Nancy Fanara – Knowledge is participation

FanaraNancy Fanara (32) is a political scientist. She has studied Political Science and European Studies at the Universities of Athens and Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III). Since 2010 she works as a journalist and would very much like to pursue this career.

“No thief, however skilful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of OzFanara_01

Greece is in its fifth year of the “memorandum” and its seventh year of recession. Every time that we have thought we had come to the end of a particular period and left behind us the errors of the past, we discover that those errors are still with us, reminding us that the important changes have not yet been implemented.

The standard of living of the Greek people has fallen, we have accepted violence in our daily lives and in our rhetoric, some people have lost their lives, our cities burn, hate has raised its ugly head, and still, the old, rotten system has remained the same because we have not chosen to sacrifice it, fearing the loss of what has been convenient in the past. The changes that were implemented failed, because the Greek problem has been treated as a purely economic one, while in reality it is, in equal measure, a problem of our political and value systems. And the political system has the singular misfortune of containing and reflecting the other two.

Throughout this period there have been initiatives, mainly on the part of young people, who resolved to stand on their own feet, and who are too proud to use the crisis as an excuse. They have implemented business ideas, founded start-ups, created platforms of participatory democracy, decided Nancy Fanara Knowledge is participation 26 to change their cities for the better. These initiatives can only be considered in a positive light, since the mission of youth must be in the direction of reform: their fresh ideas need to be introduced into society and transform it.

However, the desire of some young people to change the current situation and create is the exception, not the rule. The reasons are many and varied: absence of incentives for enterprise, labyrinthine bureaucracy, a surfeit of laws and rules, an ambiguous business environment, too few financing programs, high taxation for businesses.

The obstacles are not only economic, technical or administrative. If it was so, they might have been overcome. But they are also value-based. A peculiar culture, based on regarding Greece as the centre of the universe and on suspicion, prevents Greeks, however original their ideas, from moving forward. The Greek people lack what is called “culture of failure”: essentially, they are not given the opportunity to fail and start again. They also lack a desire for posthumous fame – i.e. the need to bequeath to posterity a significant achievement. It is a general feeling that “Plato and Aristotle did that for us”, while peoples who lack a long history or have left a negative mark on it, as the Americans and Germans respectively, strive to create and move forward.

Another reason that impedes Greek society from daring to change is the disillusionment with political institutions and politics in general. A lot has happened over all these years to foster such an attitude: scandals, wiretappings, abuse of public money, even the blatant admission by people in politics that they are inadequate to perform the duties assigned to them, but even so continue to govern.

All the above reasons allow disillusionment and hate to prevail, instead of creative doubt, which would have been the desirable reaction. Even if some view the overall negative circumstances with a cocktail of optimism and daring, they are unfortunately very few compared to the many who reply using petty nationalistic clichés such as “Come on man, do you think you can change the world?” or “Our little Greece cannot do better than this”.

In the last five years discussions about politics have returned in conversations between friends, at gatherings, at the cafeterias. Indifference about politics and the apolitical stance have waned, along with the prosperity of the past. However, a large part of society is still using Manichean analogies, clichés and perceptions that were last current in the 1970s. The discussion remains trapped in terms of “left” and “right”, a state of affairs which offers nothing, but only renders our every-day lives more difficult.

The mass media – both Greek and foreign – are not without their own share of responsibility. In their efforts to attract advertising, “clicks”, high viewer ratings and “likes”, they recycle inaccuracies, threats and news that they have not been cross-checked, transmitting successfully a sense of psychological distress among their public. The so-called “crisis porn”, i.e. never-ending discussions about the crisis and its consequences as well as the on-going “bet of the week” (“Are we going to go bankrupt or not?”), kills all hope and generates a vicious circle.

Can media information contribute to clarity; can it counter disillusionment with politics and by extension with participation? It not only can, it has a duty to do so, making use of the new technologies in communication. “Fact checking” is a growing type of investigative journalism in the United States, but remains unknown in Greece. The idea is to present to the public facts that confirm or belie the claims made by politicians. In the United States, one of the best-known fact-checking tool is “PolitiFact”, which had millions of visitors each day during the election campaign of 2012, proving that the public appreciates the process of cross-checking the information it is given. Fact-checking has been at times doubted as to its contribution to the political process; since it has been shown that obsessive “fact checkers” have also used it not in order to refute claims and political positions but in order to support them, and to discredit, morally and politically, their rivals. However, a study by the American Press Institute1 has shown that the practice increases citizen participation in politics and thus enhances the quality of the political process.

Should Greece invest in creating new tools that will contribute to knowledge? Without a doubt, it should! Many may rightly have moral objections against the discrediting of rival positions, but the opportunity to use knowledge as a tool must not be wasted.

Ideally, application of the fact-checking idea would attract citizens who strive to learn the truth, and would allow others to voice their support for their political friends or discredit their political opponents. In every case, truth will be the winner, and in this form it can increase participation in the political process and create new jobs. Those who are engaged in investigative journalism must at least consider the option.

 

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