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[2b2k] Moynihan: On the other hand…

My friend Daniel Sheerin in the State Department’s eDiplomacy group (where I sadly recently ended my second and final year as a Franklin Fellow — what a great group!) sent me a quotation from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan to balance the quotation I use in Too Big to Know and just about whenever I talk about knowledge.

The quote I’ve been using is: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, not his own facts.” I like it first because it’s put so well, but mainly because it expresses a promise that knowledge has made to us in the West: If we can just sit down and look at the facts, all reasonable people will agree. I think the Net is showing us that that’s not a promise that can be kept.

But, of course that’s not the only thing Moynihan said on the topic. Dan points to the this from the Senator: “I fear that rationality is but a weak foil to the irrational. In the end we shall need character as well as conviction.”

Much better! But, I’m not convinced that character + conviction is going to win the day, and since Moynihan was in politics, I suspect that he agreed. Today the formula is probably more like: Character + Conviction + $5,000,000 ad budget.

BTW, I’ve always liked Bertrand Russell’s remark (approximately): “One cannot be argued out of a position that one was not argued into.”

And also BTW, Dan highly recommends Moynihan’s letters.

2 Responses to “[2b2k] Moynihan: On the other hand…”

  1. See lines 7-8


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    -William Butler Yeats

  2. Along the same lines of “the best last all conviction, etc … ” more from Yeats’ A Statesman’s Holiday:

    I lived among great houses,
    Riches drove out rank,
    Base drove out the better blood,
    And mind and body shrank …

    Some knew what ailed the world
    But never said a thing,
    So I have picked a better trade
    And night and morning sing:
    Tall dames go walking in grass-green Avalon.”

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