Conjecture 13: Facts as ‘definitions’

Principle 1: Facts need added meaning

From our earliest youth on people tell us facts. The meaning of these fact is added, whether we ask for them or not. Some things are fruit. Some fruits are round, hard and green. These are apples. That is a fact. A fact of the type ‘by definition’. About these apples generations were told that it was a good thing to eat them (abundantly): an apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? Fundamental to this statement are different facts and presuppositions on the high fiber content and vitamines of apples, as well as possible bad side effects of candies and chocolate. These presuppositions are rarely explicitly mentioned and even if this is the case, they are hardly ever more than the definition itself: this is so, because we have agreed it is so.

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But even a discipline that has nothing to do with health or sweets seduction, and everything with facts, has huge troubles in the field of facts and meaning: law enforcement. “The tensions simmering beneath Germany’s willingness to take in 1 million migrants blew into the open on January 5th, 2016, after reports that scores of young women in Cologne had been groped and robbed on New Year’s Eve by gangs of men described by the authorities as having ‘a North African or Arabic’ appearance.

Taking advantage of the New Year’s Eve street party, hundreds of young men broke into groups and formed rings around young women, refusing to let them escape, the authorities said. Some groped victims while others stole wallets or cellphones.
Witnesses described the atmosphere around the city’s central train station as aggressive and threatening, with firecrackers being thrown into the crowd in celebration. The women who were attacked screamed and tried to fight their way free, a man who had struggled to protect his girlfriend told German public television.

The Cologne police added that they had received 90 complaints from victims, including one who said she had been raped. No arrests have been made. In Hamburg, the police said 10 women had reported that they were sexually assaulted and robbed in a similar fashion on the same night. It was not clear that any of the men involved were among those who arrived in Germany over the past year from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a statement, called the assaults disgusting. “Everything must be done to investigate as completely and quickly as possible those who are guilty and to punish them regardless of how they look, where they come from or what their background is,” she said. The assaults initially were not highlighted by the police and largely ignored by the German news media in the days afterward.

The attacks and the livid reaction to them presented a new political challenge for the chancellor, whose decision to take in refugees from conflict-ridden nations opened the doors to waves of migrants last summer and fall. As the number of asylum-seekers has grown and the challenge of assimilating them has become clearer, Merkel has come under intensifying criticism for failing to anticipate the social and economic costs of her policy.

The descriptions of the assailants – by the police and victims quoted in the news media – as being young foreign men who spoke neither German nor English immediately stoked the debate over how to integrate such large numbers of migrants and focused new attention on how to deal with the influx of young, mostly Muslim men from more socially conservative cultures where women do not share the same freedoms and protections as men.

The assaults set off accusations on the right and among some political commentators that the authorities and the news media had tried to ignore or cover up the attacks to avoid fueling a backlash against the refugees. Far-right and anti-immigrant groups and other Germans who oppose the influx seized on the attacks, saying they demonstrated the dangers associated with accepting huge numbers of migrants.
“It is time to send a signal,” said Christopher Freiherr von Mengersen, head of the nationalist Pro-NRW movement, based in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. “We locals can no longer put up with everything that is being routinely swept under the rug based on a false sense of tolerance.”
Even beyond the usual circle of anti-immigration activists, similar concern could be heard over whether the government’s policy had come at too high a price to social stability.

“The government’s loss of control is not only taking place on the borders,” Alexander Marguier, deputy editor in chief of the monthly political magazine Cicero, wrote online. “For whoever gives up control of who enters the country no longer has control over the consequences of this action.” Henriette Reker, Cologne’s mayor, who was stabbed during a campaign event in October by a German man who opposed her welcoming attitude toward migrants, sought Tuesday to play down the links to refugees, after meeting with police, state and city officials. “There are no indications that this involved people who have sought shelter in Cologne as refugees,” Reker said.” The New York Times, NDTV, 6 January 2016.

Bare facts hardly have any meaning. All involved agree on the facts of place and time. It was Cologne at New Years Eve around 23.00 hour. On all other ‘circumstances of the case’ they disagree, as well as on the meaning.

Next time: Meaning doesn’t have to consist of facts

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