Truth Or Dare? A Plea For Moderation


Dick Pels ~ Foto: Uitgeverij Cossee

Philosophers who play the game ‘truth or dare’ are bound to recall the celebrated motto sapere aude (dare to know, dare to seek the truth) which Immanuel Kant used to capture the essence of the Enlightenment. In his famous essay from 1784, he called upon mankind to release itself from its self-inflicted immaturity in thoughtlessly accepting the authority of tradition and the tutelage of others, by wielding the force of critical reason. Self-emancipation through free public reasoning, however, required an act of personal courage, of daring to speak ‘truth to tradition’ and ‘truth to power’: of using knowledge, evidence, science and facts in challenging the powers that be.

But in our so-called post-truth society, Kant’s motto has been dramatically turned inside out, stood on its head, become perverse and cynical. The courage to speak out, to speak the truth, to break taboos, has become a major hallmark of a dominant anti-intellectual and populist Zeitgeist. Rightwing leaders such as Jörg Haider, Filip de Winter, Pim Fortuyn and Marine le Pen have all brandished the slogan: ‘We say what you think (but do not dare say)’. Mut zur Wahrheit is a poster tekst widely used by the Alternative für Deutschland. Donald Trump’s followers particularly like him because he dares to ‘speak his mind’.

According to this upside down version of the ‘courage of reason’, true speaking is transformed into a simple act of daring: of speaking without moderation, without thinking twice, as a raw expression of resentment, anger and frustration, and indulging in extremism, provocation, brutality and abuse. The courage of reason turnes into the courage of the bully.
Alt-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos explains: ‘Extreme ideas are permitted and even desirable. Anything goes. Rebellion, raising hell and incivility once again become acceptable in public life’. It is the by-now- familiar style of Breitbart, Fox News and Donald Trump, as pioneered in the Netherlands by GeenStijl, PowNews en De Dagelijkse Standaard. All of them seem to have adopted rule #1 of populist propaganda as formulated in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf: ‘Be radical, proclaim your vision as the absolute truth’. A watered-down version of this was presented by Geert Wilders a few years ago in Milan: ‘Truth is not located somewhere in the middle. It is on our side, so you better get used to it’. Thierry Baudet, who describes himself as ‘one of the most brillant thinkers in the Netherlands’ adopts an equally peremptory tone: ‘My opinions are simply facts: I am right and the others are wrong’. Read more

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Speech Truth or Dare, September 17th 2017


Joshua Livestro

In preparation for this session I looked at the idea of critical citizenship. Specifically at the question of what are the preconditions for critical citizenship?
I would say there are at least three:
1. procedural: everyone playing by the same rules, and accepting the legitimacy of those rules. I’m thinking here of our constitution, and of the international charters in which our fundamental rights or liberties have been enshrined;
2. moral: everyone accepting the legitimacy of the other as an actor in that debate. Acceptance that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the right of every individual. That we believe that all men and women are created equal, that we accept and respect the fundamental dignity of each individual;
3. epistemological: everyone accepts that debates may be guided by emotions and/or ideologies, but that they should be grounded in facts. Or at least
checked against them.

Is there a crisis in critical citizenship? It’s certainly being challenged on all three grounds.
To give one example: American conservative radio talkshow host Charlie Sykes recently did an interview with NPR. He told about how facts seemed to
have lost their meaning for some of his listeners. When lushing back against some crackpot conspiracy theory with facts, he was told these facts counted
for nothing because sources (NY Times, CNN etc) “had lost legitimacy”.
This is a problem: facts matter. If facts lose their meaning, there’s no basic standard to which we can appeal to assess political claims. Then any kind of
theory can be used to explain reality, even conspiracy theories — which as far as I’m concerned is the lowest form of sociology.
So facts matter. As does morality. It really is a problem if a politician treats whole groups of citizens as a suspect class, and tries to strip them of their
fundamental rights (wanting to outlaw an entire religion). Or if a politician suggests all society’s ills are caused by “the elite”, suggesting those who govern the country are engaged in a deliberate secret campaign to ruin the country. Read more

