Post-Truth and the 7 Major Issues Facing the Dayak Ethnic Groups Today

The Dayak people, heirs and inhabitants of Borneo, reside on the island, which spans 743,330 square kilometers, making it the third largest island in the world. They are known for their friendly and kind-hearted demeanor, yet they show no mercy to those who harm them. Illustration: Author

The indigenous Dayak people, who reside across three countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam) on Borneo, are currently facing threats from post-truth and seven major issues. 

Can they respond to and overcome these challenges? 

Dayak history reveals: the Dayak become more united when facing external threats, which become a common enemy or public foe. 

There will be ancestral forces aiding them invisibly in times of crisis when they desperately need help.

The Dayak are facing post-truth

Post Truth. What creature could it be? It's a term referring to a phenomenon rampant in the 21st century, where there are numerous disputes over claims of public truth.

Today, at least 7 major post-truth issues confront the Dayak ethnic group, estimated to number 9 million worldwide.

But what is post-truth? What are its issues?

Origin of Post Truth

The academic development of the term Post Truth relates to theories and research explaining specific historical causes and impacts of this phenomenon.

The term Post Truth has been used in phrases like "post-truth politics" academically and publicly before 2016.

It was later defined by Oxford Dictionaries as "relating to a situation in which objective facts have less influence on shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."

In 2016, the term Post-truth was named the "Word of the Year" by Oxford Dictionaries after gaining popularity during the US presidential election and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

Oxford Dictionaries also notes that the term "post-truth" is often used as an adjective to describe certain types of politics.

Some experts argue that "post-truth" shares similarities with past moral, epistemic, and political debates on relativism, postmodernity, and dishonesty in politics.

However, others argue that "post-truth" specifically relates to 21st-century communication technologies and current cultural practices.

History in Philosophy

Post-truth is a historical issue concerning truth in everyday life, especially in politics. However, truth has long been a major concern in philosophy.

Truth is also a highly complex concept in the history of philosophy, and much research and public debate on "post-truth" assume specific theories about truth, referred to by philosophers as theories of correspondence.

The most famous theory of truth, despite some criticism, is the correspondence theory, where words correspond to an accessible or collectively verifiable reality to be checked and confirmed.

Another theory of truth is coherence theory, where truth is not just about one statement but a set of interrelated statements about the world.

Some academics note that the emphasis on philosophical debates about truth has little connection to the concept of "post-truth" as it appears in popular politics (post-truth politics), rather than in philosophy. As philosopher Julian Baggini explains:

The advantage of these competing theories lies in considering their underlying contexts. When people argue about whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, whether global warming is real and anthropogenic, or whether austerity measures are necessary, their disputes are not consequences of competing theories of truth.

No witness needs to ask a judge what theory he had in mind when asked to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Why has the meaning of truth become so problematic in the world outside academic philosophy?

One reason is a significant disagreement and uncertainty about what is considered a reliable source of truth. Throughout most of human history, there have been relatively stable combinations of beliefs in texts and religious leaders, knowledgeable experts, and the wisdom of the people commonly known as common sense.

Now, it seems, there is almost no universal agreement on authority. This leaves us to choose our own experts or simply trust our own instincts.

Dayak history reveals: the Dayak become more united when facing external threats, which become a common enemy or public foe. There will be ancestral forces aiding them invisibly in times of crisis when they desperately need help.

According to experts who understand the concept of "post-truth" as something historically specific, as a contemporary sociological phenomenon, "post-truth" theory is only distantly related to traditional debates in philosophy about the nature of truth.

In other words, "post-truth" as a contemporary phenomenon isn't about questions like "what is truth?" or "is X true?" but rather "why don't we agree that this or that is true?"

A considerable amount of research increasingly affirms that the collapse of institutional authority in delivering truth (government, news media, especially) brought about by new media and communication technologies, new media editing technologies (visual, audio-visual), and a saturated promotional culture has resulted in confusion and games about truth, even a marketplace of truth.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Not all commentators, however, view "post-truth" as a historically specific phenomenon discussed through theories of correspondence, coherence, or pragmatics about truth. They discuss it in the philosophical tradition that asks what truth is. Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th-century German philosopher, is sometimes mentioned in the category of "post-truth" commentators.

Friedrich Nietzsche is sometimes lifted up as a forerunner of "post-truth" theory. He argues that humans create concepts through which they define what is good and just, thereby replacing the concept of truth with value, and rooting reality in human will and the power of human will.

