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A Post-Fact World?


December 14 , 2019
By Tibebu Bekele ( Tibebu Bekele (tibebu@gmail.com), who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement. )



The saying that we are living in a post-fact world is gaining currency. It is not difficult to see why. The hotly debated and fiercely contested issues in the world today are not argued on the basis of fact and provable logic. They are mostly based on emotional attachments to dogmas that are reinforced by us-versus-them groupthink.

Take the issue of climate change and man’s role in exacerbating it. This is a topic that requires some expert input to understand. I am no scientist and thus cannot make pronunciations either way simply because I lack the expertise in the matter. Therefore, it will be logical that I refer to the scientific literature on the subject. And one would expect the debate on this issue would, for the most part, happen between peers in the scientific community.

But the overwhelming majority of scientists agree on the subject. Most of the debate that is happening today is not between scientific peers. It is between politicians with little to no expertise whatsoever on the subject and scientists that have spent a lifetime studying it. It is one thing to acknowledge the facts and then still not implement the recommendations because of say, budgetary constraints for example. But to outright dismiss an uncomfortable fact as a hoax just because a politician or a political party does not like it is a different matter altogether.

This is but just one example. The same trend can be seen in the debate over Brexit in Europe or the impeachment proceedings in the US. After years of debate and proposition after proposition and even elections, people’s position on the issue hardly budges an inch. After being exposed to hearing after hearing and listening to dozens of expert witnesses in the US impeachment hearings, the poll numbers show no movement at all. People still believe what they believed at the beginning. Facts do not change anybody’s mind anymore.

And closer to home, it gets even worse. Here it is not even about party lines. It is about bloodlines. It is not about what someone is saying, it is about who that someone is. If she is one of us, everything she is saying is right. And if she is not, then it is wrong. Having an intelligent conversation with opposing viewpoints is a thing of the past.

It is getting so bad that even friends are avoiding controversial subjects for fear of jeopardizing their relationship. Since emotions are leading the conversation, not logic or reason, there is no point arguing the topic. Because arguments are about persuasion. If a friend has sworn that no amount of fact is going to change his mind, starting a conversation on the topic gains nothing, but it might cost a friend.

The question is how did we get here?

There are many contributing factors to the erosion of values that landed humanity where it finds itself. At least in the Ethiopian context, one major reason is the politicizing of everything.

The unquenchable thirst of political parties to build hegemonies in this country meant that no institution, religious or secular, was spared their attention and infiltration.

A country that denigrates its heroes for temporary political gains should not be surprised when it finds itself full of villains.

The compromising of democratic institutions, the media, non-governmental organisations and civil society in an effort to control all levers of power has resulted in a national cynicism that is inimical to democracy. Because democracy in its essence is built on the firm belief in the supremacy of deliberation, in the sacredness of truth and persuasion.

A post-fact world? I do not think so. Because the facts are the facts. I may not like them, but that does not change the facts. But the refusal to be persuaded by them may be ushering in a post-dialogue world. And that is pretty scary!



PUBLISHED ON Dec 14,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1024]



Tibebu Bekele (tibebu@gmail.com), who is interested in constructive dialogue and civil engagement.






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