lives at risk to make profit. What I read made me want to scream and no one else in my classes were batting an eyelash. How can we tolerate tobacco companies taking the strategic lessons they learned in NA to developing nations and using PR and propaganda to addict children with candy flavoured cigarettes and not charge them with crime against humanity? Why has profit become a god above all other gods and at the expense of the most precious thing that 'we the people' of th world have- our kids?
          I do like this line from your post :If fear is what holds us from facts, the converse can be true, too. Courage, supported by situational environments, draws us closer to facts.

          Let's be courageous! How do we solve it? I have a few more thoughts next post
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          Sep 23 2011: Debra --

          I think you are onto something here. Thanks for noodling this further. I'll hold my stance that fear is an underlying motivator. Even in business. Fear of losing competitive position, etc. Fear of losing customers. Fear of losing your job and, if an executive, cushy salary. Fear of not being part of the "in the know" crowd. Elinor Ostrom refers to this as the fear of "being a sucker."

          But you make excellent points and they are exceedingly relevant to an essay I've been working on regards a courageous business leader. He created a new situation by starting his own business after a co-worker was killed due to corporate neglect of safety measures. Sadly, this is a reactive response. As so many seem to be.

          But at least he removed himself from the sick environment of a corrupt company and went on to create jobs and economic security with a competing company, through careful and empowering planning. His daughter, whose interest in business he encouraged is now the CEO.

          I'll share it with you with it is done.

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        Sep 23 2011: @Andrea connecting the dots

        Andrea & Debra

        I am ..glad of this further exploration of Debra's question about what it is that many of us are seeing and responding to and her sense that it is about a truth that is beyond, above the words and arguments we acatually see played out around the news in our lives in neighborhood conversations

        .I like your insight Andrea that its allowing ourselves to be manipulated into a stae of fear that keeps us locked into inaction or clinging to our own ideology and courage that transcends and dispels fear..that makes us not vulnerable to being maniplulated into fear.

        The politics of fear . current politics almost everywhere, is paralysing.

        We can always choose courage and the path of courage often reveals truth, as Andrea says

        :"Courage, supported by situational environments, draws us closer to facts"

        And the inner preparation for that courage..that leap from fear to courage, is a willingness to look beyond rhetoric and allow the possibilty that there is a truth or a part of the truth underneath many of the words and actions that trigger a reaction of anger, disgust or disdain in us.

        A small example.when I first moved to this island our tiny little newspaper paper was full of some pretty hateful rhetoric about our local conservancy from islanders, working waterfront people. The trust was about to acquire a popular island sand beach.. Islanders were charging that the trust was only about taking the property of rich people off the tax rolls and usurping it for exclusive use of tourists and bird watchers.

        Somehow we all got to the grain of truth in what the islanders we saying and it was transformational. The Trust and locals now work together and acquisitions since have preserved cherished local recreation areas and also multi generational access and use by the working waterfront.
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          Sep 23 2011: Lindsay --

          I love the story of your island newspaper and how you and others changed the tone, with and in the media!

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          Sep 26 2011: The three conversations that we are involved in on these topics are the most meaningful explorations for me in a long time and so, unlike the other TED questions I participate in, these seem to me to be so vital that it takes me some time to let the ideas really perculate through my brain. I say that by way of an apology for the delay in responding. This is just so important to me and you challenge me to think so deeply that no quick answer is worthy of what you are sharing here.
          I absolutly agree with Lindsays ideas that the ‘big thing” is too big to tackle as whole, at least for now. That the internet is the hope we all have of making connections and learning what we all need to know is also true. For now TED is the major force that we all have access to for promoting greater connection, greater insights and truer action.
          • I love these words of Lindsay’s “e are beginning to learn as global "we the epople of the world" that underneath the consequences of horrific global politicis and global economics of the last decade, underneath the response to that we have been living with there is a common and awakening sensibiity that this is not what we want, we ,all of here at TED, are eveolving a co-intelligence that seeks truth and wisdom.”
          In addition, I have been swayed by Andrea’s great logic about fear. It is as though fear is being used as a steering wheel to direct and manage otherwise intelligent people for it is a fact that we all have much to lose. Individual human beings and societies en masse are so vulnerable especially if we need to protect or support children.
          “‘This fear seems mostly situational. Such as fear that fact-seeking will cause social, familial or institutional isolation, psychological or spiritual destruction or minimize our expression or experiences of more superficial things or distract us from engagement of our short term needs.” Is the way Andrea so aptly put it. (to be continued)
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          Sep 26 2011: (continued from above)

          I do still think that there is an additional force at work that is equal in its intensity and that is the deliberate distraction of people from feeling anything that might lead to engagement, discernment or challenge of the status quo. I think this is deliberate manipulation to push through agendas that are harming millions.

          Andrea’s challenge is: “The Q I have is this. How do we take this beyond somewhat abstract -- if valuable -- dialogues to clear and concrete outcomes?”

          I think that my answer has to be that while TED is great we need other sources of investigative journalism which are unassailable. Wikileaks is the template- a place where truth cannot be muzzled. Unfortunatly we have seen what happened and the tactics which were used to silence it. Thus, I think that regular people who have no history of being a threat to society, who have built constructive lives and who have some expertise or education need to begin to come together to vette the submissions for someplace like Wikileaks.

          To overcome the threat that Andrea points out which keeps people fearful of making a stand, people who have determined that they have less vulnerability than some others have to take a stand. In many countries, women even though they are vulnerable do take stands of great societal importance. Grandmothers, or women my age with or without grandchildren seem to be in a unique position to do this work. I feel that I would be ready and willling to play a role- not one of self agrandizment but rather one where I simply realized that I do not have as much to lose in my person but much to gain for the future of my children’s children.

          PS- I am really looking forward to reading your paper Andrea. Thanks for offering me this privilege.
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      Sep 22 2011: Cara Lindsay we can't hope to find any thruth in the media. Press, TV, Internet, anything....
      the truth lives in the origin. Inside you and everybody intern. Just be aware of their light.
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        Sep 22 2011: Luigi --

        Not sure I agree with you here. I know you are a Jesuit and Jesuits care about communicating in vernacular. The vernacular for many, many people, and increasingly more, I fear, is the media.

        As evidenced by our illuminating conversations here!

        Change occurs in culture. Yes, the best, most sustained and effective truths are embraced in situ relationships through self- and other reflections that seek and dynamically engage the same. But media continually addressed, engaged, reassessed and enlightened by realities -- namely the most truthful products of these co-reflections people engage in "real life" can be a powerful force for productive change for the good.

        An example: Martin Luther brought the Bible to the masses via the printing press in behalf of Protestant evolutions in Europe. Our Catholic church (with full and due respect to the good Jesuits) sought to suppress the Bible's production and distribution in English.

