Facts and Fictions - A Factional Dialogue

Posted on April 23, 2020

Dialogue (sometimes spelled dialog in American English) is a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people, and a literary and theatrical form that depicts such an exchange. As a narrative, philosophical or didactic device, it is chiefly associated in the West with the Socratic dialogue as developed by Plato, but antecedents are also found in other traditions including Indian literature. Dialogue, Wikipedia

Most of what follows is based on what I see every day on social media.

The Three Characters

The Setting

The characters are all quarantained in their own homes because of the coronavirus outbreak. They have decided to meet online via zoom.

The Dialogue

Maria: Sue and John, thank you so much for showing up. I had invited a few more people, but it seems we are a threesome for this meeting. I cannot see you yet, John.

John: Sorry, I had forgotten to switch on my camera. Can everybody see me now?

Sue: Yes, but you feel very distant.

John: Well, we are not in the same room. We can see each other. We can talk.

Sue: This uncertainty drives me crazy. How long are the physical distancing measures going to last? What will the world look like when this is all over? Will it ever be over? I am so sick of being stuck in my house. I feel I cannot take this much longer.

John: These are uncertain times. Nobody knows the answers to your questions, Sue. But we can support each other.

Maria: The pandemic has led to a breakdown in knowledge and certainty. We don’t know much about the virus or the best way of dealing with it, but we know it’s killing a lot of us and we’re afraid. I am afraid.

John: This is happening to the entire human race at the same time, and we’re all connected on the internet.

Sue: I am so glad we can talk. Nobody seems to know what to believe anymore. People share all sorts of crazy stuff online.

John: There are many things that we don’t know about our current situation, that nobody knows.

Sue: A facebook friend of mine posted instructions on how to block fact checkers, in privacy settings/blocking. She recommends to search for “fact”, “check” and “checker”, and then block the sites that come up. Otherwise she cannot share her views about the dangers of vaccination.

Maria: Good for her. Nobody has the right to block her posts.

Sue: People accuse each other of being conspiracy thinkers.

Maria: Well, conspiracies happen. And reality can be weird. Who would have believed, four years ago, that the USA would elect a president who was to become a puppet of Vladimir Putin and his mobster gang?

John: That’s not a conspiracy. You are now talking about actual fact. Weird facts, but true. Even the redacted version of the Mueller report makes that abundantly clear.

Sue: Some of my facebook friends have become Trump fans, because Trump is critical of Bill Gates and the World Health Organisation. They believe all kinds of weird stuff about Gates.

John: Not people with an interest in the Mueller report… Sometimes, when I try to point out that a friend on facebook does not have the facts right, I get blocked or unfriended.

Maria: John, you are so naive.

John: What is wrong with experts explaining why 5G has nothing to do with coronavirus? Why is my pointing to a site with factual information offensive?

Maria: Because people sense that you consider them stupid. And is there anything more offensive than that?

John: Hmm.

Maria: People have a need to be heard before they can tolerate being lectured. You sometimes come across as a bit of a preacher. And then even I like you less.

Sue: People do not like arrogant assholes.

John: Thanks very much for reminding me, Sue.

Sue: We have intuitions. About intentions of other people. But also about what to believe.

John: Do you believe there is such a thing as truth? Objective reality?

Sue: What does it mean that something is real? How can something be real if it does not feel real to me? The whole situation we are in feels unreal.

John: Something that is real can feel unreal. And something can feel real without being objectively real. Reality has nothing to do with how I feel about it. Reality is what it is. Reality is what does not go away if I no longer believe in it.

Sue: How can I feel safe if people start to doubt my reality?

John: Some people like to feel special. They like the feeling of being informed about things that other people know nothing about…

Maria: That seems an apt description of the worldview of science nerds. Types like you.

John: … and then they start believing obvious absurdities. There is a line from flying-saucer obsessives through 9/11 conspiracy theorists and birthers straight to Donald Trump.

