Monday, June 1, 2020

When did Fact oppose Truth?

The present generation is groaning in pain as social media have become powerful socialisation agents in grooming our children. The reality of what truth means has never been distorted this much and social media users have pushed the line to shun the truth while embracing fact as if the two are mutually exclusive. What happened to the simple teaching: ‘Don’t tell a lie’? These lies may accumulate over time into something that can explode in our faces, if not arrested early on? Our society has become too sophisticated in unpacking the meaning of truth, and the truth is steadily becoming the scumbag because individuals have conveniently chosen which side they want to make true, and they stick to it even if they know it is devoid of any semblance. These individuals are quick to remind us to focus on facts because they can be tested; facts are evidence-based, they say.

Back to the basics of moulding children; do we need facts or truths? ‘Do not steal’ means just that because if you do, you can’t avoid trouble for your actions. But a child would steal sugar, a common experience among children of our time. Confronted about helping himself to the sugar basin, a toddler would retort, “It’s not me.” The natural instinct teaches him that no one saw him; therefore, he could tell a lie and get away with it. A strict disciplinarian would pull the dear child up against the mirror ÔÇô and bang! Grains of sugar perched on the lips. Finally, he admits. But is this how life should be? Always proving things that people know so perfectly they did or said, didn’t do or didn’t say? Nowadays, people demand buckets full of facts.

A decade ago, my wife and I were driving back into town after visiting my aunt. As I approached Tapologo Estate turn-off, I saw some object in the middle of the road. I beamed on the lights and it became apparent this was a body of a human being. I pulled to the side. My brave wife placed her fingers on the nostrils of this woman. She confirmed that she was not breathing. Chris Mbulawa was in my address book, so I dialled him. The truth is that this woman had been knocked down by a motorist who fled the scene. The truth is that she was left dead, probably from internal bleeding. Someone who numbed his conscience had decided to flee after committing an offence. This woman was dead to help the police as to the description of the vehicle that hit her. The truth was that she was dead. The fact that there was no proof at the time of discovering her did not take away from the truth that we knew that a motorist caused her demise. But the motorist who fled must have thought that as long as there was no evidence to link him to the accident, he would not account for this woman’s death. As nature would have it, in the middle of the road was a registration plate of the vehicle that the police used in their investigations. Mbulawa called me hardly an hour later to thank me ÔÇô they closed in on the motorist who was drunk that Sunday evening and upon confrontation; he wasted no time and confessed everything he recalled from the incident. He was fleeing because he killed a person while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Truth has always encapsulated fact and these two are synonymous, but today, our social media savvy users have set them as paradoxes. Mainly it is because we have aligned ourselves to diametrically opposing viewpoints so much that if your camp does not come out in a good light, yet you know what is being said is the truth ÔÇô you reckon the defence line is to ask people to dish out evidence. The year 2018 has not been without anecdotes of those moments where a polarized nation between loyalists of the sitting president and the former president are continually slitting each other’s throats using social media to oppose the naked truth. Take for example the confession that President Mokgweetsi Masisi was a lelope ÔÇô even he would have a tough time to defend the label because he uttered the word. This is the truth. He is not denying it, at least when I was privileged to interview him during the festive season; he knows he referred to himself, his father and grandfather as lelope. We can debate the context of the usage of the word, not whether he uttered or did not utter it. But his loyalists would vex over the reference to him as lelope and vehemently kill those who dare recall that phrase. Equally, Kgosikgolo Ian Khama publicly expressed his disdain for the private press and called it all sorts of names while he was the president. For his newfound love for the same men and women he loathed and described as unpatriotic is hypocritical, and this is the truth. A hypocrite is someone who lives his life against the pronounced value system. ‘You can’t go to bed with your enemy’ type of argument is what we are now seeing with Khama running to the private press to get his message out to the masses. But his loyalists would kill to defend the fact that he is a hypocrite to the extent that his relationship with the private press has evolved. Do we really need to prove anything?

Social media users aligned to these two camps continue the onslaught to remain fixated on the things that are obvious, but not so obvious to the cynical eyes of self-proclaimed evidence-based observers of our state of affairs. Suddenly, everyone has embraced the quantitative approach of telling the truth, and unless it is backed up with empirical data, such a narrative should be held suspect, they argue. What a convenient way of engaging in public discourse analysis where we have only this country to save from the imminent inferno, yet we are busy cheerleading our heroes and massaging their egos over matters they themselves cannot defend or succeed to reason out!

What has been a source of my pain is to see how social media brawls over these personalities have influenced the mainstream media to cost us our hard-earned money to consume news content that is devoid of truth. People who were in the frontline of a crusade to persecute Khama as a dictator who caused the split inside the BDP are now being the ones to glorify him. They told us that Khama was an autocrat and that is why they jumped ship to establish the Botswana Movement for Democracy. Now, if you consider a faction that is leaderless inside the BDP called ‘Jerusalema e mocha’ and that it was put together to wrestle power from the pro-Masisi camp ÔÇô the demand for proof to state that as truth is heightened. After denials by several purported leaders to belong to this group of dissidents, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi stood up to be counted as entering the presidential race for the party. Conveniently, she saw her action as not signalling a ‘no confidence vote’ in the leadership, particularly when the party has never in its lifetime, experienced a similar situation. When she is dropped as a Cabinet minister ÔÇô a public outcry led by Khama projects Masisi as intolerant of dissenting views! It is true that challenging your leader to take over the reins of power is in fact, declaring a vote of no confidence.

“When you get to a point where your views are so strong that you disagree with the leadership, you must quit. I gave her four days in which she was to make up her mind, she did not quit. I had to relieve her of the ministerial duties,” President Mokgweetsi Masisi stresses.

Furthermore, the latest contestation between fact and truth has had to deal with the public statements attributed to Khama that may result in a diplomatic row between Botswana and the United States of America. On two occasions, Khama made disparaging remarks viewed as attacking President Donald Trump. It is true that in both occasions ÔÇô Khama was not provoked by Trump. In Oxford ÔÇô I was in attendance and as a citizen of Botswana; I was embarrassed by his remarks. Again, he attacked Trump in December at his kgotla. I was dismayed that the government did not make a statement to distance herself from those utterances in Oxford, and I would have been worse appalled if there was never an intervention after the recent incident. But Khama loyalists are vociferous on social media demanding proof from those who agree with the government statement that Khama insulted Trump. Some claim to have listened to both clips and completely can’t find fault in what is being said about Trump. This is the characteristic of people who want us to believe that they stick to facts ÔÇô when the proof is provided, they still go ahead to deny. So there is not much that can be accomplished by telling the truth to these people because even as they insist on their right to be furnished with evidence, such individuals won’t be swayed the other direction.

“Authoritative lying debases the truth. The resulting confusion of fantasy and reality is the definition of psychosis, a perilously vulnerable mental state,” writes Jennifer Egan in Time magazine.

Our mainstream media must not emulate social media platforms ÔÇô our writers, journalists, and public opinion commentators must be serious about the projection of facts through truth-telling. The only motivation for journalism, unlike other forms of writing, is telling the truth and facts are contained therein. News gatherers must resist the temptation to feed unsuspecting consumers lies under the so-often chanted phrase; ‘truth is subjective’. The opposite of truth is lies, falsehood opposes facts, while truth and fact belong together, and they have always been Siamese twins until now.

*Ditsheko is an author, journalist and public commentator

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