The other facts on road debate

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, September 15, 2005

Michael Heiman's My Turn (Empire, Sept. 11) piece in favor of the Juneau to Skagway road is an excellent example of purporting to use facts while expressing one's personal views.

I'm concerned that a history teacher would infer that history is solely a collection of facts. I notice that he goes further to equate statistics with facts, "Most accidents happen within two blocks of a resident's home." As most serious students of history know, history is not as factual as we would like to believe. In truth, history is a compilation of carefully selected facts. Not all of them are known or used, and many are rejected, even suppressed as unfavorable. Thus we have the saying, "History is written by the victors."

I applaud Mr. Heiman's attempt to present his own personal, non-factual opinions as anchored solely in fact. But since he urges us to deal in facts, let's recall that his "vocal minority" was part of a majority voting against the road on the Juneau road referendum. In fact, the road was a dead issue until the current administration decided to revive it. The opposition to the road, which Mr. Heiman characterizes as a small percentage of the population, actually includes somewhere closer to half of his fellow Juneauites, and Haines and Skagway residents.

I could have my facts wrong, but I don't think public discourse qualifies as "mob mentality." In Mr. Heiman's terms, whichever opinion prevails on this subject, it will ultimately be "mob mentality." As to the use of that phrase, I'm particularly troubled that a teacher in our school district would advocate for government development despite the will of the people. Nor do I feel it's appropriate that the people's will, whatever it may be, should be characterized so dismissively.

It's not really a case of people stubbornly ignoring the facts, it's just that the facts presented by those in favor of the road aren't as persuasive as they'd like them to be. Informed decisions are very important, but identical facts and statistics may be used to argue opposing views. Therefore, there must always be an element of any decision that comes from the heart as well as the head.

Mark Zeiger


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