on truth and blame

We’re at a delicate moment right now.

Now that the spectre of human extinction has passed – though there may yet be dark days ahead for many countries – we’re approaching the recovery phase, and most sensationally, the planning-who-to-tar-and-feather-for-this-whole-fiasco phase.

Two things we should think about looking ahead:

Disinformation is here to stay. Given that world leaders and state apparatuses at large have been guilty of this for the past five years or so, it’s not surprising at all that the sword of untruth has been wielded these past few months to silence dissent and rally wavering political foundations.

One thing though is now different.

If we’re so smart, why does disinformation seemingly work so well? Maybe because we’ve settled for it – picture a yawning gap between what we know to be true and what we use as practical truth; the chasm of make-do, for lack of a better word. Two weeks ago reputed news outlets reported that US casualties have overtaken those in the PRC. I’m no fan of conspiracy theories but I’m pretty sure 3000-odd deaths is way short of the mark, figures manufactured and delivered by Beijing to the wider world in lieu of literally anything else.

We know these figures are probably wrong. But somehow the regime’s information vacuum has become reality. The truth, we tell ourselves, is that 3000 deaths is far too low. But we’ve now settled for the practical truth that 3000 deaths is legitimate, and we’re using it to gauge the present and plan for the future. And if Beijing keeps up that information vacuum, 3000 deaths may well jump that chasm of make-do, from practical truth to actual truth.

I could pontificate all I want about the importance of truth but somehow, very unnervingly, Beijing has turned a probable lie into a practical truth – and now we all have to swallow it because we don’t know any better. Or is it because we settle for make-do? Looking forward I’m thinking others might take a leaf from that little red book. Watch out for folks who can fill the chasm of make-do with enough disinformation (while silencing actual information) to bridge practical truth and actual truth. For now at least, one can shape the world with lies, but only as long as our bar for practical truth is so far removed from actual truth.

Secondly, the blame game is not helping. If we’re going to look for someone to tar and feather, let’s make sure he’s not a mere scapegoat. Many fingers have been pointed at Beijing, for lax wildlife market and / or bio-lab controls, for disinformation, for information blackout, for failing to stop the flow of people, for arresting the whistleblowers, the list goes on – many of these seem very legitimate accusations.

But in our pursuit of justice (whatever that means in the post-crisis context) we can’t satisfy ourselves only with punishment. If pursuing the culprits means more than merely getting one in for the victims, it should also mean making sure this whole damn thing never happens again, or at least not to such a dire extent. And to do that it’s worth thinking why all these fingers are so gleefully pointing at Beijing.

Objective truth? Partly.

Shifting the blame? Maybe.

Blaming others so we don’t have to fix our own faults? Probably that too.

Isn’t it a given that all mankind unites in the face of alien invasion?  

If faulty systems are a big part of why people suffer ill health, they need to be fixed, and that goes beyond firing this or that director; if faulty global health systems – overly reliant on these or those supply chains or too bloated to react quickly to crisis – are to blame for global pandemic, we need to jointly shore them up.

And if pointing fingers at Beijing gets the job done, so be it. But if pointing fingers at Beijing satisfies us enough not to fix our own problems, that’s not good enough.

Pursuing justice can’t become an excuse not to put our house in order. It’s a house with many rooms and roommates, some of whom are frankly insufferable. But they’re not going away anytime soon, so what do we do with that?

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