There are several types of alternative facts. Some are valid, and some are just the result of rogue neurons in Donald Trump's brain.
Let's take out the trash first. Kellyanne Conway's use of the term was just a very clumsy way to try and hide a lie or two. I won't bother to elaborate, since Wikipedia now has a 5-page entry on the matter which explains things far more thoroughly than I ever could.
On the other side of the ideological trash heap, at least one commentator noted the similarity of alternative facts to postmodernism and moral relativism, both of which have been around for decades. I first heard of them in the 1990's at university, and at the time, I thought that they were somewhat dangerous concepts, in that they could -- at the extremes -- be used to look the other way when it came to abhorrant practices such as female genital mutilation, etc.
What about science? Sometimes, scientists can't agree. Is there room for alternative facts there? Sure, but let's call it alternative evidence instead. That's what peer review and scientific journals are for. They sift through the evidence to find out what best fits the theory at hand. Yeah, that's right: theory. If you were asleep during your high school science class, that's what you missed. And if you were asleep for the last century or so, you also may have missed how electro-magnetic theory and quantum theory gave us iphones and flat-screen TV's and driverless cars. Proof is nowhere to be found in science; it only exists in mathematics and alcohol. So get used to it.
Which brings me to the most important area of alternative facts: your facts and my facts; his facts and her facts; our facts and their facts. I'm comfortable, but there are a heck of lot of unemployed and under-employed folks out there who are not. Let's face it: society's best chance to avoid a descent into chaos will be when we start to really understand each other's concerns and lived realities.
What's the best way to uncover and deal with these alternative realities? Deliberative Democracy, and it's journalistic ally, Civic Journalism. A potential example is shown below.
Deliberative Democracy and the Alberta Carbon Tax
Wow! Folks are really getting worked up about this. Just google "alberta carbon tax", check a few links, and scroll down to see the vitriol spewing from ideologues on both sides of the issue. It's not a very healthy discussion.
So, what does Deliberative Democracy have to do with the issue? And what is Deliberative Democracy in the first place?
Deliberative Democracy, according to Wikipedia, "...holds that, for a democratic decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting."
Deliberation on the carbon tax issue is vitally important because some people on the right don't think that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is an issue, and some people on the left don't think that a tax on gasoline and home heating fuel will cause any disruption to an economy that is already reeling from low oil prices.
Deliberation at the grassroots level (on any critical policy issue) is also vitally important because politicians generally have fairly low levels of credibility. So, in order to get "buy-in" from the general population, democratic institutions desperately need to induce some level of awareness on the part of both Joe Six-pack and Joe granola-cruncher. 1
(The scan below was taken from a book titled Changing Maps, published way back in the 1990's, but which is even more relevant today.)
Can Deliberative Democracy help? Find out at the Snell Auditorium (date to be determined) in a participatory exercise that will show folks what it's all about.
The method we'll use will be a very abbreviated Future Search conference. According to Wikipedia, a Future Search conference is a "...3-day planning meeting that enables people to cooperate in complex situations, including those of high conflict and uncertainty. The method typically involves groups of 40 to 80 people in one room..."2
Well, we won't have 3 days, and the Snell won't accomodate 40 to 80 people. And unlike a real example of Deliberative Democracy, there is no chance that we'll be able to change government policy. But it will still be worthwhile to see what the process looks and feels like. And government representatives (local MLA's and city council) will be invited to attend and participate and learn about the potential for Deliberative Democracy at the level at which they govern.
The media will also be invited, not necessarily in order to cover the event, but in order to see how journalism can be improved (hint: it's called Civic Journalism). That's right; ever since the famous Buckley/Vidal debates in 1968, media has tended to promote the entertaining, but largely detrimental spectacles of ideologues spewing vitriol at each other.3
The material that we'll be working with is the Climate Choices issue guide4 (free download) from the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), which is a non-partisan organization sponsored by the Kettering Foundation (founded in 1927). Since NIFI is an American organization, the material will not be 100% applicable to Alberta, but we'll make do...and part of the fun will be seeing where it is applicable, and where it's not.
Nobody should be under any illusion that we will change the world in one night. We won't even change Red Deer. And don't be surprised if we don't come to any consensus on Climate Choices. That's because the main goal of this event is simply to see how Deliberative Democracy functions at a very rudimentary level.
The only tool you'll need to bring with you is an open mind and a willingness to listen. An open mind is essential, since as the old Irish saying goes:
Want more info? Give me a shout.
1Politicians could also improve their credibility by facilitating deliberation amongst themselves. Increasing the number and importance of small, inter-party committees with membership ratios based on pre-election polling results would greatly improve the validity and legitimacy of any proposed policy that gets shown to the legislature.
2The Future Search conference was first used in 1960, when two vastly different aircraft engine companies (piston engine versus jet engine) merged to become Bristol Siddeley...eventually producing the Harrier Jump Jet.
3...most memorably satirized by SNL's Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd doing the "Jane, you ignorant slut" routine.
4You'll notice that the NIFI document takes it as a given that human-caused climate change is real. If you are of the opposite opinion, then you have two important tasks in front of you: 1) overturn 192 years of climate science, and 2) travel to Oslo, Norway to pick up your Nobel Prize.