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This much I don’t know

Say something loud and with conviction, over and over, and voilà, you’ve created A Fact

There is a weekly column in a posh liberal British newspaper entitled “This Much I Know”. It is brazenly ripped off in a somewhat less-posh Cork-based newspaper, which is of course much more my thing. In it, various celebrities/authors/GAA players (delete as per publication) describe the lessons that they have learned in life and various truths and beliefs that they hold dear.

I often think about that column and dream of the day when the posh version’s editor gives me a bell to impart my wisdom to their long-skirted yogurt-knitting readership. I muse about my dream dinner guests, or the last thing that made me cry, or my favourite book. Most of the time, though, the only thing I am sure of is what I don’t know.

I really don’t have any idea if “Zero Covid” is possible. I simply do not know the answer to that question. I don’t know if it is a good thing, though you’d have to think it was – a zero amount of something that is a pain in the face seems like the right quantity and therefore a Good Idea. But other people say that it isn’t possible, or the path to achieving it is too dangerous for reasons I am hazy on. Everyone seems to be very sure that their version of the truth is correct. But I just don’t know.

I am unclear on the specifics of new legislation that is proposed, or maybe it is enacted already, or perhaps it is in one House and on its way to the other House – again, clueless – anyway, it relates to assisted dying in some situations. Or something. It certainly has a number of people talking about euthanasia and evil doctors, and a person’s right to choose, and autonomy, and terminal illness. My ears prick up. These are my Kinds of Things.

Topics that I probably do have an opinion on. My leaning would be towards choice and fairness and respecting an individual’s personal decision. My leaning would be towards confidence that any of the doctors that I know who deal with dying patients on a daily basis are always holding those patients’ best interests at heart.

My leaning is away from the divide that is seemingly growing between these two ideological standpoints. My leaning, in fact downright running, is away from uncomfortable conflict between colleagues and sprinting like a mad thing away from nastiness arising out of these differing opinions. I know that I just don’t know.

Do I have an opinion on inequity and inequality? Yes! Great. That’s a definite. So, who should I advocate for the most? If I am concentrating on gender equity, does that mean that I am neglecting homeless men, or young black boys, or elderly gentlemen being abused by their daughters? If I support those who suffer most from socioeconomic deprivation, does this mean I couldn’t give a hoot about rich babies with cancer? I simply don’t know.

Will I sign this petition about the war in Yemen? Damn right I will. But the Houthis are just as bad as the Saudis and all the weapons are being supplied by the US and UK, and I bought something once from a company that is a front for an arms dealer, so isn’t that, like, totally hypocritical? What about the provision of medical cards for patients with a terminal illness? I’m all over that, surely?

Well, no, because it’s more complicated than it seems and there are crossovers with the earlier complex stuff like “define terminal”, “define need”, “inverse care laws”, and all that. So I really don’t know.

It doesn’t matter that I am not sure about any of this. We have a mug at home with Homer Simpson’s face on it and the words “No Opinion” written across it. Homer is a wise man. I don’t need to know all the answers to these difficult questions. I don’t have to have an opinion. I have come to the realisation, though, that having an opinion and being factually correct are almost mutually exclusive in the media right now. Say something loud and with conviction, over and over, and voilà, you’ve created A Fact.

How extraordinarily simple. And those of us who take a bit longer to mull things over, who consider both sides of the argument and weigh up the pros and cons, who listen to people whose instincts are different from our own; well, it’s too late for us by the time we emerge from our ponderings. The Facts have been declared and that is the end of that.

I am sometimes nudged or poked or prodded to support a particular cause or campaign. Coward that I am, I fear being judged as rude or recalcitrant and my finger hovers over the “like” button like a tentative squirrel sniffing around a slightly dubious nut.

With so many people hurling themselves at Big Ideas like they have a PhD in Omniscience, why am I so slow to do a nodding bulldog impression next to them? Why can’t I just assume they must be right and agree with them?
I just don’t know.

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