| Niels ter Meer

History contains many lessons for our contemporary problems. Student columnist Niels ter Meer (23) covers the story of Galileo, the issues with dogma, and the importance of critical reflection.

Photo by: Rikkert Harink

In the 16th century, Galileo Galilei, through his observation of the phases of Venus, and the moons of Jupiter which now bear his name, came to the conclusion that the earth must orbit the Sun, and not vice versa, as his geocentric opponents argued. This was also the position of the high priests of the church, which brought him in conflict with them. His theories contradicted the dogma, and they were not pleased. His ideas were rejected.

Similar things are still happening now. We are, as a society, more interested in consequences than causes. Our prime minister (seemingly for life) Mark Rutte refused to consider why ‘clockdown’ rioters were rioting: ‘I will not consider the societal causes.’ The contemporary dogma here is that the rules are the rules and it is your ‘personal responsibility’ if you don’t comply. But this stubborn refusal to look inward causes a lot of people to fall of the metaphorical boat, which is weird for a society which preaches itself to be inclusive and tolerant.

More locally, there are also dogmas, and in parallel, also a refusal to reflect. The – in this case metaphorical - high priests can explain to you at length how each piece of the puzzle works and why, in their eyes, this is reasonable, but they don’t consider what other consequences this might have. These puzzle pieces work well for them, but not for everyone – they don’t form a just and inclusive whole.

While they and their following – a small minority usually – build elaborate shrines with stolen traffic signs or go on ski trips, others are both literally and figuratively left behind. Refusal to play by their rules or approve of their action and choices – or just refusing to conform – is asking for scorn. ‘Look at all our experience, and how much we have done for you; you should respect us!’

If it isn’t clear yet, I’m talking about study associations again. The response my opinion piece elicited was at times just as dogmatic as the church’s or Rutte’s. While it’s quite obvious when you literally leave someone behind, it’s harder when you do so figuratively. When one preaches inclusivity, and claims to represent everyone, it requires more overarching reflection and introspection than just explaining the individual pieces of one’s dogma – more focus on cause, less on consequence.

But those left behind have a voice too; a voice which isn’t always heard. Some don’t mind ‘dullness’, subscribe to different philosophies on what their organization should do, or just don’t have the time or energy to play along with the dogma. You don’t get respect by demanding it, you get it through your actions – leaving people behind is not one of them.

Of course, we now know that Galileo was right after all. A priest who pontificates on his dogma, does not make it fair, just, or right. We now chuckle at the priests who prosecuted him. Some just don’t realize that the same thing is happening to them now.

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