Sue: Flying saucers do not seem absurd to me. How can you know that extraterrestials are not real? So you believe that this is the only planet with intelligent life? Seriously?

John: I should not have mentioned flying saucers.

Maria: What people strive for is the subjective experience of knowing what is real. Even if it is not objectively verifiable. All experience is subjective, ultimately. Subjective experience is critical for understanding the term reality.

John: Hmm, that reminds me of one of your colleagues, someone who is offering workshops on the wheel of consent. She posted a link to a highly dubious YouTube video about corona, with a recommendation “Finally information about Corona that actually makes sense to me. I get a clear YES and TRUTH from all the cells in my body.” I thought that was ridiculous.

Maria: And you told her that? Seriously?

John: I tried to explain to her that that is not how science works. A clear YES and TRUTH from your body is fine for making a decision about having porridge or scrambled eggs for breakfast, or about having sex. Not for deciding whether something is objectively true.

Maria: And how did she take it?

John: She said that it was her personal experience that science is not always right, and that she was glad she had learned to trust the wisdom of her body.

Maria: And then?

John: Then I tried to point out what was wrong about the video. That viruses are not born from “poisoned” cells. That viruses are the cause of diseases. That most of the information in the video was simply incorrect. That viruses had caused epidemics long before electricity or radio waves had been invented. That pseudoscience is dangerous. Mind you, I was not the only one. Lots of other people chimed in and said similar things.

Maria: And then she thanked you guys gracefully for setting her straight, and that was it?

John: Well, not quite. She said that our conversation made no sense to her, because she was using a different frame of reference. And that her frame of reference told her that the information was correct, for her. And that she had developed a deep-rooted sense of trust that she was being guided in the direction that was right and true for her.

Maria: Let me guess: she also has a deep-rooted distrust in science?

John: Yes, she stated that science does not always have it right because scientists make mistakes. That science has poisoned humanity. And that non-science can also have it right, by using the bodymind collective in a different way. Not quite sure what she meant by that.

Maria: When I am channelling, I am channelling. In the aftermath, my mind reminds my ego that I am just me.

John: Channelling? Speaking from a state where you are in direct contact with truth? Not sure if there is such a thing.

Maria: Where do you think sublime poetry comes from? The intuitions of great scientists, that are later corroborated?

John: That’s all very fine. But she seemed to believe that every person has a right to their own truth. And that it is offensive to challenge these personal truths. She reproached me for my lack of respect for the opinions of others.

Sue: What do you know about the facts? People who pretend they have all the facts right. Arrgg. Pompous prigs.

John: Thank you.

Sue: I demand respect for my opinions. Nobody has a right to talk down on other opinions or people with other opinions. And I hate it when people state their opinions as facts.

John: I respect you and my wheel of consent teacher and everyone in the whole wide world, as persons. But I do not believe all opinions deserve the same respect. Opinions that are provably wrong, out of touch with reality, can be very harmful. We should not confuse opinions with facts. Not everything is an opinion. The earth is not flat. Vaccines do not cause autism. Viruses cause diseases. These are not opinions but facts.

Sue: The examples you mention are not facts to me, just theories some people think are true and others think are not.

John: Sue, then we are not using the word “fact” in the same way. Facts are actual happenings. Facts are what I can check and you can check and we get the same outcome. This key is the key to my front door and that key is not. If you flip that switch the light goes on. If you put a match in a powder barrel you get an explosion. If people do not believe these things that does not make them less true. And if people deny the holocaust, or deny climate change, that does not change the facts of the matter.

Maria: Some opinions are not just wrong, they are dangerous, I agree. Because they make people act against facts, and kill people. Some beliefs are toxic.

John: The strange thing is that she did not even attempt to argue about these things. She just said that she saw a totally different reality.

Sue: John, I sense moral indignation in you. As if people have an obligation to listen to your wisdom. And you get offended when they do not? How come?

