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August 23, 2006


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james higham

"Guardian's stupid maxim, "comment is free, but facts are sacred.""

The Pedant General considers they stole it from him.

"What is and was not harmless, but highly misleading, was to conceive of a realm of facts independent of judgment or of any other form of linguistic expression."

The myth of 'facts' is one I did a paper for a conference on. Phillip Mcgraw also said something about it too: there are no facts - only perceptions.

Igor Belanov

Thats a very good point. When talking to my brother about immigration controls I defended the rights of the individual to live and work where they pleased and he responded by saying my attitude was 'ideological' and 'impractical'. He's not daft or bigoted and I fear that his attitude was at least partly influenced by the 'material' arguments we always hear in the media. See also the terrorism issue...

Steve G

As Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey rightly remarks in Dorothy L Sayers' 'Clouds of Witness', 'Facts are like cows. If you look them in the face hard enough they generally run away'.


While I agree with your general thesis about the illiberal bias in the media (as well as specifically about immigration), I would hardly consider utilitarianism to be a cause or a symptom of it. Indeed, utilitarianism, if properly framed, is a reasonably liberal point of view (although I agree, the is/ought distinction is important). The problem is that the media comes up with (implicitly) some pretty bizarre evaluations of costs and benefits indicative of an attempt to skew a "utilitarian" argument in a particular direction, which indicates a horrible and deliberate, if not conscious, bias.

But as to one specific point:

people have a liberty (or right) to live where they wish or hire whom they wish.

I should think no reasonable person would consider the first right unqualified and absolute and no liberal the second right absolute. A lot of people would love to live in Beverly Hills, CA, USA. Does that mean everyone has a right to live exactly there? Some unscrupulous employers would no doubt like to hire young children who could be paid off in candy -- does that give them a right to hire young children or can society enforce child labor laws?

Although, it could be argued since the media is happy to give a microphone to rather hard-line conservative points of view, the lack of equivalently un-equivocally left wing voices even in presumably left-leaning media outlets is also indicative of bias.

Bill Tozier

You could make the same case regarding evolution and "Intelligent Design". The facts of biology are presented in the media as being "in dispute", because in every non-factual presentation some ID supporter gets inserted to "balance" the story. It's a powerful tool, though I suspect one that's wielded unconsciously: Nobody can dispute a fact; a fact is indusputable. But anything that can be (or is) disputed is thus not a fact.


"Facts are chiels that winna ding
An downa be disputed."
Perhaps the BBC deals largely in factoids? When it's not simply lying.

Laurent GUERBY

Giving the right to move freely is something I agree fully with.

I even have the impression that a few economics effect have been forgetten:

- free trade allows economic gain, free movement of labour exposes exactly the same Ricardo comparative advantage

- free movement of labour would be a great encouragement for western politician to push for effective democraties in a lot of places (instead of the prison-factory systems).

A few implementation ideas (in french)


Not that I agree on immigration, obviously (liberal rights exist only within a particular state, i.e., between citizens, not to all people around the world; liberal institutions are an achievement, not to be taken for granted)... but isn't there something here about whether liberalism as such has ever been fully supported? Weren't the driving force of liberalism the commercial middle classes, with the most potential benefits to gain from [bourgeois] freedom?

Was there ever a Golden Age of liberalism driven by a genuine commitment to the theory, rather than an attachment to particular upsides that would be offered to a coalition in practice? I don't think so. Many might have wrapped their support in a blanket of liberal idealism, and done so sincerely, but that's only like those you castigate for promoting free markets only insofar as they support existing hierarchies of class and power (it's just that they wanted a slight change of those hierarchies, in their favour...).


If anyone considers that immigration ought to be unlimited - ask a Palestinian. Or a Tibetan, or indeed a Tasmanian Aborigine, if you can find one.

Fear of "the other" whilst often unfair and unjustified, is part of the human condition. We are programmed to view the tribe next door pitching camp on our side of the river as a threat.

Now ideally we should view each other as individuals and not as members of a possibly hostile group. In the words of Martin Luther King, we should judge others on the content of their character. However sometimes "they" DO behave as a homogenous group, often in self-defence or in defence of their culture or religion. How should we respond? Is the "multi-cultural" approach the best one - which at its extreme could lead to people living separate lives in ghettoes - or the "integration" approach - which could lead to minority cultures disappearing.

Frankly, I prefer the 2nd - which would have made me a liberal in the 60s, but today probably makes me somewhat right-wing.

Anyway - on the subject of "facts" - I prefer facts to lies. However in today's atmosphere of spin, conspiracy theories and with the media preferring opinion and editorial to factual news, who knows what the facts are?

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