Georgia, my third grader, is studying facts and opinions right now.
“Pizza is the best food”: Opinion
“Pizza has many different kinds of toppings”: Fact
“Dogs are better than cats”: Opinion
“There are almost 200 different breeds of dogs”: Fact
“King Cake is delicious!”: Opinion
“King Cake should only be eaten between Epiphany and Mardi Gras”: Fact (and don’t try to find loopholes)
She’s a smart kid, and she gets it. Of course, she isn’t into the far trickier part of it yet – actually discerning if something that sounds like a fact is really true, e.g. “There are 3,000 different breeds of dogs.” That’s not an opinion or a fact. It’s just simply not true.
It’s OK to have different opinions. It’s OK to believe in different things. I don’t like shrimp, for instance, which almost all of my Louisiana friends find appalling. That’s OK. We can agree to disagree. Even on bigger issues, there is room for disagreement or differences of opinion. Many of my friends and family members supported Donald Trump in his re-election bid. I strenuously did not. Mostly we just don’t discuss it. And now that the election is over, we can agree to disagree about the results insofar as I am happy to see Joe Biden inaugurated and they are not. I can live with that.
What I have a lot more trouble with is people who aren’t just unhappy with the results of the election but straight-up don’t believe them – despite numerous people on both sides repeatedly debunking claims of election fraud.
I’ve been trying to remind myself not to engage in discussions with anyone – online or in person, not that I see anyone besides my family in person these days anyway – who doesn’t know the difference between facts and opinions or who fully believes things that are not, in actual provable reality, factually true.
Every so often, my resolve falters, and I find myself trying to explain to someone that their opinion is not, in fact, a fact – or that something they believe is a fact is not, in fact, a fact.
As someone with two journalism degrees, I like to think I take facts and fact-checking seriously, whether it’s a little thing, like whether a business uses the word “and” or an ampersand in its name, or a big thing, like whether the Olive Garden revoked Sean Hannity’s “lifetime pasta pass” (they did not).
But fighting with someone who actually believes that Democrats are sex trafficking children to harvest their blood and that JFK Jr. is going to return from the dead to avenge his father’s death by helping Donald Trump take down the deep state … I mean, where do I even start with that and why would I waste my precious energy even trying? The gulf between those beliefs and reality is too far to bridge.
Yet not long ago, a relative, someone I love and respect, posted that a shirt at Target depicted a raccoon eating a piece of pizza and was clearly a sign that Target was a front for sex trafficking children.
“Uh, I’m pretty sure that’s just a raccoon eating a piece of pizza,” I said.
“No,” they responded. “Wake up. The raccoon is a symbol for children who have had their eyes blackened in the course of committing sexual violence and the pizza means child pornography.”
“Are you serious?” I wrote back. “Do you really believe that?”
They were. They did.
I didn’t want to give up, so I kept trying. I shared facts about actual sex trafficking victims. I shared facts about Comet Ping Pong. In the end, I just blocked them and moved on because you can’t reason with insanity. There are differences of opinion, and then there is dangerous delusion.
It’s an opinion to think pizza is the best food ever. It’s complete gibbering madness to think it’s a symbol of a deep state cabal to abuse innocent children.
It’s worth too much of my time and energy to engage in fights I can’t possibly win.
And that’s just a fact.