The Fireside often presents reason in the form of anecdote. We are not alone. Anecdotes are the parables of modern discourse. They are not scientific, not products of statistical analysis. Anecdotes offer insight by personalizing issues. Anecdotes are used to wrench the gut, to appeal to the human emotion, to define issues in terms of personal gain or loss. Politicians and media pundits regularly use anecdotes to defend positions or in an attempt to simplify complex issues.
So what? Do anecdotes have value? Are anecdotes overused? Are anecdotes used inappropriately to emotionally charge a losing cause? Are anecdotes oversimplifications or distortions? Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes.
Do Anecdotes have value? When Des Cartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” he sounded rather anecdotal. The implication of the anecdote is that it applies universally – it will always be true in every situation – or at least that is how it is used in debate. Anecdotes may or may not always be true – but that does not diminish their value. Anecdotes invoke a sense of truth, a truth that has general if not universal application.
Anecdotes often make empirical observations: “The Sun revolves around the Earth – just watch, it will come up in the East and travel across the sky, setting in the West. Thus we can conclude that the Earth is the center of God’s Universe.” How about this: “The Midwest suffered the worst winter in decades so that proves there is no Global Warming.” The anecdotal evidence is used in an attempt to discredit legitimate science – and in these particular cases the user sounds quite foolish. The purpose of the anecdote is to cause the listener to pause and reflect.
We at The Fireside Post often use anecdote – for all of the reasons mentioned above. We are attempting to bring attention to general truths – that’s what everyone who uses anecdotes say. We justify our anecdotes. We want people to pause and reflect.
We have used anecdote to hypothesize that drug addiction is pandemic. We have used anecdote to qualify immigration as an issue of humanity rather than an issue of economics. We used anecdote to defend blogging as the new era of electronic journalism. We use anecdote to discredit the criminal justice system. We use anecdote to qualify the horrors of War. We often use anecdote to defend positions on social justice, religion, and family life.
Are we aware of the frailty of anecdote as defense of reason. Absolutely. The Fireside Post intentionally stokes the flames of cultural conversation. Sometimes we burn an issue, sometimes we are burned.
That is the nature of anecdote.