Activism and truth

I simply don’t trust activists. The reason for this is probably quite clear; activists have stopped searching for truth (whatever sort of thing that might be) and simply focus on how they can argue for some given view. Philosophers who deal with topics that interface directly with the world have the difficult task of straddling the line between simple neutrality and activism. Rhetorical skills are extremely important when dealing with those not familiar with a topic; too often clear, valid but dull arguments fall flat when posed to the general public, and this makes such illuminations of truth completely useless if one wants to make a difference. Some topics are simply too complicated to be comprehensible (all at once and quickly) and therefore need to be distilled down to more simplistic elements that might appeal to a general audience. I don’t want to make any big claim here about any of this, but I do want to elucidate the problem for the philosopher of practical problems.

So how do we stay neutral and yet be effective? It certainly requires good faith; we need to approach these issues with as much neutrality as possible and with truth as our goal. But I think this is often ignored. If we decide for some pre-reflective reason (or after some sort of preliminary reflection) that something is true then it is far to common for us to find cleaver ways to argue for that given view. We can simply feel that healthcare is a right or that urbanity is good without any deep understanding of why. Then it is quite easy to practice a little sophistry and make plausible arguments even though we might ignore a good deal of facts. Or we take facts that exist within some sort of complex context as simple (or straight forward) facts without qualification, even though most facts require a great deal of contextualization. I fear that most of the information you hear from activists is of this simplified sort and it seems obvious that this strategy likely leads to a great deal of deception and confusion.

But I (like most people) have social views that are not totally elucidate and vetted. Does such a high mandate for truth-seeking require me to sit on the sidelines until I am very sure that my views at least approach truth in some meaningful way? (of course I don’t require that we are absolutely sure of the truth, just reasonably so) I hope not; however, it seems as though the unthinking mode of politics (in which we never question our lower level assumptions about how to bring about good) would be in direct conflict with the truth-seeking (or modeling of regularities, if one is going to be difficult) of philosophers, scientists, and any other serious theorists.