Opinions on a federalised Europe

As I sit here and listen to Mick Jagger’s “Blind leading the blind” competing with the crickets outside, and after going through a couple of articles on the state of the economy, world politics and current events in Romania I can’t stop thinking that while we are not all blind, we are certainly getting there faster and faster. It seems that for most of those around us abundance of information means less information. And I also see how informed opinions are being overrun by emotional opinions. Some debates are simply less and less attractive (online), primarily because the people involved care less about facts and arguments and more and more about likes, shares and online gratification. It is perhaps the downside to the riches that wide availability of the internet brings.

The Blind Leading the Blind (or The Parable of the Blind) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Image form Wikipedia

I’ve been mostly offline lately, and I can’t say i regret it. I’ve read more and applied more “book in hand” research techniques on various topics. It has been a refreshing experience. But what I’ve gained mostly of my offline time was the option to pause, think and then react. Sometimes online debates tend to happen at such a rapid pace that one is perhaps “pressured” into replying instantly, sometimes without the expected results.

There are some themes that are very important on the public agenda in Romania right now – stray dogs and how to deal with them ( this was sparked by the tragic death of a 4 year old, bitten to death by a pack of strays in Bucharest) and the Rosia Montana proposed gold mining operations (this is a 14 year old issue, that seems to come to life every now and then, but which seems to have climaxed in the past week, week and a half after the current Government sent a law project to the Romanian Parliament specifically tailored to this project). I’ve seen the online & offline mediums inflame and heated arguments rise on both issues, and massive street protests, almost completely ignored by mainstream media channels, develop in major cities around Romania and the world ( particularly for the Rosia Montana gold mining project, less for the stray dogs issue, although there was a lot of emotion attached to this issue).

I don’t need to write about what has been going on, a simple google search should provide you with significant information on the issue.

What bothered me, in both cases, was the way people understood to create the debate. Emotions were, and to that effect still are, running high on both subjects and there seems to be less and less of an auditorium for rational, argument based debate. And it is particularly annoying as there is a clear indicator that politicians are tuning in to this emotional pot of abundance, in what is clearly an attempt to raise political capital for next year’s elections. While it might be denied by those in the heat of the events, I must infer that the number of voters grossly exceed the number of people involved in the matter, online and offline. And this is important.

And here is why: most of those who vote will be more inclined to respond to an emotional stimuli than to one based on solid arguments and data. Keep this in mind and then add to the equation the fact that most people who vote get their info from mainstream media channels, where, as it has been clear in the past week, is least said biased. On top of all this, the themes at hand are issues (such as protecting the environment) that appeal to a certain socio-economic group. To become concerned about the state of the environment implies that one has amassed sufficient knowledge to understand the role and functions provided by a balanced and healthy environment, and to care sufficiently about their and their offsprings future to acknowledge this as an important issue. It’s practically the same with stray dogs.

Behind the reasonable concerns raised by these issues, and the data available ( and trust me reliable data is very very hard to find), you have to also allow for a wealth of perpetrated lies that have become so abundant and believable at first sight, that sometimes the effort required to verify their validity far exceeds what an average Jane/Joe would dispense for such a task. Then there is the obvious usage of half truths, like sharing an article under the CNN branding that is actually an iReport entry on the CNN platform. CNN is one of the world known information sources and to some, who don’t have the time or sufficient interest to read through the article, to access the link and see what it is about, that branding is enough to certify that the cause is worthy, especially when you hand pick a few lines from the altogether significantly biased article to support one’s claim.

We are becoming less an less rational. From where I am standing, my future, as conditioned by the community I belong to, seems less and less appealing. Emotion has its place within the realm of humanity, but allowing emotion to govern is to abandon all hope for a decent future. The media feeds emotion. Social media, mainly because it is social, also feeds emotion. Everywhere you turn, around all corners, there is a sad story worthy of the worlds attention. I am not saying that such issues are not important, or that they should not be reported on, but are we really supposed to make decisions on our future based solely on emotion?

Emotions, of all fields that can be harvested for profit (what ever the type of profit) seems to have become the golden ticket to achieving pretty much anything. Campaigns of all sorts flood our inboxes, our walls, petitions everywhere, images, videos and so on pollute our rationale every second of every day. Campaign appealing to the heart, to our tears and smiles pop up everywhere, cheating us into supporting causes we might be reluctant to support should we have all the information. Only a couple years back a photo manipulation, closely supported by clever filming, incited a wealth of support for one side of a conflict raging on for years, where neither party actually holds the truth and there is no innocent actor. But it is easier to subject to emotion, to validate our existence by the claim of “I did something” than actually doing something. And yes, sometimes, conflicts need to be solved independently by those involved. Because at the end of the day, when all is said and done, they are the only ones who can harness the truth of their conflict, and in turn accept and admit their faults.

It’s hard maybe to grasp this, but we are never delivered pure information, but, most of the time, a version of the information, as decode by the person/entity doing the reporting. Therefore it is very important to seek to understand the issue by amassing as much information from as many sources as possible, to corroborate those pieces and see where the truth actually lies.

And one thing we must most certainly do is to admitt that despite all of our opinions, neither one of us knows everything about anything. As a general rule that is. What we have are opinions, as valid as our understanding of the subject at hand. Some might be good, some might be valiant, but in equal respect at least the same amount are biased, poorly informed or downright wrong. And maybe we should stop bringing in emotion when our opinions are judged. Because that is why we are sharing opinions, so that they might be challenged, so that arguments could be brought for or against said opinion, and a learning process to ensue. To better ourselves. It’s not a competition to see who has the most heart-warming tears.

Or at least it should not be.

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  1. Well said. When emotions take over, policies will tend to be unsound. Of course, while there may be specific issues in Romania, this phenomenon can be witnessed at various parts of Europe and for varying reasons. For me the concern here would be not to try and turn everyone into a ‘rational’ citizen or decision-maker, but instead to make sure that institutions are in place to limit the power of the government or politicians in general. That way, those who exercise demagogy will have a harder time manipulating emotions to their advantage, or if they do, the damage will likely be less than what it could have been in the absence of any limits (with the exception of really extreme cases).

    1. I was somewhat sure that this phenomenon is widely spread with similar symptoms all around the world. But i wanted to restrict my comments on my first hand experience here. It’s simply unbelievable how vocal and how absurdly violent emotional opinions have become in public space. It has gone far beyond mere comments and insults to arrive at denatured actions going on offline.

      Strong institutions are of course desirable, within all aspects and possible situations. But what i have seen recently in Romania is how the people within the institution plague the institution with the same type of emotional conduct they exhibit.

      When you see this type of behavior at top levels of administration one begins to wonder if there is a cure to all this, or if things will ever return to normal.

  2. Yes, you are right. I would think of something quite similar happening in Greece with the rise of Golden Dawn and aggressive speech in general. The institutions I would refer to are social ones, norms that are agreed upon through public discussions. It is about developing a culture of tolerance and restraint. The legal institutions can be more prone to corruption. Alas, this cannot be done in a short amount of time nor is it likely to have any effect during such unrest. And apart from the social/political side to it, you correctly point out the effect it has on you personally. Sad story to be sure…

    1. I am worried about my future actually. Or more to the point I am worried about possible effects on my quest for happiness. And I guess it’s a question of fitting in. Do I fit in here? Do I need to leave? Where to? particularly as this type of situation seems to develop an universal character. “no country for old men” springs to mind ­čśë

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