Quite some years back I had a discussion with a number of students from the Faculty of Education. I thought I misunderstood what they were saying so I asked them directly to make double sure. “Are you telling me that you would not to tell your students in class that abortion, just to mention one example, is wrong?”

They answered in the affirmative. “We have to be value free when we are teaching. … Abortion is a value-laden subject. There are people who feel it is right and people who feel that it is wrong. Therefore, we do not take positions. We just say that some feel one thing while others feel the opposite.”

I wanted to be further enlightened so I persisted. “If your students tell you that they throw rubbish on the ground, will you tell them that dirtying streets is wrong?”

They were surprised at my ignorance. “Yes we will tell them that it is wrong. Should not that be obvious?”

“Oh”, I gulped, “You feel obliged to tell your students that throwing a piece of paper on the ground is wrong but, on the other had you also feel obliged not to tell them that throwing an unborn baby into an incinerator, after aborting it, is wrong.”

If that is what people mean by value-free education I want nothing to do with it. The phrase value-free education is a contradiction in terms. There is nothing more value laden and politically charged than education.  I know several professors at that Faculty who would surely agree with me.

But there was a particular word used in my conversation with these students that over the years I heard repeated ad nauseam in my discussions with students during lectures. That word is ‘feel’. On several occasions my arguments were not countered by logical, analytical or researched positions. Some students prefer to demolish contrasting opinions by reference to the mother of all arguments: That is how I feel. They then pretend that that is the end of the story. As a master key opens all locks this arguments – if feel this so this is so - wins all cases; they think.

This mode of arguing and viewing reality goes beyond lecture rooms. I recently saw an interview on CNN. A journalist whose name I don’t remember was interviewing Newt Gingrich. The Republican politician was lambasting President Obama for the increase in crime rate in the USA. The journalist contradicted him with facts. Statistics show that crime rate across the USA has diminished, the journalist said.

Gingrich was not fazed. People, he said, feel more threatened as they fell that crime has increased. And that, for Gingrich “is a fact” he emphasised.  It could be a “fact” that people feel more threatened. It could be a “fact” that people feel that crime has increased.  But none of these statements should be taken to imply that it is a fact that crime has increased. It simply has not increased.  

Do not just brush this aside saying: Oh but that’s Gingrich. Had it been just Gingrich or Trump of the Brexit debate it would have been bad enough.  The “I feel/it is” syndrome has become mainstream in public discourse even in Malta.

Within this mentality there are no objective truths. Truth and falsehoods become interchangeable. Everything is believed to be just socially constructed. Everyone has his/her own truths which are equally valid. There is no need for research to buttress one’s position. Resort to feelings is enough. This is unfortunately the culture we live in. Feelings are equated with facts.

As people can create their own feelings then it follows that people can create their own facts, their own reality. When people can create their own truths based just on  their own feelings genuine communication and solidarity cannot flourish. Instead of reaching out to others the temptations is for people to silo themselves with other like –feeling people. The common good is put aside for the sectorial or individual good.

This is scary.

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