A new post-truth post on the new post-truth lexicon which, post truth, sees post-truth as its standard bearer. And so on…
‘Even if you are in a minority of one, the truth is the truth.’ Mahatma Gandhi.
We live in a post-truth society. Did you know? Well, if you didn’t, you should do because so established is the phenomenon that Oxford Dictionaries have chosen it as International Word of the Year for 2016.
For those not intimately acquainted with the term’s precise meaning, here’s how the OD defines it. “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
They go on to add some examples. “In this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire” and “some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age”.
I think you can see where I am going with this. Well, I say ‘am’, but, in truth – as opposed to post-truth, which is an adjective – it’s more a ‘was’ because I have already been derailed from my task. Time is short, the art long, as I believe Hippocrates said, and I’ve been too busy amassing evidence for my initial sweeping assertion to have sufficient time available in which to write about it.
Time flies. Ain’t that the truth? (Even though, actually, it doesn’t. It has no aeronautical qualities whatsoever.) Checking facts in order to construct a reasoned, evidence-based argument is not only time-consuming – it’s also a little bit last century. And, according to one source (Claire Fox, in the Spectator) something about we should all be more wary, because doing everything by numbers (especially politics) risks ‘patronizing’ those who ‘vote with their hearts’, and also of coming ‘dangerously close to advocacy’.
And yet, and yet. Are we to conclude that telling lies for political gain is henceforth acceptable? The other night, my friend Rachel’s son Nathan showed me some images. We were talking about social media, and how much rubbish can be found there, and he showed me a pair of images, one of which had originated from Forbes news site, and one which had originated from NASA.
Both images were identical but the captions were not. One said “Mysterious space debris hits Earth on Friday 13th”, the other “ WT1190F safely reenters Earth’s atmosphere.”
Exactly. By the same token, there isn’t a shred of evidence that David Cameron ever got up close and personal with a pig’s head. Nor an atom of truth in the recently reported story that the Christmas lights in some parts of Sweden were cancelled to avoid angering Muslim refugees. (In reality, an electricity company had taken over responsibility for providing power in some districts, and wouldn’t sanction the lights due to cost implications and because their new lampposts weren’t designed to take the weight.)
In all these cases, there is a common denominator. Before their legitimacy had been questioned to a level sufficient to make them go away, they were shared on social media in eye-watering numbers.
But if you loathe David Cameron, feel vexed about refugees or, indeed, have a strong suspicion that there’s something out there, then being made aware of these falsehoods is unlikely to trouble you, because the addition to your stock of prejudice has already been bolted on. And that’s if the facts even reach you.
I know this to be true because I’ve been duped also. Like many of my friends on facebook, deep in the mire of a situation set to out-Brexit Brexit, I liked and shared an image of one Donald Trump, the caption beneath which purported that he’d once said some pretty scathing things about the intellect and credulity of republican voters, and that, as a consequence, should he ever run for president (cue hollow laughter) that would be the party he would opt for – the dastardly ****!
I knew something else, too. That I wasn’t going to allow a little detail like the truth to get in the way of a nice robust loathing. Heck, he’d certainly said enough other stuff that really annoyed me, hadn’t he? And it was still the sort of thing he COULD have said, wasn’t it? Might even HAVE said at some point, truth be known. He wants to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out, for heaven’s sake!
Sound familiar? This sort of thing rolls off the tongue so easily, doesn’t it? Which is why post-truth is an adjective we should take care can never be applied to ourselves, because it allows people with immense power to lie to us every day.
We swallow it and share it at our peril.
First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine Nov 26th 2016