John: Hmm, good question. Well, I believe that people have an inalienable right not to listen to me, not to be lectured by me. And they do exercise that right, by the way. The wheel of consent teacher has unfriended me.

Sue: Good for her.

John: Yes, we all choose our own teachers. And she did not want to accept me as her teacher.

Sue: I still have a sense you are offended by that.

John: I struggle with it, yes. It gives me a sense of personal failure. You see, I have been very lucky in my life. I have had great teachers. I have had the privilege of an excellent education. I have learned to distinguish reliable information from pseudoscientific nonsense. Well, most of the time. Mind you, I make lots of mistakes myself.

Maria: But you try to correct them if you can?

John: Right. And I have a sense that people are completely confused. They accuse me of narrow-mindedness, because I cannot sense that a belief and its negation can both be true.

Maria: And then they post memes like “Before you argue with someone, think to yourself is that person even mentally mature enough to grasp the concept of different perspectives. Because if not, there’s absolutely no point.”

Sue: I do grasp the concept of different perspectives.

John: But if one person believes that covid-19 is just like the common flu and another person believes that covid-19 is not just like the common flu, they cannot both be right.

Sue: Every opinion has some truth in it. And if we look deeply enough we can find that truth, and connect with the person who has that belief.

John: That sounds very emphatic. But I must respectfully disagree. It is my belief that not every opinion has some truth in it. As you see, my belief is the negation of your belief. And that means that we cannot both be right.

Sue: You seem to enjoy being right. But you do not come across as very open-minded.

John: You remind me of the birther who accused me of not being open-minded about his “evidence” that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery.

Sue: I don’t need your clever arguments, about logic or about Obama. What I need right now a bit of warmth and understanding.

Maria: John, can you please stop this? Why can’t you see that Sue is not in the mood for arguing? May I ask, do you enjoy it when people point out to you that you are wrong about something?

John: Hmm, being proved wrong is never a pleasant experience. But clinging to certainties because you are afraid of finding out you were wrong is a lot worse.

Sue: I like it when my meditation and yoga makes me feel better. I am looking for things in my life that make me feel better. And I hate uncertainty.

Maria: I like to feel good too. And I like doing things that make me feel good. But my uncertainties do not go away because I hate them.

John: Truth trumps happiness. Why? Simply because living in truth is always possible while being happy is not. Getting better at feeling is a more desirable goal than stubborn attempts to feel better.

Maria: And accepting the truth about how things really are is more desirable than practicing “neutral mind” with respect to inconvenient truths.

John: My mother in law, who is deceased now, used to invent stories to paper over inconvenient truths. She did not get on well with her own mother, so she had invented a story that she was really an orphan, and that she had been adopted from Italy. It was completely crazy, but it was impossible to reason with her. The best thing we could do when visiting was carefully avoid the subject.

Maria: This reminds me of educated people who avoid talking about the story of creation with their bible-belt parents.

Sue: It seems to me that people have the right to be left in peace with their beliefs, unless those beliefs are positively dangerous.

John: Indifference to the truth is the greatest sin for any thinking person.

Sue: Indifference to the mental state of the people around you seems a greater sin, to me.

Maria: We can still dream, I hope?

John: Maria, are you longing for a golden New Age of justice and universally shared wisdom, with lots of polyamorous love?

Maria: Well, why not?

John: New Age people do not score highly in belief testing and critical thinking. Someone asked how many of our facebook friends are posting links to fake-news on YouTube? Among my science friends, nobody. Among my tantra and yoga and shiatsu friends, quite a few. It is a small step from alternative medicine to anti-vaccine beliefs.

Maria: There is nothing wrong with a bit of magical thinking. Real magic happens in group processes. I know that from personal experience.

John: I have had my fair share of mystical experiences too. There are non-rational ways of knowing. The heart has reasons that reason knows not, to quote Blaise Pascal, who was both a brilliant scientist and an inspired mystic. What we need is a blend of analytic thinking and heartfelt experience.