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Limited internet access means I'm a little late to the party criticizing a Randy Barnett post claiming that the Left lives in a fantasy world of made-up "facts" and selectively chosen real facts. Most of the criticism seems to be along the lines of "the right does it too" or "big generalizations about the Left or the Right are never correct."

But what struck me is how profoundly unoriginal Barnett's line of argument is. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book to claim that your oponent can't face reality and instead living in a self-confirming fantasy. I've yet to hear of anyone who was convinced of their errors by such an argument (though preaching to the choir can be a useful function). Why is this such a popular type of criticism?

One possibility is that it's often true. Barnett himself admits that "we all do it to some degree -- ... no one is totally and completely objectively realistic about the facts." This is not merely an issue of human fallibility -- to some degree, the ability to live in a fantasy world can be functional. The world is a complex and messy place, so we are constantly confronted with seemingly contradictory data. I say "seemingly" because, presumably, if we were able to look deep enough, we would see how things all fit together. But few people have the resources and skills to resolve every scrap of data. So we have a faculty for dismissing apparent outliers, of moving ahead, secure in our convictions, when the weight of contradictory information is small. Imagine, for example, the believer in evolution who is told by a creationist about fosilized human and dinosaur tracks found together, and who trusts that there is a scientific explanation for this anomaly even though he doesn't have the time or access to data to figure it out. This faculty also inhibits snap conversions after hearing a seemingly convincing argument, making us uneasy enough about changing our views, so that we take the extra time to think more about it and aren't easily swayed by rhetorical skill without substantial content. This is the faculty of faith. The existence of such a faculty, however, means that it's open to being perverted, of becoming hyperactive and dismissing what ought to be convincing evidence. At the same time, faith can make a person overconfident in the convincingness of his own arguments, thus making the role of faith in bolstering his opponent's views more naked.


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