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Freedom and Facts

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo, File

We need to differentiate between experiences and facts. We know that our individual perspectives affect how we experience events, but do they also affect the underlying facts?

The answer is no. Facts are facts.

So, for example, one person might experience exceptional service at a restaurant, but another person might experience terrible customer service. Can both be true? The answer is yes. Perhaps the first person was celebrating a birthday and experienced the dinner through rose-colored glasses, which raised the service of the staff, while the second person had just experienced a devastating event and complained throughout the meal, bringing down the staff's service.

But facts are not subjective. For example, 2 plus 2 cannot equal 5.

In 1943, George Orwell wrote about the importance of truth in politics in an essay about the Spanish Civil War. "Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as 'the truth' exists," he said. "The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, 'It never happened' -- well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five -- well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs."

His point was that those who are able to change facts can control minds, and controlling minds means loss of freedom for individuals.

His book "Animal Farm" was published two years later. In the book, the animals, claiming they were fighting for equality and freedom, end up twisting truth. In the final scene, pigs are walking on two legs beside men as other animals look on. So much for equality.

This weekend, we will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement. King fought for freedom. He delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28, 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, 100 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

"I still have a dream," said King. "It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ... that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

For all to be free is a noble sentiment indeed, and our country promises individual freedom -- and responsibility -- as part of its foundation.

But can we be free without understanding truth?

The nonprofit Just Facts, which focuses on research and education, just released a survey of "voters' knowledge of major issues facing the nation -- such as education, taxes, healthcare, national debt, pollution, government spending, Social Security, global warming, energy, and hunger."

The goal of the poll is to understand voters' knowledge of the facts about the issues. The results are sad but not shocking. Most voters (54%) gave the wrong answer. Voters knew the facts just 39% of the time.

Voters gave the wrong answer 75% of the time to questions about "child hunger, tax burdens, poverty, landfills, health insurance copayments, and two elements of Social Security finances." These are areas that Democrats often use in their talking points. Let's take federal income tax as an example.

According to Just Facts, "79 percent of voters think that the middle class pays a greater portion of their income in federal taxes than the top 1 percent." But this is not a fact. In reality, the top 1% pays a tax rate 2.5 times higher than that of the middle class.

In 2016, the tax rate of middle-income households was 13%, while the top 1% of households paid an average of 33% of their income to the federal government. Unfortunately, most Democratic (93%) and Republican (65%) voters believe the false narrative.

What's the correct response? Figure out a different way to communicate that 2 plus 2 equals 4, and say it again and again and again. To win any argument, we must first communicate facts.

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