When listening to opposing sides argue about a particular issue whether it’s about politics, culture or society. You’ll often hear each side claim to fight for the truth and in doing so be fighting for righteousness, justice and any other buzzword that makes them sound like a Saturday morning cartoon hero.
But is there such a thing as truth?
Okay, let me rephrase that… obviously I do think there is such thing as truth. But the question is how often do we actually know what the truth is? As human being it’s safe to assume that we want the answers and solutions we enact to all our problems to be based on truth. If we prescribe a certain policy to fix a problem, we want that policy to be the truth to solving the issue.
Points of contention between opposing sides are usually based around very complex topics, and I often find myself asking how the players in those groups are so sure of their position. Each side will proclaim that science and the public are on their side to bolster their point of view. But both sides seem to be able to cite research, find well educated scientists and point to polls that help their position. As a man with no PHD in science and equipped with nothing but my own perspective, how do I know which well educated PHD with several published paper is better than the other.
Take for example the topic of abortion, depending on whatever side you fall on, you would probably think you had truth on your side, but as someone who has watched countless debates on the topic, I can tell you there are very highly educated individuals on opposing sides able to use science to argue their point of view. And depending on where you conduct your poll or the questions you ask, abortion support varies. When does life actually really start? I’m sure depending on your position you can find the scientific fact to support it.
Another contentious issue is the trans debate, in particular the ethics of gender changing operations on children. Reading the differing positions, and the numerous people who argue that they have the truth. However, for such a complex emotional topic that have severely personal ramifications, is it even possible to know the truth?
For added complexity, opposing sides will also claim to be operating from a position of compassion for vulnerable individuals. Pro-lifers want to ensure babies aren’t killed and pro-choice want to ensure women have autonomy over their body.
These are just a couple of examples, I’m sure we can all think of numerous other issues that are fought over. For a layman like me, I consume my information by reading what someone else has written and like the majority of the population I have no first-hand experience or expertise in most of the debates I read about. But I understand that depending on the bias of the individual or organisation delivering the message, they’ll likely place more weight on a particular research, data or just ignore things they feel is not important.
But with issues that affect millions and sometimes billions of people, that involves countless systems and happenings, is it even possible to know the whole picture. I suspect the answer to this is no, at least not the in the current adversarial way our problems are dealt with. Therefore, in the absence of our inability to know he objective truth, we rely on subjectivity. And well written or delivered subjectivity can often be seen as objectivity, especially if the source is well respected.
How do we deal with transitioning to alternative source of energy? When does life begin? Was it the right decision to pull out of Afghanistan? Is it ethical to force people to have the Covid shot? and has Brexit being good for Britain? These are some of the biggest topics in the last decade, and despite thousands of research, articles and debates involving powerful and well educated individuals on both sides, I still don’t think we as a society have come any closer to agreement on the objective truths on those topics. The most you can hope for is that people you agree with gain more and more power so they can isolate and punish those who disagree with you. They can use their power to push your truth on the world and wait for the old ‘dinosaurs’ to die out.