In his 1873 essay titled Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense, Nietzsche states that humans create truths about the world through the use of metaphor, myth, and poetry. He writes,

"If someone hides behind the bushes, then searches for it and finds it there, the search and finding are not too good: but that's what happens when seeking and finding 'truth' in the realm of reason. If I define mammals and then declare, after examining a camel, 'Behold, a type of mammal,' a truth is revealed, but it has limited value. I mean, it's highly anthropomorphic and doesn't contain a single point that would be 'true in itself' or universally valid, regardless of humans. Investigators into such truths are essentially seeking only a metamorphosis of the world into something like a human; they struggle to understand the world as something akin to humans and at most gain a sense of assimilation."

In summary, Nietzsche's views anticipate aspects of the "post-truth" era by challenging conventional notions of truth and suggesting that human perspectives and interpretations play a crucial role in shaping what is considered true.

According to Nietzsche, all insights and ideas arise from particular perspectives. This means that there are many possible viewpoints from which a truth or value judgment can be made. It declares that there's no "right" way to view the world, but this doesn't necessarily mean that all perspectives are equally valid.

Nietzsche's perspectivism denies that metaphysical objectivism is possible and asserts that no objective facts can surpass cultural formation or subjective designation. This implies that there are no objective facts, and understanding or knowledge of a thing itself is not possible.

Against positivism, which stops at the phenomena of "there are only facts," if I were to say, "No, actually there are no facts, only interpretations," it means we cannot determine any fact "in itself."

Therefore, truth (and especially belief in it) is an error, but this error is a necessary one for life: "Truth is a type of error without which a certain type of living being could not live."

Max Weber

Several influential philosophers doubt the distinction between facts and values. They argue that scientific facts are socially produced through power relationships. Max Weber stated this.

Bruno Latour

French philosopher Bruno Latour has been criticized for contributing to the intellectual foundations of "post-truth." In 2018, The New York Times published a profile of Bruno Latour and "post-truth" politics. According to the article:

In a series of controversial books in the 1970s and 1980s, [Latour] argued that scientific facts should be seen as products of scientific inquiry.

Facts, according to Latour's actor-network theory, are "networked"; they stand or fall not based on their inherent truth but on the strength of the institutions and practices that produce and make them understandable.

However, the article claims it's a misinterpretation to say that Latour doesn't believe in reality or that truth is relative.

If critics were in our circus at the time, Latour's critics might have felt something strange about the scene – old foes of science kneeling before the altar of science. But what they would miss – what they have always missed – is that Latour never tried to deny the existence of gravity. He has done something far more unusual: tried to re-describe the conditions under which this knowledge is known.

Sail the young Dayak generation with a serving of intellectual nourishment and balanced morals! Knowledge is indeed very necessary, but good character is number one.

However, Latour also questions why death from tuberculosis is not considered an anachronism. His answer: "Before Koch, the bacteria did not have real existence." He rejects the common sense concept that Koch discovered bacteria that already existed as "merely plausible."

In this regard, Latour (or Michel Foucault as well) highlights institutional and practical contingencies for producing knowledge (which in science always changes at different speeds).

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt has been considered a significant source of concepts for "post-truth" theory because she attempts to formulate something changing historically, not just pondering the nature of truth itself.

In her essay titled "Lying in Politics" (1972), Hannah Arendt describes what she calls defactualization, or the inability to distinguish fact from fiction – a concept very similar to what we now understand as "post-truth."

Understanding the concept of "post-truth" has significant correlation and relevance in the context of issues and topics related to the Dayak tribe today.

No one, let alone any other tribe, cares and sincerely helps and lifts the Dayak. Except the Dayak themselves!

Some important aspects that can be identified in the relationship between "post-truth" and 7 major issues involving Dayak life, civilization, and honor are as follows:

  1. The Dayak are facing marginalization with the establishment of the Ibu Kota Nusantara (National Capital) in East Kalimantan and mining permits that will cause deforestation in Kalimantan. The Dayak are falsely accused of deforesting Kalimantan due to their shifting cultivation practices, which typically use no more than 3 hectares of land. This traditional farming method, documented as far back as 10,000 years ago by Mochtar Lubis (1979), is misrepresented. In reality, deforestation in Kalimantan is driven by large-scale mining, plantations, and industries—not by the Dayak people. The Dayak have proven capable of stewarding their ancestral lands because they are natural people who live off the land.
  2. Debate over Land Rights and Natural Resources
    One major issue related to the Dayak tribe is their rights to customary land and natural resources, which are often targeted for exploitation by external parties. In this context, understanding "post-truth" can help analyze how fake news, biased narratives, or propaganda can influence public opinion about Dayak land rights. Sometimes, objective facts about Dayak claims can be ignored or replaced by emotional efforts or narratives of interested parties.
  3. Conflict between Forestry and Conservation
    An relevant issue in the context of the Dayak tribe is the conflict between their traditional practices in utilizing forest resources and modern conservation efforts. In this regard, understanding "post-truth" can help identify how various parties might use narratives that disregard scientific facts or portray misinformation to bolster their positions in this debate. This can also create public dissent against conservation efforts based on scientific facts.
  4. Negative Portrayal 
    Certain parties may attempt to tarnish the image of the Dayak tribe or build negative stereotypes about them to achieve specific goals, such as avoiding social or environmental responsibilities. In this case, understanding how false or distorted information can be used to create negative perceptions of the Dayak tribe is crucial. This can hinder efforts by the Dayak tribe to uphold their identity and rights.
  5. Cultural Protection 
    The Dayak tribe has a unique culture and traditions. Understanding "post-truth" can help see how false or distorted narratives can be used to undermine or belittle the culture of the Dayak tribe. This relates to efforts to respect and protect their cultural heritage.
  6. Political Participation
    The Dayak tribe can also engage in political processes, both at the local and national levels. In the political process, understanding how fake news, disinformation, or rhetoric that ignores facts can influence elections and political views of the Dayak tribe is important. This requires critical ability to sift through valid information from invalid ones.
  7. Regarding the statement that "Dayak originates from Yunan" and the construction of post-truth involving weak perceptions from the proof side of archaeology, documentation, as well as the historical evidence of opinion tools, it should be noted that this concept may have significant implications in the context of the history and identity of the Dayak tribe in Borneo. This post-truth construction may be an attempt to change or question historical claims or origins of the Dayak tribe as native inhabitants of Borneo. However, it is important to note that claims of this nature should be tested and verified through strong scientific evidence. If there is no evidence supporting the claim that Dayak originates from Yunan, then such claims can be considered part of a misleading post-truth narrative.

Accusations that traditional farming practices of Asian tribes, including those in Borneo, have been practiced for 10,000 years and deemed "environmentally damaging" can also be part of the post-truth construction. 

This concept may seek to alter perceptions about the traditional wisdom of the Dayak tribe and its environmental impact. It is important to critically confront such post-truth constructions and seek strong scientific evidence to support or refute such claims. 

Don't teach birds how to fly" means don't teach Dayak people about conservation because they have proven for thousands of years to live in and nurture this environment. Illustration: Author.

Furthermore, it is important to understand that the struggle to understand the history and cultural identity of a group can create resistance and debate in society. In this case, objective dialogue and research are needed to achieve a deeper understanding of the history and identity of the Dayak tribe in Borneo.

In efforts to understand and address issues involving the Dayak tribe today, it is important to grasp the role played by misinformation, propaganda, and false narratives in shaping public opinion and societal views on these issues.

The ability to identify and critically assess information is a crucial skill in this post-truth context and can assist the Dayak tribe in protecting their rights and interests.

Challenges for the Dayak

It is important to understand that the Dayak tribe, as indigenous people in Borneo, bears great responsibility in safeguarding their rights and wisely responding to the challenges of their time.
The Dayak have proven capable of stewarding their ancestral lands because they are natural people who live off the land.
With 7 major ethnic groups, 405 sub-tribes, and a global population of around 8 million people, the Dayak possess rich cultural diversity and traditions. In confronting "post-truth" issues or misinformation, the Dayak must uphold their sovereignty in their homeland.

Nurture the younger generation of Dayak with a nourishing blend of intellectual prowess and balanced virtues!

As articulated in Fridolin Ukur's book title (1971), Challenges for the Dayak Tribe, the Dayak have a responsibility to respond to every challenge of their time with intelligence and prudence. This means they must actively engage in understanding contemporary issues involving land rights, natural resources, and cultural rights.

The Dayak must be able to discern between facts and false or biased information, and participate critically in political and societal processes.

In facing "post-truth" issues, the Dayak must be highly aware of how false or distorted information can be used to influence public opinion and undermine their rights.

The Dayak need to understand the use of valid data and reliable sources of news to support their claims and demands.

Dayak, Technology, and Social Media

The Dayak should also harness technology and social media wisely to convey their messages and counter misinformation.

Education and awareness of these issues among the Dayak community members are also crucial steps in responding intelligently to the challenges of their time.

Ultimately, the Dayak must remain "masters in their own land."

How do they "become" so? By safeguarding Dayak rights and preserving their culture.

Equally important is meeting the challenges of the times with Dayak wisdom and firmness.

No one else. Especially no other tribe cares and sincerely helps and lifts the Dayak. Except the Dayak themselves!

This thinking, combined with action, will enable the Dayak to uphold their identity.

While also passing down their cultural heritage to future generations.

(Masri Sareb Putra, M.A.)
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