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Are Facts In-Between?

  • opinion

If the responsibility for today’s reality loses meaning in the purer forms of collective dream- and tradition thinking, then facts also lose their meaning there. That is why Snyder warns against getting carried away by the dream- and tradition stories that attract dream- and tradition thinkers and that concurrently separate them. He recommends his audience not to fall into the state of dependence that each of the two archetypes evokes. Not as someone sleepwalking today towards a future dream (e.g. chasing Stalin or Friedman?) And neither as someone who is sleepwalking today to a bygone identity (chasing Trump or Ardern?) I just name a few examples.

But a third way is not that easy. Let me take COVID in the Netherlands as an example. Dream thinkers envision a vaccine, and ways of testing and levels of authority fidelity that will get and keep the virus in check. They adopt the measures and sacrifices involved. Tradition thinkers see an immediate return to times of economic abundance and individual freedoms as preferable, including the chaos in nursing homes and crematoriums as well as the damage to our public morality system that come with it. The problem here is, of course, that traditions imagined have never been there: the morality part at hand cannot be made part of a realistic picture of our pre-pandemic tradition (way of life).

After waiting for a quarter and (once the pandemic had arrived in the Netherlands) six months in which only dream thinkers could be heard, tradition thinkers also had their say in the third quarter, especially in the social media and in the squares where demonstrations take place. Dream thinking is now increasingly under fire in the media, but tradition thinkers are not yet a majority. There is, however, a cyber war going on via social media. An interesting question is whether both groups are indeed incited to extremer ideas by tweets and apps from third parties.

At the beginning of 2020 I decided to try to go my own way because I could hardly interpret the stories in the press as anything other than propaganda. I decided to look at the data that is publicly available with the help of programs that I had made myself. I got into trouble with that. To illustrate the difficulties, I show three figures representing the situation in the US. One based on data from the EU, one based on data from the WHO and one based on data from The Atlantic. I give the pictures in Fig. 1.

The difficulty is that the data leads to different pictures. First an overview based on (EU) ECDC data. These are given per week and updated every 2 weeks. This leads to a nicely clear curve, with the drawback that it is 2 weeks behind the other curves. Overall, the contours of the top and middle graphs look alike, while the first part of the bottom graph differs. The second and third graph again seem identical in the second part. And: data downloaded from all three sources on 1 February still show differences in the total numbers of COVID deaths. The ECDC lists 421,129, the WHO 436,051 and The Atlantic 432,175.

These kinds of differences can feed speculation about alternative facts. And that is undesirable for those who want to be able to defend themselves against the influences of dream thinkers and tradition thinkers, as these need not be super-concerned with reality. I can explain away those doubts fro myself by taking all three images seriously and making a justifiable choice. And I realize that my interpretation of the facts could be deemed outlandish by groups that think in “bubbles.” But before attempting to convince others I need to be convinced myself.

I choose the WHO data because they correspond to the contours of the ECDC data, and also show a much more up-to-date picture.