Contributed by Marijn Poels © 2019
My innate temperament comes closest to what you would call politically “left liberal”. I am creative, open and really like to spend my time in chaos. A few years ago, I was in DRC Congo together with a Rwandan missionary who gave sewing lessons for women. I stayed for three weeks among mosquitoes and rebels, and one night, while I cooked a turtle in a large pot on the open fire in the evening, I asked myself: “What am I doing here?!” Certain forms of chaos can push you beyond the boundaries of solutions.
For more than ten years I’ve worked in developing countries and conflict areas as a filmmaker. I voted progressively and liberal. Despite that, I’m now standing up to the assumed superior attitude of the dominant left-liberal course society has taken – a path to destruction, in my view. You see the last scraps of reason evaporate within wildly divisive themes such as climate, immigration, Russia and Donald Trump. Emotions are apparently stronger than facts.
I produced the documentary PARADOGMA because of the aggressive and irrational debate about climate change. I encountered this aggression from media journalists, NGO’s, political parties and my own leftist tribe after the release of The Uncertainty Has Settled. The first episode of what has now become my film trilogy
Why has free thinking virtually disappeared?
Anyways,The Uncertainty Has Settled went on to win awards and invitations to speak on the topic across Europe, the UK and Canada. The Uncertainty Has Settled is a documentary about agriculture, energy transition and the division among climate scientists. Why do we no longer have normal and substantive discussions with each other on these important topics? Why has free thinking virtually disappeared? That triggered me to do the production of the second episode PARADOGMA.
The most enlightening explanation came from cognitive scientist Dave Ward in Edinburgh. “The human brain first processes the emotion and then the reason.” He explained that the reasoning mechanism ultimately creates “his own truth” based on the emotion. And in most cases the logical process finds a reason for the emotion. So basically, the reasoned response is never pure reason in the human brain. Or as Scottish philosopher David Hume already announced in the 18th century; “Reason is the slave of the passions, and it odd to be the slave of the passions”.
In many cases emotion is important, perhaps I believe even more important in the first place. It searches for new resourceful ways in which a society can flourish. The reasoning process kicks in when the emotion does not get any further, is out of control or boundless. It regulates, ensures realism, structure and efficiency. It’s not a conflict, but an interesting collaboration, in which both sides must know and accept the viability of their own thinking.
I don’t see the conservative right as an enemy, but as the only way forward in my thinking.
However, it appears that role of reason in our actions is only to serve emotion. That is at odds with what was previously thought by philosophers. Namely that the intellect determines the direction of our thinking. Also – and especially – in this time and age it seems to be the emotion that seeks new ways to guide our existence. The role of the reasoning faction reappears when the emotion no longer progresses, is without control or is boundless. Then the mechanism comes into operation that organizes, regulates, and ensures realism, structure and efficiency. Both approaches are not in conflict with each other but form an interesting collaboration in which they must know and accept their sustainability and limits. But we are in abnormal circumstances, where that cooperation is lacking. Both in ourselves and among ourselves.
I frequently receive emails from people who can’t understand that I am giving people like Alexandr Dugin and Jordan Peterson a voice in PARADOGMA. For me, however, they are among the great thinkers of our time. That doesn’t mean that I buy into everything they say. But their provocative views confront my thoughts and ask critical questions towards my paradigm. For me the most interesting challenge is to oppose my liberal ideology with the opposite. I like the challenge of being confronted by something that is sceptical to my own thinking, away from the consensus. I like to try and find something that contradicts my thoughts. Having the diversity of that complex world in my mind and then putting yourselves in the middle of it and trying to create a new opinion within all that diversity. And if you are honest, it is indescribably difficult. So, in order to come to a joint conclusion how society can function you need people around who are as diverse as possible in perspective. That is why I don’t see the conservative right as an enemy, but as the only way forward in my thinking.
Surrendered truths can prove to be false, and even your own perception can deceive.
French Philosopher René Descartes laid the foundation for the idea of enlightenment in the 18th century with the statement “Cogito Ergo Sum” – “I think, therefore I am”. Only through the use of reason and common sense can one come to the truth. Descartes starts his philosophy from a sceptical point of view. Surrendered truths can prove to be false, and even your own perception can deceive”.
Especially when the sense of reason no longer penetrates the emotion and translates your thinking into fears and phobias. Then it is crucial to challenge yourself and to find conversations with people who think differently. And yes, it hurts and destroys your ego, but it is the only way to real progress. The highest attainable goal is therefore to create a society in which the force of reason is strong enough to respond towards the uncertainty of the emotion.
“It is not about what I think. The viewer must make up their own mind. I do not feel that responsibility.”
I go with my film to screenings and host an open question and answer period after the viewing. A local newspaper journalist stood up during a screening of PARADOGMA in a southern German city. She wants to write a large article about PARADOGMA and the discussion evening. The audience is very interactive and positive. They see the film as new oxygen in the shifting debate.
The journalist says to me: “I miss your own statement in this movie?”
I respond that: “It is not about what I think. The viewer must make up their own mind. I do not feel that responsibility.”
The Journalist seems confused. She says: “But you’re visiting and interviewing similar characters with extremely different opinions and who are often described in the media as far right.”
I explain: “Well, the more leftist you are, the more right-winged you find the opinions. You should step a little more to the centre as a journalist. That’s where society is. In matter of fact these perspectives are quite mainstream and extremely urgent, but the leftist media has not yet discovered them.”
After the Q&A I look for the journalist for the planned interview. She disappeared. The planned article never appeared…
The next day I went on to Koblenz for a new screening. There is a pathetic tent standing in front of the cinema – a dozen demonstrators are boycotting the screening of PARADOGMA. With loud music, two crates of beer, some bottles of wine the teenagers shouting empty slogans like “away with fascism”. They hand out flyers describing why PARADOGMA turns out not to be OK. I walk towards the youth and ask questions. It is not a bad conversation until I reveal that I produced the film. The atmosphere changes. Every question I ask them they refer me to the flyer. Anyways, after an excellent sold-out screening and discussion, we discovered that four cars of the visitors had been damaged and smeared with the Yellow Stars of David by the demonstrators.
After a year of touring with PARADOGMA I realize that it is not polarization that drives us apart, but the lack of debate. This is where the journalist and all of us face the greatest task. Polarization is the signal that society is divided into different worldviews. This is extremely interesting because it means that we are about taking new paths. If the liberal left does not take different perspectives seriously, appreciate and evaluate these other world perspectives then we, as a society, are running the risk of seeing enlightenment strictly as a conflict, and something to be avoided at all costs. That idea can only lead to a totalitarian direction. Perhaps the fate of all ideologies…
Marijn Poels [13-08-2019]