        Jesuits sought to honor the rich and reverent semiotics and linguistic purity of Latin. Their intent may well have been pure. But, there's no small irony in their defense of Latin as the true Biblical language. In fact, the Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew and Aramaic. And the Christian New Testament, in Greek.

        Had it not been for Martin Luther's innovations (in spite of many stumbles along the way it and printing abetted) I might not ever had the opportunity to question the Bible, and as I did, see its truths. Much less learn from Vatican scholars.

        The challenge for me, and all, is to take these one dimensional relationships and use them to inform living truths--through and with ourselves, other people and, yes, even media. Flawed as it is, It, like the Bible, is, after all a construction of human interpretations.

        Best we can do is work hard as "missionaries" of truth and communicate it in all vernaculars and environments we can. Via our voiced flesh & bones, ones & zeros, ink & paper, all!

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          Sep 22 2011: Andrea I agree with you but theres some differences between the truth and the expresion of truth. If we Jesuits have a common vocation is to be spreaders and translators...interdimensional translators, not just lenguages but with the interrelation of cultures. Is exactly what you call "living truths". Of course we have done a lot of translations in different books, vernacular books and sacred books...its one of my dutys here, but also we have done one of the most aboundant translations in almost every lenguages live and dead.

          The latin issue was just a moment during the Trento council. Our first and principal scollar in Bible was the father Shoeckel and he did a lot of translations. One is the liturgical lenguage (latin) and other the vernacular lenguages to spread the Word. Also we used the music and the paint expressions. This is a very hugh subject and I really appreciate the opportunity to submit some points of view.
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        Sep 23 2011: Luigi,

        Inter-dimensional translators of the interrelation of cultures: a mission and method for transmitting deepest truths. Heartening to conceive.

        Truth = this, then:

        Multitudes of dimensions and relationships translated through many vernaculars that speak to various senses.

        The beauty in this all is that the human brain has the capacity to hold these all, given exposure and opportunity, including sufficient chance to reflect. But some "sticks," even with little reflection. Often most memorable is the auditory and visual.

        I think of Raft of Medusa, which transfixed me my first visit to Louvre, though I had little interest in the genre and its allegories at the time. Something about it: the tumultuous waves, the dead and near dying, with the sea pulling some in while propelling them towards far-off shore, too.

        Some present to the despair, others present to the hope. Still others somewhere in between -- the majority, if I recall right.

        I was so drawn to it I sought it out years later, and understood it at a far more conscious level the next time. Beyond the contextual story of French liberation, it spoke to me of the human condition, too.

        And, as these things so often intriguingly go, recalled for me my first published writing. Which I'd long forgotten and had no clue how or what inspired to me write it.

        My teenage essay was about the freedom of sailing on smooth waters on a clear sunny day and the sudden interruption an unforeseen, threatening storm foisted upon the under-prepared sailor.

        An odd story for a land-locked girl with no context or related interest in matters of the sea to concoct, and I still don't know why i did. But, again, these are the little connections inter-dimensional communications can reveal.

        Why I'm a big fan of cultural constructivism that weaves all sectors and experiences together. And grateful to all who make attempts at such.

        The Q is how does one quicken this mission in quickening times as these?

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          Sep 23 2011: La France change the chains, but not choose the freedom. From royal chains, to social chains.
          The same but in different color, sizes (democracy) and styles.

          please see very carefully the Simon Schama video entitled: "The power of art" that is dedicated to Bernini, and as an exercise to find the expression of truth search and feel. The truth also is for feel, that is another form of knowledge. Interdimensional translation of the mistery.
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        Sep 24 2011: Luigi,

        Più profonda gratitudine per avermi aperto gli occhi alla storia di Bellini. Così straordinariamente documentato. Così molte lezioni a riflettere. Un giorno spero di avere la possibilità di vedere Roma modo che io possa synethsize tutto questo in situ.

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          Sep 26 2011: Andrea benvenuta sempre qui a Roma.E un piacere per me.
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    Sep 24 2011: We all here at TED learn a lot of things from all the participants. Sometimes some people said something in disagree from others. Maybe we dont agree with that but we have to recognize the rigth to express our points of view. Without exception.
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      Sep 24 2011: I absolutely agree Luigi. I would simply add that without exception all people should be treated with civility. Perhaps we have different definitions of what that constitutes.

      Luigi: Here at TED theres a lot of "opinion people" because they believe in freedom of theres a lot of nonsense.
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    Sep 24 2011: All facts are factual. Everything else is opinion, supposition, or conjecture. And that's a fact.

    Unless things change, then all bets are off.


    The question is embedded in a worldview (atomistic) and would make no sense to people immersed in a different worldview (say, holistic.) That is, it would make no sense for them to ask the question.

    In an atomistic framework, things are discrete, independent, and retain their attributes no matter what happens around them.

    In a holistic framework, when one thing changes, everything changes.

    People who grow up with an atomistic worldview (that would be pretty much all of us here on TED) tend to react emotionally to the very idea that "things" change, that there is no "constant" (not even the speed of light.)

    People who grow up in a holistic culture, see people who embrace the atomistic worldview as lacking in maturity.
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      Sep 24 2011: Thomas,

      The worldview of most industrialized nations is atomistic. Political evolutions have not been a friend to Husserl-style holism..

      Holistic cultures that atomistic powers-that-be seek to develop through institutional means tend to lose out to rhetorical facts that isolate the parts from the whole. Australia's aboriginal culture, South America's Mayan culture, the United States Native American and South African cultures would be examples.

      Jan Smuts coined the word holism, defining it as ""the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution." A seemingly factual description.

      Until one realizes the fact that Smuts was a segregationist white supremacist whose political rhetoric telegraphed apartheid.

      His words, again:

      "The old practice mixed up black with white in the same institutions, and nothing else was possible after the native institutions and traditions had been carelessly or deliberately destroyed."

      Again, sounds like pro-holistic culture rhetoric. Until:

      "But in the new plan there will be what is called in South Africa "segregation"; two separate institutions for the two elements of the population living in their own separate areas. Separate institutions involve territorial segregation of the white and black. If they live mixed together it is not practicable to sort them out under separate institutions of their own. Institutional segregation carries with it territorial segregation."

      Sounds atomistic.

      Interestingly related to your comment:, Smuts thought of blacks as lacking in maturity.

      Which makes one Q the relative relevance of these facts.

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        Sep 24 2011: Hi Andrea,

        Hegelian and Husserlan holism are, in some ways, just extensions of Western-style atomism.

        Probably a better example of the type of holistic framework I am referring to would be, say, China, Japan, and other "Eastern" countries. Their worldviews can be traced convincingly to Confucius but are more accurately seen as syncretic.

