We, all of us, act on our perceptions, albeit that they are of varied quality. We perforce have views on the climate of Tierra del Fuego; the nature of society in Saudi Arabia; the quality of cakes in Vienna, all without having been in these places.
We cannot know everything about these matters, but we can know enough. After all, the most likely practical consequence of these particular perceptions would be, at most, a visit to Vienna; and what harm could flow from that?
Well, we could be persuaded that Empire and Baroque architectural styles are oppressive and cakes are bad for us and abandon plans to visit Vienna.
Would we then decide to visit Belgium instead? Probably not; not as a substitute anyway.
Maybe we are deterred when, as this writer experienced, a colleague alludes, in conversation, to “children in basements in Brussels”.
What is going on here?
Perhaps we have a general sense of unhappiness about Belgium. We remember the Belgian police; they caught Marc Dutroux, but they failed to do their duty. The consequences of their failures were so profound that it was generally accepted that they were not simply inept, and that perception, now ineradicable, is the established Irish view of the police of Belgium.
We also recall that Belgium throws up, now and again, political/business scandals.
To make sense of this we may invoke the saying – “a fish rots from the head”.
We experience the rottenness and conclude that it is systemic.
This is reasonable. Perhaps, as has happened to this writer, a Government minister claims, in conversation, that litigation is controversy and controversy implies a defensible position on both sides until resolution is arrived at in the form of a judgment from a court.
That conflates process with product. A Government of that character does not subscribe to an objective standard of truth or principle.
Worse than that, it suggests that the Government feels confident of its control of the “process”.
That’s enough. When enough people make that judgment every word uttered in defence of that Government is further evidence of the depth of a crisis, a legitimation crisis.