I was accused of wanting to introduce the Ministry of Truth
“It’s not true,” I read regularly on social media under news reports about scientific studies, followed by: “Just use common sense!” “The Kaag-D66 lobby must have paid for it,” suggests another study unrelated to this party or politics. “Was the World Economic Forum messing around again?”
It is a trend that worries me, this underestimation of science as an institution and the overestimation of the self-esteem of the citizen who, with Google and YouTube and Facebook and his gut as sources, trusts his own common sense. While in recent decades there has been a discussion about freedom of speech and what can and cannot be said where it was quite clear that something was an opinion, it now seems more prevalent and opinions are presented as facts.
The opinion becomes reality
It no longer matters, then, that the numbers show over and over again that asylum seekers make up only a small part of the migratory flow. Gut crunches the numbers and only findings that support one’s opinion are accepted as valid. Opinion is not formed from facts, and opinion becomes fact.
How are we ever supposed to have a healthy social debate when we can have no consensus about what reality is, I asked someone on Twitter and almost immediately I was accused of wanting to advance a ministry of truth, because in a post-covid world where discussion degrades faster than before to Godwin or a reference to the Orwells 1984. Whereas consensus on what is real and factual is an essential requirement for any conversation.
Glass may be beautiful or ugly, but it is glass
When there is a cup on the table, you can discuss whether that cup is half full or half empty. You can find beautiful or ugly glass. You can talk and disagree about its functionality. But everything stands or falls with the consensus that there is a glass, not a plate. How do you have a conversation with someone who sees a sign where you see a trophy? How can you conduct necessary discussions about science and research findings, economics, climate, security, immigration, health care, the future of education, medicine, or leadership if your interlocutor does not recognize science as a trusted and authoritative institution?
We are at the point where, looking back on the past few years, we should have taken stock together on how we have dealt with the pandemic. About what worked and what didn’t. Where did we make mistakes and what went wrong. A stage of self-reflection. But how should we enter into this conversation when a large part of society, and thus the rest of the world, believes that our leaders have deliberately tried to poison them? I really don’t know anymore.
Emine Uğur is a social worker and well-known Twitter user (overlistener). Every two weeks you write a column for Trouw.
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