Over recent months we have seen how personal beliefs, however they are formed, play a visceral part in public discourse.
This is entirely natural. How else might events transpire, conclusions be reached, change introduced or stymied, unless we follow some sort of moral compass? That there are so many moral compasses, each followed with certitude, offers grist to the mill of public debate. That so many moral compasses offer contradictory, polarised readings seems to encapsulate a core characteristic of what it is to be human. To be human is to disagree.
In this post-truth age — post-shame too — it is wise to question ever-more rigorously why we believe what we believe. It is important to understand how we have been influenced, and by whom and why, before we adopt positions we insist represent truth. That so many malign or benign forces try to sell the idea that black is white, and vice versa, makes the scepticism needed to challenge perceived wisdom ever more important. The questionable and often toxic influence exerted through social media makes that scepticism obligatory.
That President Donald Trump’s relentless, self-serving and dangerous campaign to discredit the entirely justified FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible links with Russia gathers traction shows that if something is repeated often and loudly enough it will eventually, in some minds at least, be regarded as a fact— even if that “fact” runs counter to a bigger truth.
It is, of course, entirely coincidental that Trump’s grand-conspiracy allegations become even more shrill as the prospect of a humiliating — at least — Oval Office interrogation by the FBI moves ever closer. He and his inner circle have long shrugged off the special counsel investigation into a suspected Kremlin role in the 2016 election as a politically driven “witch-hunt”. That those investigators are also considering the possible obstruction of justice by the president ensures that the dismissals are endless and increasingly aggressive. They always have been. Even before his inauguration — “the biggest ever” if you remember — he denounced America’s security agencies, comparing them to Hitler’s Nazi Praetorians. Trump’s dismissal, and his burn-baby-burn supporters’ dishonest dismissal of climate change is another example of trying to re shape the facts to suit a personal agenda.
Sadly you do not have to cross the Atlantic to see that strongly held beliefs do not need to be supported by anything that might pass muster as a “fact” to be dangerously, persistently influential. Resurgent anti-Semitism all across Europe is just one example of where rational thought and humanity are trumped by humanity’s darkest instincts.
On this island, Sinn Féin’s calculated campaign to rewrite history, to try to convince potential supporters that the IRA car bombers were, in reality, kindhearted but frustrated civil rights activists is just one example mythology as policy.
All of this means we must be far more rigorous in deciding what we believe, what we accept as fact — either that or we’ll be staring at statues before long trying to decide whether they are moving or not.