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Truth Or Dare ~ Mena-Region and Europe Towards A More Inclusive Dialogue


Tolhuistuin – IJpromenade 2 – 1031 KT  Amsterdam ~ September 17 -2017,  14.00-21.30 h. – +31(0)20 7630650

To reserve tickets 7.50 € https://tolhuistuin.nl/agenda/

Do we citizens have a right to truth in post-truth societies? How much debate can we handle? What to do with ‘legitimacy claims’ and ‘the rule of law’ if increasingly they seem more part of the problem than being key to conflict resolution?
If you are interested in these pivotal issues of our time, come to the Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam on Sunday September 17 and participate in the Truth or Dare festival ‘beyond post-truth society’.
Truth or Dare welcomes the current battles about ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ as excellent opportunities to revisit and redesign our societies in Europe and the MENA region.
The event aims to offer a unique chance to challenge ourselves, discard useless narratives and develop new ones, and engage in fruitful dialogue with changemakers from around Europe and the Mena-region.

Truth or Dare is an exploration in five acts of the meaning of truth in present-day societies.
Taking our lead from the global debate about ‘the post-truth society’, we consider the fundamental crisis of the post truth age as a battle over legitimacy and the control over central institutions in society. Our conference is an attempt to create a safe space for critical contemplation and serious self-reflection. We deem such reflections crucial and a prerequisite in any fight for more equal and inclusive social and political dialogues. We focus our deliberations on the MENA region and Western Europe.

Prologue – 14.00-14.30 h.
Truth or Dare

Do citizens have a ‘right to truth?’ This thought-provoking speech will take us through the various meanings of ‘truth’ in our times. The speech is a prelude to an open dialogue with all participants that will address the following questions:
– Is a ‘common truth’, in this context defined as social consensus, necessary and a basic condition for peace and social stability?
– Is the discourse on truth and truth claims equally accessible to everyone?
– What are the consequences when institutions whose legitimacy derives from their ability to criticize, such as science and the rule of law, have become
contested themselves?
Keynote speaker: Adel Maïzi, Truth and Dignity Commission Tunisia

First act: Truth 14.30-15.30 h.
Is there life after truth?
Moderator: Markha Valenta, assistant professor at Radboud University Nijmegen

How are truth claims played out in present day societies and what are the minimum conditions needed to build (or rebuild) democratic institutions? These will be the two key subjects of this first Act. Modern institutions which arose from out of the need to hold societies together, such as media, science, the democratic rule of law and other forms of government derive their legitimacy from their ability to accommodate divergent ideologies and views: through systems of rules, procedures and standards they are supposed to build on a social consensus about values and methods. Now that this implicit agreement is undermined and considered of diminishing value, the question arises: What are the minimum conditions needed to build or rebuild well- functioning (democratic) institutions? Is ‘social consensus’ a basic condition to prevent polarization and social conflicts or does it suffice to just establish a set of transparent mechanisms to deal with diversity?
Speakers: Jonas Staal, Dutch visual artist; Samir Makdisi, American University of Beirut Read more

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Truth or Dare: Tunisia’s case ~ Keynote Speech Adel Maïzi


With a keynote speech of Adel Maïzi from Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity commission, that touches on the painful processes of ‘truth telling’ and paves the way beyond the post-truth society.

Tunisia’s case
Those who in the current post- truth era wish to undertake a serious attempt to go beyond ‘the post-truth society’ and would like to revisit and redesign societies in Europe and the MENA region can’t ignore ‘the case of Tunisia’.

After a history of colonialism and dictatorships, in which ‘truth’ functioned as political instrument, control tool, construct of power or strategy to survive, the country is desperately seeking for ‘ the truth’ about its history and searching for a certain consensus about basic social and political values.
The deep wounds and scars of Tunisia’s post (or ‘before’?) – truth era are very present in today’s society.
Deep distrust, historically grown, among citizens, between citizens and political parties and toward state’s institutions represent the biggest obstacle to social pacification.

