What if a person goes to hospital for a COVID-19 test and is sent back home after a misdiagnosis of the virus as flu? What if this person succumbs to coronavirus later, infecting many others around him or her? It is not uncommon to read or hear stories of patients’ plight across hospitals in the country amid the pandemic-related pressure and stigma.
One hospital may think it is flu, another may say it is mild pneumonia, yet another hospital may suggest it is common cold—while the person might actually be infected with COVID-19!
There are chances that hospitals may be right, but with the rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and growing mortality rate, it’s more likely that the hospitals are either incompetent or are not telling the truth.
What would you do if this happens closer home? Would you sit back and enjoy your coffee, musing that truth is ‘relative’? Is it ok to put people’s lives on the line based on what a particular hospital ‘feels’ is true? Would you not respond within your capacity to prevent people from dying because health facilities are rejecting treatment?
Welcome to the post-truth hospital where there is no such thing as absolute truth—whatever serves a given purpose is the ‘truth’. After all, as thinker and historian Yuval Harari says, “We’re a post-truth species.” The hospitals may or may not force you to accept their ‘truth,’ but you cannot make them accountable by your ‘truth.’ If anything goes wrong, you cannot seek justice because they believe that no one has the right to make an absolute claim to truth. Well, that statement itself is an absolute claim, but they don’t want to talk about it.
So, would you prefer to make an appointment next time with a post-truth doctor or a surgeon? Come on, we are post-truth species, don’t we need an appropriate treatment?
A few days back, I was talking to a friend about these COVID-19 testing-related incidents in hospitals. I forwarded him a few related news articles. I wanted to know his opinion since he believes in post-truth philosophy. Surprisingly, he was upset by the news and told me that we should take up the issue with the authorities concerned. He immediately started tweeting on the subject—tagging such hospitals and the health ministry.
Then, I specifically asked him, “I know you believe that there is no absolute truth, so why are you so angry with these hospitals? Don’t you see they also seem to think the same way?” He instantly replied, “No, that has nothing to do with science. Science is objective. But, there is no absolute truth in morality, metaphysics, belief, etc.” So I asked him, “Don’t you think denying treatment to an ill person by telling lies and letting the person die is a moral decision? He paused and said, “Absolutely. But let us discuss this heavy topic sometime later.”
My friend seems to be avoiding this discussion; maybe he needs time to think over it. His dilemma is: while in the hospital scenario, truth ought to be objective, in the realm of morality or belief, it cannot be. This is a false dichotomy many believe in. But how can one separate morality from reality? When morality is grounded in truth, it corresponds to reality; if not, it fails the test of truth. Hence, such morality or belief is false. Just because false beliefs exist does not mean all beliefs are subjective or false.
In the hospital scenario, we were on the receiving end; if we were not, my friend would have taken the post-truth argument to free himself from any responsibility.
That is why people choose a post-truth perspective when they are on the side of a subject, but decide to fight against it when on the receiving end. It sounds like what Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Truth is the name we give to that which agrees to our own instinctive preferences. It is what we call our interpretation of the world, especially when we want to foist upon others.”
Just like my friend, any sane person would ask for an investigation of the claims made by the hospital. Reason? Not because one hates these hospitals but because their report does not correspond to reality—that people are dying. Well, the hospitals may be right, and people may be dying of reasons other than COVID-19. But, with the available information, there seems to be a gap. Why do I think so?
I think so because any truth claim that does not correspond to reality and is not coherent with other sets of related propositions is false. This is called correspondence and coherence theory of truth in epistemology. Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Either one or both are false. We all know that in this scenario, the hospital reports, the patient’s health history, and post-mortem reports should cohere to establish the truth.
Let’s say, the hospitals came back with their response after a week, saying that we [the patients] cannot question their claims because ‘truth’ is subjective—everything can be true. Now, my friend is confused: “If everything is true, then nothing is false?” he asked. “Not just that,” I said, “if nothing is false, then it would also be true to say that everything is false.” Isn’t this nonsense? When you make an assertion, you deny its opposite. Therefore, truth, by definition, becomes exclusive.
We came to realise that when the truth has died, justice becomes meaningless. But that leaves my friend more confused: If the truth is absolute and exclusive, how do I know it?
(Read the next part of this article, Post-Truth Pandemic—Where Justice Has Died, in the following issue of CTrends)