Were we ever pre-Post Truth?

Post truth frequency graph

Oxford dictionaries word of the year 2016 was “Post-truth”.  It narrowly beat adulting, alt-right, Brexiteer, coulrophobia (extreme fear of clowns) and hygge (Danish for a quality of comfortable conviviality).  Although it was not invented that year, and in fact appears in the title of a book The Post-truth Era (2004) by Ralph Keyes, it’s use spiked in June and again in November, as can be seen in the following graph from the Oxford dictionaries website:

The spikes coincided – non-coincidentally – with the United Kingdom referendum vote to withdraw from the EU and the election of Donald Trump as president of the USA.

Its meaning is “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. To many of those who believe that both these outcomes were drastically wrong, post-truth is what led to them.

The mantra of postmodernism, “The final truth is there is no truth” resounded in the Boomtown Rats song Nice’n’Neat of 1979. However, the yowls of the post-post-modernists in 2016, when they see what they believe to be blatant lies, or at best statements of rash ignorance, paraded by senior politicians and when these statements seem to be leading their nation and their lives into agonising disaster show up the phrases “it’s true for you but not for me” (you have an “alternative fact” as it were) and “I’m fine that you believe it if it works for you” for the double-think blandishments that they are. “Actually, what you believe is bunkum.  And I’m not OK with that, when it messes up my life.” We could say that coulrophobia in evidence here but hygge is out of the window!

Interestingly there has been presidential and Brexiteer fight-back with accusations of “fake news” in the media and of bias in the reports of “experts”. These in turn are pooh-poohed by liberals as the disingenuous guile, or genuinely marble-less ravings, of alt-right sympathisers.

So who is to know who is adulting in the room?

Should we always believe “experts”? Surely experts can be biased too and, when they are, the poison of their untruth is all the more pernicious. Whatever one believes about the validity of the protestant church, or indeed of any church, was Martin Luther not right to pin his 95 theses on the door Wittenberg Castle church in protest at the excesses of the Catholic Church of his time, in part reliant on the masses ignorance of Latin and the priestly classes guardianship of esoteric truth?

“Quid est veritas”, said Pontius Pilate. Is the current generation any further forward in knowledge? In vehemence of belief definitely, but in its rationality and truth – not so sure.

Videos and posts that we will agree with are served up as flattery to a despot, feeding our pride-inflamed fancies.

Keep us on the platform (and help the platform to make money from showing us selected and selective adverts according to our prejudices).

This kind of “reality bubble” is absolutely not new and has been employed by despots and demagogues through from ….. to Hitler.

However we can escape our social media perception bubble, our personal echo chamber if we choose to. And maybe – at least in the free West, where the internet is not censored (we believe!) – that option is more available than at any time in history. Maybe we should avail ourselves of it, not to horrify ourselves or point fingers at the bigoted meatheads in the other bubble but to allow others’ diametrically opposed positions to challenge our own, painful though that may be. Our beliefs may fundamentally change, or they may not. But either way we will emerge with a greater understanding of humanity and indeed of reality.

Reset your Google Chrome browser to “incognito”/unset and see what YouTube serves up. Actively perform Google and YouTube searches that will take you to the heart of what you might view as enemy propaganda.

Henry V among his troops.

CS Lewis “The Trouble with X”…

There is only one X who we can actually significantly affect.

I say “we”, but hey perhaps the moral is that I shouldn’t be telling you what to do but should rather go and re-set my own browser now…

Posted in Social Media