What shall I write about? It’s close, influencing public opinion, so I’m asking for advice just to be sure. I first ask a researcher with whom I drink coffee: has anything interesting happened in the interdisciplinary disciplines?
“If I had any information at all, I wouldn’t give it to you,” she says peckly. “You are a mistake. You make fun of our language. And, yes, it does sound strange when we write project applications about the essential potential of approaches that centralize the theme as the object of broadening perspectives. And, no, no one understands what that nonsense means. But we are dependent on a subsidy provider who demands such nonsense from us. So leave us alone. We’re in trouble enough already.”
Well, who am I going to criticize then? “The GGD”, says a seasoned newspaper reader whom I meet during a walk. The director of the GGD Kennemerland has banned his employees to mention the name of steel factory Tata Steel in a report about the many cases of lung cancer on the spot.
In the Noordhollands Dagblad you will find internal correspondence from GGD employees about draft versions of the report. This shows that the organization has mainly been afraid of being bitten “by cat and dog.” The cat being the publicity. If the GGD considers it plausible that Tata is a source, the risk of one-sided publicity would be great: “‘Tata Steel causes lung cancer’ and similar headlines.” Not an attractive option for the GGD.
But coincidentally, the dog is also the publicity. If the GGD would not consider it plausible that Tata is a source, there would be a good chance that the resident representatives would become angry. And that with that anger they would seek publicity with yet other headlines as a result: „'(Also) the GGD wants to cover up the facts!’ or the like.” Nor an enticing thought.
Yes, maybe I should write about this. The steel factory, the public health system, the dog and the cat. But it’s a bit risky, because once you start talking about the role of publicity and public opinion, before you know it, you downplay the responsibility of Tata Steel and the GGD, and what will Twitter say? Or you don’t bring up the role of the headlines and thus give the impression of being on the payroll of the newspapers. Difficult, difficult.
How about imaging? Sigrid Kaag and the image in the VPRO documentary? In fact, this only comes to mind when I attended a debate evening years ago. After a long working day and shortly before the start of the debate, the politician who was to participate was standing at a bus stop on the other side of town.
‘Have the honorable Member take a taxi,’ I suggested. No, you couldn’t, the honorable Member replied from afar. “I can’t take a taxi with good decency. Imagine if the voters see me.” And as we waited for the bus with the frazzled delegate to finally arrive, I suddenly felt a burning hatred for the voter and the whole country’s kneeling before public opinion.
Everything for the stage. Everything advertising. To please the subsidiser, to please the social media elite, to placate the voter, to keep the reader friendly. All geared to the audience so begging to be cheated. deceive us! Manipulate us! Research institutions, the GGD, the political parties: at the serious institutions everyone seems to be doing their job worse and worse just to please you. But yes, can I write that in good decency?
What else can you bring out into the open without the fear of losing your job and your name? Even more pressing, about what can I publish myself without others having to worry about losing their work and their name? Finally, I knock on my guru’s door. What can I do? My guru has a bag full of wisdom literature and she now conjures up a book from it. You have to do what you think you should do, she says.
See, you have a guru for this kind of sensible advice. The book is called The Paradoxical Commandments. Harvard student Kent M. Keith wrote it in 1968 to remind fellow students to make a positive contribution to the world—without hope of applause and without fear of negative comment. His tenth commandment is: “Give the world the best you have to offer and you will get a blow in the head. Still, you have to give the world the best you have to offer.”
Good tip. Do your moral duty without constantly fishing for the approval of others. I’ll start right away tomorrow.