Debate Remains Dead. And They’ve Killed It.
A popular song about the Covid restrictions was ‘We’ve Lost Dancing’ in 2021. In The Netherlands, we certainly lost much dancing during these years – our house-, techno- and dance DJs are the best in the world – but we also lost another valuable part of our national identity: We lost public debate. Restrictions were lifted and dancing returned, but public debate has not been restored. Without freedom of thought and speech, it will never return.
We love debate here in The Netherlands. There is a verb for our political debate culture: ‘polderen’. It literally means dredgeing, reclaiming land from water, and figuratively it means we often prefer and even expect to settle our arguments, debates and negotiations with a consensus in the middle.
Open-mindedness, pragmatism, rationality and tolerance in public debate has brought us prosperity. It was no coincidence that in 2001 our small country was the first in the world to enable gay marriage. Compare that with Joe Biden and Barack Obama who spent another decade opposing and preventing gay marriage.
Now, after three tumultuous years in which we have seen the Dutch government break the law and even the constitution without consequences, ignoring court orders, openly undermining our Trias Politica state system – the separation of powers – and psychologically and physically attacking its own citizens, and all the while we have seen media outlets actively misinform and distract.
New grassroots media has thrived, sure, against all censorship odds, but we don’t have debate and we won’t have it for years to come. New media is naive in thinking that debate can safely return in this environment.Debate between facts and lies is impossible. Debate between empathy and psychopathy is impossible. Debate within conflicts of interests is impossible. Don’t put Edward Snowden next to a CIA agent and expect an illuminating debate. True debate happens only between good-willed, independent people who reference facts to form arguments. A difference of opinion is not a matter of ego.
On a societal level, as Noam Chomsky said, debate becomes impossible when the scope of acceptable debate is as severely limited by those in power as it is today. Censorship, self-censorship and the psychological operations of increasing fear, shame, guilt and oppression severely limits public debate in ways we can not even fully comprehend.
A final nail in the Dutch debate coffin is the fact that the institutions, that once formed a safe place for public debate, have been fully compromised. The owner of a prominent debate center in Amsterdam, Yoeri Albrecht, formed alliances with American intelligence agencies, NATO and other supranational institutions. He was caught on camera physically attacking a journalist who asked about the debate center’s money streams. Dutch media may not have given much attention to this, but historians use moments like this to illustrate the times that we live in. It’s truly a moment that may one day be mentioned in history books.
Dutch debate culture can never be reclaimed and restored, because debate is also impossible when the outcomes of political agenda’s are destructive and enhance human suffering. Plans and actions that historically are known as ‘evil’.The only thing grassroots media and journalists can and must do is to restate truthful facts and analysis over and over again. Provide a counterweight. Censorship happens because the most powerful defensive weapon is to repeat truthful facts continuously. Tucker Carlson put it most eloquently: “The question is not, who in public life is corrupt? Too many to count. The question is: who is speaking the truth?”