        And while Smuts may have seen blacks as lacking in maturity, I was referring more to what "the average person" who grows up in a holistic environment sees.

        They typically see the westerner's tendency to "nail things down" and determine who is "right" and who is "wrong" to be a childish approach to a world that is just (to them) not that simple.
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          Sep 24 2011: Thomas,

          I think Japan gets pretty close to a syncretic culture. But I can't square the same effect in China from my Western view.

          As it happens our conversation came up last evening in a discussion I had with an actuarial statistician who has worked for governments all over the world, including China. While I tried to defend China's evolutions since Mao, he argued that I am seriously misinformed.

          I cited a dialogue I had with a Chinese scholar when he visited the US for an ideas exchange. I asked him how the Chinese system works, related to what a politician colleague of mine told me. They had recently visited China and spoke to the stunning development in China's cities, which they understood to be in part the effect of the Chinese government fostering a competitive atmosphere between mayors.

          The Chinese scholar explained this effect as such: "Economic development happens fast because there is no deliberation." I took this to mean something akin to Smuts framework. That the government calls all shots and decides which facts are relevant.

          Can you explain how you see China as embodying a holistic and/or syncretic cultural framework?

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        Sep 24 2011: Andrea its impossible to "rejoin" whats is already join. Then we have to learn to see the "holos" in all things, a very diverse point of view that we cant accept because we are forged in the analythical approach, not in the synthetic view. The whole remains "whole", we are the ones who are separated.

        As Bucky said..."We cant put togehter...its already together"
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        Sep 24 2011: Andrea,

        I suspect your statistician friend had a specific search image and, as a result, saw "a part" or "parts" of the whole. For example, economic and political practices ... through the eyes of a western-trained actuarial.

        What he saw, is there, but it does not define what is happening here. And even what he saw would be interpreted differently by a Chinese-trained actuarial.

        By saying "syncretic" I am referring to the entire fabric, the warp and woof of the culture. The five most obvious strands would be Master Kong (Confucius), "Fu Xi," Buddha, Marx, and Mao. But it goes well beyond them. It includes John Mills, Thomas Jefferson, Mencius, and anyone else from who they can learn.

        And the influence is not "political" or "economic" or "legal" it is total.

        I think I mentioned in another post to you not too long ago that even how we learn languages is different in Western and Eastern countries. As children, in the West, we learn more nouns; in the East more verbs.

        It sounds simple but think of the implications. From the very beginning of our lives, those of us who grow up in Eastern cultures learn about our connection to everything else, we learn about relationships, interconnectedness, we learn we are a part of something. In the West, we learn about things and how they (and we) are separate and unique.

        We actually see the world differently. And I mean that literally.

        Imagine one of those videos you can put on your TV to make it look like an aquarium - now imagine you have some Western friends and some Eastern friends and you ask them to describe what they see.

        People raised in the West are likely to say they see fish. And if there is one big fish, they will say they see a big fish.

        People raised in the East are likely to say they see (what looks like) a pond or a lake. (They'll see everything but qualify their answer.)

        [This example is based on actual tests.]

        I have Western friends who simply cannot (cannot!) see Asia on its own terms.
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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          Your suspicion about my friend being "Western-trained" is wrong.

          Much of his studies were conducted in Eastern countries. And he was raised in a non-Westernized communist country.

          He is bi-national.

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        Sep 25 2011: QUOTE: "Your suspicion about my friend being "Western-trained" is wrong. Much of his studies were conducted in Asia. He is bi-national."

        This is a good example of "atomistic" thinking (Right/Wrong) It makes no difference where he was trained or whether he is bi-national. And what he saw or didn't see are incidental to the larger point.

        The terms "East" and "West" are heuristics.

        There really is no East or West (the earth is a sphere) and ideas do not respect boundaries.

        Anyway, if you understand my point, and you find it helpful, use it. It will not fit into the box labeled "fact" and facts seem to be important to you.
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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          My experience of China is that, as you say, it learns from wherever possible.

          Six Qs for you:

          1. What is/are your source(s) for the tests you refer to that buttress your example that Eastern people qualify their interpretations more than Westerners do?

          2. How infanticide and selective of female children abortion in Asian countries translates to your point that Chinese see relationships as syncretic and connected to everything.

          Or to put it another way, how does Chinese thinking qualify men as separate and unique sufficiently to engineer familial lines and their future society?

          For example: by 2021 there will be a surplus of 50 million men in China and India.

          4. What implications might this gender-based heuristics interpretation Chinese make imply, given warp/woof (or, perhaps what some refer to as yin/yang) fabric you refer to?

          5. Is what you see not incidental to your larger point?

          6. Why does China have a government that does not deliberate its right/wrong either/or policies if it's culture and people are interconnected?

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        Sep 25 2011: Hi Andrea,

        1) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why by Richard Nisbett. (There are others but that's a good start.)

        2) I did not say they "see relationships as syncretic" I said the culture is syncretic (actually all cultures are syncretic ... but that's another conversation) and I implied people raised in this type of environment are immersed in a matrix of relationships from, essentially, birth on. Guanxi notwithstanding, I doubt they would even "see" they are enmeshed in such a complex system of relationships. At least not the way those of us with a more "Western" framework would see it.

        Syncretic does not mean "utopian" and your question about infanticide is beyond the scope of this conversation about factual facts.

        4) I don't know (and I'm not sure I understand the question.) What do you think?


        EDIT: Ah, you edited as I was answering ... let me read the other questions and I'll get back to you.

        5) No. It is subsumed by my larger point.

        6) China does deliberate it's right/wrong either/or policies quite extensively. What makes you think they do not?
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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          Regards your response # 2:

          You first said Eastern cultures are the "better example" of holistic cultures (than Naive American, Australian aboriginal, South American Mayan and South African cultures)

          You said people in holistic cultures see Western interpretations of culture as "immature."

          When I noted the troubling connection to Smuts, who coined the term, you amended. You said Eastern cultures are syncretic. You then implied that syncretic learnings in Eastern cultures interconnect everything, including relationships.

          You said that Eastern cultures like Japan and China typically see others as "childish."

          You now say that all cultures are syncretic.

          To answer your Q:
          A Chinese scholar, as I said in my earlier post, told me economic decisions are not deliberated but are rather delivered by the government.

          Here's another for you:
          How does China deliberate its polices extensively? And who deliberates them?

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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          It doesn't take Utopian ideals to create a society that does not practice infanticide and female-sex fetal abortions in order to build its ranks of men to surpluses of millions.

          All it takes is a relatively humane one, that sees humanity as interconnected. Confuciian-humanism style.

          One that practices at some base level at least, the Five Constants: including honesty, integrity, justness, knowledge and propriety.