In 2014, Tunisia launched a Truth and Dignity commission, inspired by south- Africa amongst others, to uncover the truth of human rights abuses, preserve the memory for the nation and help reform the system.
Now that the mandate of the commission is nearing its end, it’s possible to take stock and see what has been achieved. In a series of hearings, the commission has opened a Pandora’s box of testimonies of victims of cruelty, torture, violence and rape. The first hearings were viewed by about a third of the population and gave rise to debate and concern in and outside the country. The testimony of the victims has shredded long-accepted official narratives and has exposed serious human right violations by the Tunisian authorities, human rights violations by authorities is still taboo in large parts of the world.

The first sings that the truth-telling is changing attitudes and opening a path to reconciliation have presented themselves.
Yet, the question whether the commission will fulfil her purpose remains open.
Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity has, so far, not been able to unshackling itself from the damaging divisions that have been characterising the country for decades. Politicians and media commentators rushed to criticize the hearings and undermine the work of the commission.
Officials who worked for the previous governments complained that the hearings are one -sided while citizens accused the commission of partiality and political motivations.
Why is the commission only focusing on RCD, the ruling party since 1956 and does Ennahda, the Islamist party who won the 2011 elections, remain unaffected? Who is responsible for the series of destabilizing terrorist attacks in the first years after the uprisings?

Is it really necessary to dig deeper and wouldn’t be better to turn the page?
If nothing else, Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission has opened the debate about the significance of Truth in present day’s societies. Can societies do without a truth? Do citizens have a right to truth and what’s needed for more equal and inclusive working institutions?

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It’s Just Not Relevant ~ Objective Truth


Farid Tabarki
Photo:studiozeitgeist.eu

In 2015 Oxford Dictionaries chose the laughing face called ‘face with tears of joy’ (an emoji or ‘ideogram’ in internet communication) as its word of the year. The dictionary was not as upbeat this time around. The winner of 2016, ‘post-truth’, according to its definition relates to or denotes “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Doesn’t that call to mind Brexit and the US elections?

We are not talking here about a novel phenomenon. The Nation reminds us that the term ‘post-truth’ appeared in the magazine as early as 1992. Back then, Serbian-American author Steve Tesich was referring to the Iran-Contra affair of 1986, during which president of the US Reagan denied selling weapons to Iran in order to finance the Nicaraguan Contras.
According to Tesich “in a very fundamental way we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.“

Since then, Clinton has claimed not to have had sexual relations with that woman, Tony Blair has justified the war against Iraq by lying about Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction, and president Trump has denied climate change. It is not so much that objective truth does not exist, as indeed the postmodernists claim, because it does: it’s just not relevant.

You might expect such an absurd situation to occur only in unfree countries, such as the fictional country from George Orwell’s 1984, where citizens are forced to accept two truths through ‘double-think’. Or the Soviet Union, where, according to Alexei Yurchak, associate professor at Berkeley, hypernormalization was the norm: everyone was aware of the system’s failure, but for lack of a more hopeful outlook, both apparatchiks and citizens collectively pretended it was working normally. This period gave us the following proverb: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us”.

Is the free west heading for a similar mock democracy, where the lying leader pretends to be right and the citizen pretends to vote for the politician he or she really wants? In this modern form of hypernormalization, Trump’s or Farage’s lies don’t serve to conceal the truth, but rather to strengthen prejudices.

The Netherlands also doesn’t seem to be able to combat lying politicians through fact-checking. According to professor Paul Frissen we must look for new political stories, all about “solidarity in a historically grounded future”. He is right: we are lacking in imagination. You don’t dismantle lies with facts, you dismantle them with vision.

Farid Tabarki is the founding director of Studio Zeitgeist

 

 

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Harold Pinter ~ Art, Truth & Politics – Nobel Lecture 2005


In 1958 I wrote the following:

‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Go to: http://www.nobelprize.org/pinter-lecture-e.html
See also: http://www.haroldpinter.org/home/index.shtml

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