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Tribalism holds steadfastly to its narratives. It fables and myths and often time quasi-truths serve as daily sustenance. The tribesmen and women need their disinformation like they need the air. They demand their own facts. They insist on their own reality. They seek refuge and succor in selected twilight zones created by engineered facts. In addition, the truth is most unwelcome. It is anathema. It is inconvenient and inopportune. In this, truth suffers and the average society is placed in perpetual peril. Also, because of this state of affairs, it is often difficult, nay, seemingly impossible to reach consensus and embark on nation-building. This is not the environment in which great nations emerge. Friedrich Nietzsche put the matter this way: ‘sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed’. Often, those illusions can the manifestation of concocted and engineered ‘facts’ which were created in a petri dish in a political party’s laboratory of disinformation. Once they are not challenged and debunked, they become crystallized ‘facts’ and the truth is automatically rendered inconvenient.
Once the truth becomes inconvenient to some, it will take a gargantuan effort to have the nation agree on national facts-unvarnished information which cannot be subject to dispute or denial. This is a critical part of national reconciliation. If we can get a large swathe of the Guyanese population to admit that there were rigged elections under the watch of Forbes Burnham while simultaneously conceding that a majority of Afro-Guyanese were executed under a hidden state policy of extra-judicial killings, we would be making some sense. Also, if we can have a large number of citizens regardless of ethnicity or tribal obligations, giving testimonies such as Mingo’s declaration was not acceptable and synchronously, the revelations of the National Recount could not be the basis to form a credible government, we are moving into the realm of accepting national facts. But here is the thing; the information surrounding the two aforementioned issues will not be easily articulated in concert in a heavily polarized tribal society. These truths are too inconvenient to the different ethnic camps. The reason being, the concocted accounts serve important political interests and above all, reaffirm the timeless relevance of Upton Sinclair’s mantra: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it’.
Conscious about the near impossibility of the acceptance of national facts in a tribal society, it is worth every bit of time to take a cursory glance at the phenomenon of tribal ‘truths’. The people will construct their personal stories which fuel their illusions which in turn give a sense of comfort and reason for being. Exhibit A-the entire world saw the storming of the US capital on January 6th. Anyone with an iota of regard for factualism and veracity would easily conclude that it was a good old insurrection or riot. One would think that this should be a universally accepted conveyance of what occurred. Not so fast. Despite it being supremely obvious, there are those who say it was a visit by tourists, a peaceful demonstration or good Americans exercising their democratic rights. In this, we see how tribalism plays its part in the distortion or denial of truthfulness. Evidently, what occurred is inconvenient to one side of the divide and for this, they will twist themselves into pretzels to avoid facing reality. Consequently, commentators perform verbal backflips and gymnastics to run from plain truism and the result is tribal ‘truths’-the facts they want to accept.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE
The Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler manic phenomenon where the dear leader spouts lies that are wholeheartedly swallowed by blind loyalists must be challenged. It behooves those who hold themselves to basic academic standards and any semblance of decency, to be guardians of the truth, as inconvenient as it may seem. Yes, you will lose friends. Of course, you will be either hated or loved by one side of the divide but the record will show that your credibility remained intact throughout the vicious jungle-like battle to put an end to this little regard for the truth. Besides the personal commitment, the state has a perennial responsibility to not produce revisionist history and disseminate this to the population. Importantly, the state must not use its bullhorn to construct the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ narrative. It is dangerous business. I draw all attention to Rwanda 1994. Lest we forget: it was the work of private and public media that played up anti-Hutus and anti-Tutsis propaganda. The denial of truth and the tinkering of history led to 800, 000 Tutsis and Hutus being slaughtered between April to July 1994 in Rwanda. Not being prepared to accept inconvenient truths, can have deadly results.
Inconvenient truths experience their most difficult challenges in tribal societies.