          And understands Master Kong's version of the Golden Rule: "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you."

          Holistic, syncretic perspectives help, too.

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        Sep 25 2011: Hi Andrea,

        I suggest your scholar may have being simplifying for a reason. Was he suggesting that Hu Jintao simply wakes up in the morning and decides to try some new market reform?

        It's actually quite a complex process that balances, or attempts to balance, "Top Down" and "Bottom Up" inputs. And, contrary to popular belief, the process is extremely democratic. Compliance with policy is, in many instances, voluntary. There are exceptions (much like in the West were certain things are "law" and must be adhered to.)

        Martin Jacques' book is a good general introduction to China. China's Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society by John Naisbitt is interesting too. If you want to get "under the skin" you could try Deng Xiaoping's Collected Works.

        If you're interested in a general overview of the Chinese political system, there are some good articles in Wikipedia.
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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          Thank you for the reading resources.

          I won't attempt to read into the scholar's words as suggesting anything more than his statement about the Chinese democracy. And it would be an exceeding lack of propriety for me or anyone to interpret one scholar's one sentence regards his own country as you suggest.

          One more Q related to your response:

          From whom, where and in what venue do the "bottoms up" inputs with which the Chinese democracy balances "Top Down" inputs come from?

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        Sep 25 2011: You are editing faster than I am answering ... I'll try to keep up! [Actually, I have to take a break so you'll have some time to expand your queries.]

        QUOTE: "You first said Eastern cultures are the "better example" of holistic cultures (than Naive American, Australian aborigine and South African cultures)"

        No, I said:

        "Hegelian and Husserlan holism are, in some ways, just extensions of Western-style atomism.

        "Probably a better example of the type of holistic framework I am referring to would be, say, China, Japan, and other "Eastern" countries."

        Meaning, China, Japan, and other "Eastern" countries are better examples of what I mean by holistic cultures than Hegelian and Husserlan holism are.

        QUOTE: "You now say that all cultures are syncretic."

        Can you think of one that isn't?

        QUOTE: "How does China deliberate its polices extensively? And who deliberates them?"

        See my earlier post.
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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          Mayan, Native American, South African and Australian aboriginal cultures were not Western-style holistic cultures.

          They were all colonized by Western civilization. Which deconstructed their holistic cultures, and led to their holistic cultures' demise.

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        Sep 25 2011: Andrea,

        I am not referencing or commenting on Mayan, Native American, South African and Australian aboriginal cultures at all. Other than the fact you mentioned them I am failing to see how you are integrating them into my responses. As a result, I do not know how to disentangle them from the conversation.

        What they are or are not have nothing to do with my replies.
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          Sep 25 2011: Thomas,

          When you mention that Chinese, Japanese and other Eastern countries are a better example of the holistic framework you are referring to how do distinguish their framework of holism as different from Mayan, Native American, South African and Australian aboriginal holism frameworks?

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        Sep 25 2011: QUOTE: "From whom, where and in what venue do the "bottoms up" inputs with which the Chinese democracy balances "Top Down" inputs come from? "

        It's more complex than I understand but it seems to be a "two-way street." For one thing China is extremely decentralized (again, contrary, to the conventional image we, from the West, have of it) so it is common to see local demonstrations of a "grassroots" nature. People with placards and signs outside of a regional government office. Perhaps protesting land reform, or a rate increase, or what have you.

        The provinces are in many ways autonomous and set their own policy. This local policy may not conform to an edict of some kind that originates in Beijing and it will result in a protracted dialogue.

        The outcome of the dialogue - and the local demonstrations - will inform future decision making sessions and might result in a new edict being introduced; or old ones being abandoned, modified, or reinforced. But, again, compliance is, in most cases, voluntary so "the provinces" usually get what they want no matter what happens.

        This kind of thing happens on a large and small scale ALL OF THE TIME ... and what that means is: virtually everything is (ultimately) decided "by the people." (For example, a group from a community - a number of high-rise buildings in a single complex - I lived in got together had some meetings and then went down to the water utility to negotiate different water rates; some major legal reforms were triggered by an academic's master's thesis that gained favour; and so on.)
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        Sep 25 2011: QUOTE: "When you mention that Chinese, Japanese and other Eastern countries are a better example of the holistic framework you are referring to how do distinguish their framework of holism as different from Mayan, Native American, South African and Australian aboriginal holism frameworks?"

        Hi Andrea,

        No, I was comparing Chinese, Japanese and other Eastern countries' holistic framework to Hegelian and Husserlan holism (not to Mayan, Native American, South African and Australian aboriginal cultures.)

        See earlier post:

        I said:

        "Hegelian and Husserlan holism are, in some ways, just extensions of Western-style atomism.

        "Probably a better example of the type of holistic framework I am referring to would be, say, China, Japan, and other "Eastern" countries."

        Meaning, China, Japan, and other "Eastern" countries are better examples of what I mean by holistic cultures than Hegelian and Husserlan holism are.
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    Sep 22 2011: As a student of Science when I think about facts and truths I do not consider them absolutes, isolated and untouchable, but as temporal and changing. granted there are some things which are pretty incontrovertible but most 'facts' are open to alternative interpretation. the entire history of science (our best system for understanding the world) is that of revision of ideas that where often thought of as facts to bring them into line with new observations.

    I conjecture much of the difficulty that arises in politics around the presentation of 'facts' and indeed in other areas of public understanding/misunderstanding such as medical information arises from a lack of understanding and appreciation for the process by which 'facts' are arrived at. If people had a better understanding politicians could not get away with many of their statements as people would be aware that the statement that they just made would be very difficult to demonstrate with so little ambiguity and would question their politicians demanding greater specifics. until politicians are used to heckles like 'define quantitatively the error bars of that statistic!' we will not have reached the optimal level of public understanding of the scientific nature of fact.

    but I would content that we need to start asking these difficult questions of our politicians so that they start asking them of their sources, then maybe we will see an increase in the frequency moderately sensible governmental decisions.
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      Sep 23 2011: Richard --

      Your concept of facts and truths as temporal, iterative and "touchable." brings science to a more contextually relatable, if quantum-styled so, construct. It suggests, in my mind, a stochastic method of non-deteminism. Or, evolving determinism, especially in closed systems as politics or religion are, perhaps.

      I'm not sure politicians, in particular, aren't being asked for quantified statistics. And, I'm further not sure their handlers aren't using quantified statistics. The problem, as I see it, is that they are either: 1. Overwhelmed by statistics, particularly statistics provided by paid lobbyists 2. Pick and chose statistics that fit the positions they wish to represent.

      This is not, by any means to argue your "ask the difficult questions" contention. Which I heartily agree with. But, only that the asking of difficult questions must out-pace and out-number the ever-evolving statistics themselves, somehow.

      I suggest scientists begin developing and distributing research that proves that leadership integrity provides not only long term, but also short term returns. Or to put it more crassly: that it pays off big at the polls. Of course, to be robust, citizens will have to articulate this to researchers as well as prove it at the polls.

      This, if I have it right, relates to and perhaps builds on what you are getting at.

      That politicians (and perhaps us all) should hear above all that evidence of their political integrity will be demanded of them persistently. And maybe more so: that evidence of the contrary will lead to their swift and clearly quantifiable political demise.

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    Sep 17 2011: Andrea the metaphor (any metaphor) goes "plus ultra" in the linguistic sistems. Facts and concepts are part of the great synapsis in social terms. After all we have to be related and connected. And we use the sublime form of metaphor to be in touch (tangere in latin). Tangere and Volere (love) are the highest form to be connected in this world, even with or without the politicians. The distance to be coursed by metaphorical aproach are in four diverse levels (in facts or words) : 1.Liminal Level: real close to us. 2. Proximal level: close but not so much. 3. Distal level. far facts or words. 4. Semiospheric level. Just as a presence far away. The real and deep meaning of the facts or wors depend from the context level.
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      Sep 17 2011: Luigi,

      Many thanks for this deconstruction of how metaphor, meaning and context connect and are distinguished linguistically. Very informative.

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        Sep 17 2011: Andrea if you want to reach some technical wisdom about information and "what fact are factual" I reccomend you to see trough Maquiavelo, Loyola and Goebbels thinking. They are the real masters in the subject. Certainly in history maybe I missinformed , but I dont know others.
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          Sep 22 2011: Luigi --

          Agreed, these would be examples of how horribly corruptible inhumane facts can be.

  • Sep 17 2011: A fact is a fact but whether we treat what we know as a fact is down to a degree of confidence.

    You get as close to the source as you can and make a decision based on experience.

    You make yourself as aware as practical of the tactics of salesmanship, mainly that of not telling you inconvenient truths.

    You trust those who you believe have more ability and are in a better position and have earned the trust.

    You read between the lines because it is impractical to get close to many sources at all and we are surrounded by salesmen.

    There are pitfalls every step of the way but there are no shortcuts.
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    Sep 16 2011: An Interesting and Important question, Andrea, about a phenomenon that is everywhere..not just here in the U.S.

    Calling it spin or campaign rhetoric minimizes its importance, its meaning, I think. To me the bigger issue isn't that politicians who play fast and loose with facts win support, and even elections, but what it means about "us" the electorate,?

    The majority of "us" ( and we are one body with whoever the electorate is wherever voting ocurrs) are resonating with the these non factual assertions. They speak a kind of popular truth or speak to a body of thinking that is increasingly the majority view.

    That's what gives me pause every day. It signifies a prevalence of closed system thinking in which facts and truth don't matter..only ideology matters.
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      Sep 16 2011: Lindsay,

      Agreed that the US doesn't hold the exclusivity on closed system thinking.

      t suspect politicians at once speak to the most emotion-engaging points of the majority's truth, while also communicating new faux- or mis-respresented truths that the majority begins to accept if not believe, because this developed as-it-emerges fabricated content comes packaged with true-truths.

      And/or because a majority selects denial or inertia as a protective defense.
      And/or because people "select-in" to what they hear or want to hear and select out of the rest.

      So emotion-engaging themes of situational hope, or conversely despair, become what they speak most to, and what societies listen most to, in a sense.

      And then this tendency to begin "believing ones own PR" creeps in, which situates the "conversation" between elected or "expert" and electorate in a space of suspended idealogical reality you articulate.

      The challenge, which relates to my orienting Q, is this:

      Who, what, where and when do we engage (and how) to break this systemic "mistruth go-round?"

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        Sep 16 2011: Yes, "who what where and when do we engage to break this systemic 'mistruth -go round'"?

        That's the question I ask myself every day as I watch all this unfold..I'm not sure I beleive it is penetrable. If the truth is not valued..not sought..if facts aren't relevant..where is the engagement? I think that what we are seeing is an outcome of extreme alienantion and disenfrachisement.

        I like to believe there are cracks everywhere in all things into which light can penetrate and from which light can find its way out and I see the truth in that every day on a one to one basis. But in this big arena in which politicians are competing for the votes of the electorate..I don't see any light getting in.

        I truly don't understand it. I think it has been building slowly imperceptibly for a very long while..maybe 20 years or more.
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        Sep 17 2011: Further thought ( partly fed by our further exchange at my conversation on who is above the law) gives rise to fruther comment to your questiion about how to get off the "mis-truth go round" ( love that phrase you have coined:) .

        I believe and have witnessed transcendence of ideology in small groups under the skilful direction of a facilitator. In the native American tradition when everyone gets to speak Whenn everyone gets to speak eventually a common wisdom, a version of truth closer to real truth than any one individual held at the beginning begins to emerge. It is as if each person actually does hold an important part of the "whole truth"..It is only when all the peieces are brought together and shared that the whole picture begins to emerge ( I guess that's what we are supposed t be about in this global conversation at TED).

        So I know the process works..what I don't know is how to bring that process into the arena of politics and to create that process of cross listening and cross fertilizationwithin the political process.

        Newspapers, media news, even websites are deeply petitioned ideologically and whether intentionally or not most of use live in a filter bubble that doesn't afford us the opportunity to think outside our own boxes.

        As an electorate most of us are still meeting, talking, thinking, forming agendas within the boundaries of party affiliations. Maybe the answer is to encourage more non partisan, non party bound enagagement at the local level.
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        Sep 17 2011: I find that more and more politicians are not just speaking to emotionally laden points as you indicate above but that they are targeting fear. This is outright manipulation that is used over and over because it works. Psychology has demonstrated that the human mind attends to negative or fear inducing stimuli with twice the allotment of attention because we could die from a threat while we could only benefit somewhat from something pleasurable. When politicians use it, uninformed or people who admit that they do not know for sure err on the side of caution- and right into the politician's trap.

        To Lindsay's question above about what it says about us an electorate: We are who we are as human beings. We have weaknesses such as the fact that more than 50% of adults that never reach the abstract stage of thinking (formal operations: Piaget), our capacity to be driven by fear, and our trusting natures that can be exploited. EXPLOITED is the operative word so I am not sure it says so much about who the electorate is but rather about the cynicism and unworthiness of the people who would exploit these characteristics- usually for personal or political gain.

        What sort of political system enhances the fears of the citizens of the community? Is this the way we want our representatives to manipulate us?
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        Sep 22 2011: I have a few further thoughts on your question about what we can do to get off the "mis truth" go round.

        ..Actually a few very simple practices we can all put into effect right now

        .(1) before simply passing along a pettion to sign or an alert, even if it is from a trusted source, take a moment to research it and authenticate it. I recently received a heart breaking video of costa ricans picking up turtle eggs on a beach, according to the hype with the video, endangering turtles and engaging in illegal trade in turtle eggs. I didn't pass it on and a few days later my trusted source had the good grace to apologize to all she had sent it to and explain that the pcitures were auhtentic but the story inaccurate..they were all working with the government on a turtle conservation project of some sort.

        (2) if your own research shows what you have been asked to share may be incorrect take the time to do a reply all to your source..sharing what your research showed

        .(3) if you pass it on add to that what you have found that supports the action requested and add a link or two

        Tese are simple ways of learning to live beyond our own ideology boxes, of taking responsbiity for information we choose to spread and of building a habit of truth seeking instead of ideology re enfprcement.
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          Sep 22 2011: Months ago I received the same hoax. I knew the truth and did what you suggested. This happens over and over. I'm guessing why people do these things. Are they that stupid or what?
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          Sep 22 2011: Awesome, practical and a great solution, too. Thanks Lindsay
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          Sep 23 2011: Lindsay --

          Excellent ways to, as you say "live beyond our ideology boxes by taking responsibility for the information we choose to spread."

          So good it bears to repeat your words:

          "Live beyond our ideology boxes by taking responsibility for the information we choose to spread."

          Thank you for this wisdom --

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          Sep 23 2011: QUOTE: "Live beyond our ideology boozes by taking responsibility for the information we choose to spread."

          Does that mean we should not limit our wine intake to Communion?
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        Sep 23 2011: Andrea,

        Thanks.As National Citizens as Global Citizens I believe that what you are trying to do at "We the People" is the path..we have to transcend party politicis, engage one another not in a context of rivalry but in a spirit of collaboration. Buckie Fuller used to say "Think Globally. Act Locally" So the will to engage actively in solving the probelms of on our block in cities, in our villages in rural areas, our willingness to attend school board meetings if we are afraid of flat earth anti science teaching is the start, our willingness to cultivate personal habits of seeking and speaking only the truth are all on the pathway to transcending party politics and getting off what you call the "mis-truth go round"

        I think another important habit we have to cultivate in ourselves as individuals is to resiste trying to label and name what we hear as "true or false" When ideological territory is threatened by what someone has said the words that flow from that are emotional, often reframing and restating the ideology itself..sort of shoring up the walls. But underneath all that heated rhetoric, all those words of mis-truth and half truth, there often is a grain of truth..or more than a grain. (there's an essay at my blogspot blog on whales that is about that).

        It is only when we sit together in a forum beyond ideology, suspending our urge to speak from ideology that all the pieces of the truth can join up with each other and the common wisdom be revealed, replacing ideology as the basis for action and speaking.

        That is the work Tom Atlee is doing at the Co-Intelligence Insitute. That is the work you are doing with other wise ones at "We the People". But each of us can learn these habits and spread them by always speaking and acting ourselves beyond ideology and part politics.
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        Sep 23 2011: @Thomas does this mean that we should not limit our wine intake to communion

        For once not my typo ( boxes vs boozes) ...but I like your resulting turn of phrase..I'll levaeit to you to add to that if you care too though

        (nice to see you again)
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    Sep 15 2011: I hope this is not too tedious but I love to start with a definition (this one is from

    fact   [fakt] Show IPA
    something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.
    something known to exist or to have happened: Space travel is now a fact.
    a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true: Scientists gather facts about plant growth.
    something said to be true or supposed to have happened: The facts given by the witness are highly questionable.
    Law . Often, facts. an actual or alleged event or circumstance, as distinguished from its legal effect or consequence. Compare question of fact, question of law.

    JUST as I suspected! No mention of politicians!
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      Sep 16 2011: Debra --

      I think the definitions are a useful starting point.

      Two things come to mind as I consider them:

      1. All people, not only politicians, can struggle to get facts straight. Indeed, science, research and innovation often debunks once-proven facts as they provide evidence of new ones.

      2. Facts are rarely linear or delimited. In other words, they are "living" and/or lived through experience. And, as life, are often asymmetrical. Since experience implies a plethora of factors, which are rarely invariable, our experience or understanding of facts is often dynamic.

      To illustrate this with the Pew research I mention in the orienting Q:

      Until I began looking behind the research to understand the research methods, my sense that the facts were skewed was based largely on my perspective intuition. If not my own biases against how the research was communicated by a fellow TEDster.

      But quantifiable proof the facts were more nuanced required digging deeper into the data.

      I could, of course, disclaim the findings as incongruent with other findings and/or my own experiences. But, this position, in my mind, became far more robust, when I was able to incorporate the same data-set, and in the researchers most direct encounters with the data.

      Had I not "dynamically" approached the data as new assertions came in from others about it, I might never had understood the complications belied by a much bigger picture behind the research that was communicated.

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        Sep 17 2011: An important idea. Andrea, that by continually listening to others beyond our own ideology we can begin to realize that much of what we ourselves hold as "fact" doesn't always include all the relevant information. That constant process of listening and honing brings us closer to truth. But how does that habit of honing et trasnmitted throughout a can people learn and acquire that habit?
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        Sep 17 2011: Your topic is so timely for me because I am really worried about our lack of access to information especially unbiased information and that was the reason for my question about investigative journalism. Recently I have become convinced of how much danger all of our countries are in because of 'spin'. PR, propaganda, editing or whatever anyone wants to call it. I call it intellectual dishonesty.

        I am, as always, grateful for your perspective here. You point out that it isn't always that intentional. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, it is an artefact of the research methods. Not everyone can design a good survey or questionnaire as I learned in my psych degrees. It is a science and one that is sometimes played fast and loose with -sometimes intentionally but often not. I should have remembered how many flawed studies I have gone through where the results were interesting but not reliable when you get down to it because of methodology.

        In grad school we often had two papers with contradictory results. Which to believe? In that case meta-analyses could sometimes break the tie and give an impression of which was the better lead. In real life though, with so much specialization in society, and everybody living such busy lives, how does anyone have the time to do such intensive research on the issues that are fundamentally steering our course as a species?

        Like you, I rely on gut instinct to give me a warning but I am beginning to believe that we will need an international group dedicated to refuting propaganda by governments, corporations, special interest groups and bring forth news. TED is currently filling part of that function for me in talks like Julia Bacha's and others. Wikileaks was roundly condemned by the majority of Americans who also shun whistleblowers. How can we hope to know truth when we continue to kill the messengers? Maybe the movie line is true "you just can't handle the truth" or maybe we are just so overwhelmed with the volume of information
      • Sep 17 2011: Andrea,

        As I feel that I am the "fellow Tedster" mentioned above, I will shed a little more light on the surveys in question and some of my thoughts on our exchange:

        The survey is titled "Common concerns about Islamic extremism. Muslim-Western tensions persist"

        Obviously the survey is addressing the more extreme positions of Islam.

        The second and third paragraphs of the survey state

        "However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds somewhat of a thaw in the U.S. and Europe compared with five years ago. A greater percentage of Western publics now see relations between themselves and Muslims as generally good compared with 2006.

        In contrast, Muslims in predominantly Muslim nations are as inclined to say relations are generally bad as they were five years ago. And, as in the past, Muslims express more unfavorable opinions about Christians than Americans or Europeans express about Muslims."

        Where does one go to study Islamic extremism? What is a predominately Muslim Nation? Where are Predominately Muslim nations? What type of government do they use? What type and extent of schooling, news, religious indoctrination are they exposed to? Where do the extreme views generate?

        The answers to some of these questions are obvious, some not as obvious, but neither the information from the Pew surveys nor the way I conveyed it was misleading. It is what it is. The need to rationalize and justify information to fit our limited views before fully understanding the information and unwillingness to change our limited views to reflect the new information leads to the rejection of that information or changing it to fit our views (in which case it isn't really information). In my experience, this is where ignorance, and bigotry are born. Facts are the best weapons against ignorance and bigotry if we have the intelligence to perceive ligitimate facts and the courage to acknowledge them to broaden our views.
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          Sep 17 2011: Jason --

          Rather than re-nash what we've already debated, I'm attaching the conversation you refer to to so others can see how our exchange evolved:

          I hope others will take a look at our dialogue and weigh in, if so moved, on how it does or doesn't relate to the Q of which facts tell the truer story, here:

          Our exchange convinced me that some of the facts you cited are isolated data points that significantly contradict the actual findings and contexts of the research. That, by isolating them outside their original context, support an ideology that the research actually refutes.

          And that, further, if unintentionally, didn't reflect the more difficult to discern facts regards the researchers use of meaningfully different data-collection methods to survey non-muslims and muslims that call up the Q of possible, if unintentional, data incongruences. .

          Also, Jason: I tried to look at your TED Profile the get a fuller context of your interests. But your name-link does not lead to your TEDProfile.

          Can you send the link to your profile?

      • Sep 17 2011: Andrea,

        I am more than willing to answer any personal questions you may have of me in an e-mail. I am a little curious as to why you want to get a fuller context of my interests? Suspicion appears to run deep with you and I am puzzled as to why. My statements speak for themselves, in my opinion.

        I will send my e-mail address to you if requested.
  • Sep 15 2011: I live in the UK and therefore don't really follow US politics much but I did hear about Michelle Bachman tell media that the HPV vaccine caused mental retardation without any evidence.

    Whilst people in Britain distrust their politicians just as much as in the US, not entirely sure if we are as bad. I know of the websites and Channel 4's Fact or Fiction blog actually tries to test and then explain whether what politicians are saying is based on fact or fiction.

    I don't believe this is just to do with politicians but people in general. I read Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational and it has transformed the way i think and see things.

    Its shown me in a way what I already knew, that whilst everyone sees facts, we all see them in a different way based upon our view of the world. If we read something, numbers that suggest our intuition is right or the way we want to see the world is right, we believe or place more emphasis on it. We use it to enhance our argument. Whereas, if we are shown facts that prove us wrong, we are less likely to believe it or trust it.
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      Sep 16 2011: Nicole,

      The Bachmann HPV comment has stirred up some fascinating reactions. With bioethicists betting her up to $!0,000 to prove it by the end of the week. What is intriguing to me is how rather than argue her point, they are engaging her in a competition to disprove her facts. I think it is a rather ingenuous strategy. In large part because it is so novel it makes for much more engaging press than the usual spin-filled reactivity of politicians and pundits.

      You make a very good point that this issue of "Predictably Irrationality," as Ariely puts it, is a human trait all possess. We see things through our personal perspectives and relative skepticism elevates or is assuaged depending on where we are at in given situations, frames of mind or impulses to hunker down regards our perpsectives.

      That said, possessing this self-insight, in my mind, can remind us to Q our own filters as much as the factuality of what we hear. Not to deny our instincts or reality, but to check them before jumping to prove or disprove what we might otherwise unconsciously react to.

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    Sep 25 2011: Andrea the ancient cutures from Europe also are "holistic". Some foundational examples:

    Ancient greeks.
    Celtic culture.
    Ancient german culture.
    Mediterranean foundational cultures: Creta, Chipre, Sardinia.
    Iberic cultures.
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      Sep 26 2011: Luigi --

      Thanks for pointing these out.

      Which bring to mind another: the Inuit. Who have lived on European, North American, Asian and Arctic continents.

      I spent time with polar explorer and global climate advocate Will Steger who spoke of the Zen characteristics of the Inuit he has met and become friends with on his many miles of dogsled journeys.

      My sense is many of these ancient and global First Nation cultures share similar "holistic" worldviews.

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    Sep 25 2011: Andrea, did you see this TEDx talk that arrived in my email box this morning? It says that moral judgements are like facts on steriods.

    It is really germine to this topic.
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      Sep 25 2011: Debra --


      Most striking to me was the researchers' findings that "simply believing our moral values are changeable" can literally change brain chemistry for the positive.

      My read of this relative to this conversation is that if we chose to believe integrity and truth are not only innate human capacities, but also that if our capacities for them have been lost in the shuffle, can be recovered.

      So whereas, we've long believed the stress and "brainwashing" effect of environments marked by a lacks of morals and dishonesty implies that people in it will behave commensurately amoral.

      The research debunks this.

      So, then" honesty, integrity, relative factualness of facts, etc. can be evolved through cultural attitudes that perpetrate a sense that these positives remain none-the-less alive and well in us, available at any time for awakening. All we need to do is reset the attitudinal environment. Not easy, and yet, entirely possible.

      Many thanks for sending this ray of hope,

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        Sep 26 2011: I found great encouragement in the talk too, Andrea and I could hardly wait to share it with you and Lindsay in particular. Distilled, it means to me that the very act of hoping things can be better can change our outcomes ultimately. Knowing that we can be reasonable creatures means that better outcomes are truly possible.
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          Sep 26 2011: Is there a non-Youtube version of the video? (Youtube is not available in China.)
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        Sep 26 2011: HI Thomas, I was so impressed with it I posted it on my own blog which has been much neglected over the summer. I hope you can access it there.

        I hope that will work for you.
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    Sep 24 2011: Here is something that is not a fact. It does, however, hold a truth for me that is higher than a fact. If I go back to all that Lindsay and Andrea and I have been struggling to express, this somehow says it for me. How do I get to a place where we all have the chance to learn what we need to know without interference so that we can begin to make the clear sighted decisions and choices for a better world. The following link will take you to a most inspiring speech. Maybe everyone has heard it but me but I share it here anyway (with thanks to Gaurav Gujral who posted "what is the most inspiring speech you have ever heard?)
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      Sep 24 2011: equality could mean equal opportunity not sameness. so keeping that in mind + being responsible for knowing about what you wish to know. could this be the place your after?

      so like; equal opportunity to know what you wish to know.
      i could be wrong of course.
  • Sep 24 2011: When people start a sentance with the line 'here is an interesting fact' I am always compelled to remind them that the fact is only a fact and I will decide if it is interesting or not.
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    Sep 17 2011: Could I add to your friend's canoe metaphor that facts without context are like a paddle without a canoe?
    • Sep 17 2011: The funny part is when facts are provided in their original context, such as the Pew surveys in question where the link was provided for people to see for themselves instead of taking them out of context, those facts are still rejected based on personal beliefs.

      So I would like to add one more revision to the metaphor?

      Facts without context are like a canoe without a paddle, just as facts in context, but in the hands of someone unwilling to grow and learn from them are like a canoe without a paddle.
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      Sep 17 2011: Debra --

      Great addition to the canoe metaphor.

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    Sep 17 2011: facts are factual to the person who is telling you their facts.
    bump for my truth.
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    Sep 16 2011: I honestly do not think it is that hard to determine. As long as it corresponds with the truth and is both logical and reasonable and can be backed up with evidence. In the political sense, if we are solely talking about relevant facts, the people are going to accept to believe things that are going to have an impact on their lives. The only thing I can think of that is dangerous about this is the fact that are people going to believe things because it brings them solace or because it is actually factual and truthful? Sad to say, the former is what many people tend to go towards (at least in the U.S.).
    But what I think you are trying to distinguish is between facts and propaganda. Here is how I see the distinguishment:
    These are not factual claims made by Bush being that none of what he said can be proven or has been made worse. He doges the question about weapons of mass destruction, he talks about how his actions have made the world a better place (over 1700 innocent people in the middle east were killed as a result of collateral damage on part of the U.S. military, housing market crashing down, jobless extremely high), he mentions working on preventing poverty and starvation. And he talks about god and how god inspired his foreign policy decisions (and we know about the lack of evidence for this). My point is that this video is an example of propaganda and irreverent/false information.

    Also Bush makes a claim about why he invaded Iraq. He told Jacques Chirac that his reason for going to Iraq is because "the biblical demons Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East and they must be defeated":

    This is an example of relevant and factual information
    There is nothing that was said that could not be backed up with evidence in this video
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    Sep 15 2011: As long as politics is consensus based and reality is not they are not in the position to provide the world with many fact, and thus should be ignored .
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      Sep 16 2011: Anthony --

      There is some debate whether politics is consensus based in actual practice. Democracy in its purest definition implies consensus, but...

      And, given politicians are policy-makers and the policy they make impacts citizens, ignoring them, while perhaps psychologically healthy in the short term, would seem big-picture imprudent, to an extent. Though, of course, there are large swaths of society who do. And then smaller but perhaps more politically passionate segments of society very much don't.

      The result of this contrast to between passion and citizen passivity is, it seems, part of the problem. Passion, intended or not, can result in hyperbolic reads of reality by both "inside the beltway" politicos and "real world" populists who have sincere reasons to be concerned about policies that affect them.

      Whats more, pollsters like Pew have a place, from a sociological perspective, if not political. They "tell the story" of culture that becomes a reality in the telling. As the saying goes, he who tells the story writes the history. Given their research gravitas, even if we could ignore politicians, can we ignore how researchers data defines us?

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        Sep 16 2011: Andrea the point could be the cultural momentum that we live. Is the opposite to the momentum when Gutenberg erase the midle age with the printing press and when the political news aperas in the xviii century killing the very concept of royalty. Today we live betwen the ignorance from information or infoxication and the complete sense of confussion provoked by the hughe amount of data that comes from the cibercaves. The democracy is already dead and any fact in the history could revitalize. We are in the new dark ages and the ciberbarbarians among them the politicians and the intellectual elite from the academic status. Really is an imprtan issue your topic but, it doesnt matter to the politicians who pays for information and collect in votes.
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          Sep 16 2011: Luigi,

          Taking politicians out of the picture. What is the antidote to information intoxication, other than regressing to some sort of Luddite-style la-la land?

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        Sep 16 2011: Well it was not clear but I do not think we should ignore the political process, just politician. To some this may be splitting hair, but I see a wide enough gulf between the two. People should vote but not so much to elect a specific person, (sometime you are luck and can really stand behind someone, but most of the time this is not true), but to be represented as a demographic. Like it or not politicians for the most part are merely slaves to poll numbers. As a young male I am part of a demographic that does not vote much and is therefore not counted much. If we voted more the ideals of our age will be put on the table not because of political courage, but because of political necessity. So yes I do think we should put less faith in politicians, as they are only going to do what the voting demographic will let them.
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          Sep 16 2011: Anthony--

          My belief is that it is prudent for significant stakeholders in specific sectors of society, like the young demographic you are a part of, to communicate their ideals well beyond elections that can influence poll outcomes in more infused and sustainable ways than are perceived and partaken of.

          In fact, I'd argue culture change is catalyzed perhaps most significantly by the two major sectors at the opposite ends of the civic engagement spectrum:

          Established politicians and energetic youth. Each with unique but useful characteristics.

          Whereas politicians have financial and experiential means, Youth often has greater capacities for idealism and collective organizing.

          While politicians tend to be motivated by power and reactivity. Youth tends to be motivated by the upending of power structures to insure their better future, and can proactively perceive situations and strategies institutionalized cultures like politics wouldn't dream of.

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        Sep 16 2011: Andrea the critical thinking could be the strategy against the infoxication. As you know very well, information is not neccesary knowledge. And of course being out the stream os confussion. Being ludite is not an answer, because we have to use the same instruments to reach the highest level of criteria, individual or social. If we know how to navigate well in this ciberseas Im sure that we reach safelands.
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        Sep 17 2011: I really do not think politicians are as powerful as people give them credit for. Between wooing the money class and restricting themselves to there voting demographic they have little wiggle room. That is why at least in the states politicians seem like they have no intrinsic beliefs. That is not to say politics do not matter, but most government officials have little more power than a show monarchy. They often stifle new ideas not because they are oppose to them, but change make people apprehensive and less likely to vote for them. Also I would assume that most of the financial donations are from people who are benefiting from the current climate so they do not what to change.

        To get this thread back to your original topic politicians are going to do what we let them and they are constantly pushing that border. The more they get called out the better.