During my commute yesterday morning, I listened to the audio of the Shorenstein Center’s 2016 Theodore H. White Seminar on Press and Politics, and it made me really think about this idea I keep hearing and reading about in this past election cycle: that we live in a “post-truth” world.* Specifically, that Brexit and Trump’s election herald the end of our modern society’s desire for truth. Even Oxford University press named “Post-Truth” the word of the year for 2016.
As ominous as that sounds, I do not believe it for even a minute. Nor do I buy the intellectual laziness that we have become so accustomed to that we allow and encourage this line of thinking, as if some golden-age of “truthiness” has expired, and now we are hurtling toward the apocalypse on the back of the decrepit steed of deceit.
No, we do not live in a “post-factual” or “post-truth” society. Those terms have gained traction, certainly, due to the perception that ‘facts’ appear to matter little to a growing percentage of the population. Where the hell have all these perplexed journalists and people been that this is idea is freaking news? We’re not in a “post-truth” world, because we, as a whole, have never come to terms with what is true – STILL. For God’s sake, the very idea and concept of “truth” has been a constant question of philosophers and scholars throughout history, but we now have become so lazy that we think that there are certain people who are fit to be the arbiters of truth and fact for an entire populace. When did we hand over our ability to decipher our own truths, when did we have that moment where we realized that we were not fit to parse what was real or not, since we have other people who will tell us which facts are worthy of note, and which can meet the nearest bin?
The fundamental truth of our age is that we have been, for generations now, denying certain truths for too long: human beings everywhere are hurting. Human beings are dying, our world is dying. And we, in our consumer-oriented mentality with our never-ending choice to put our material wants over other peoples’ lives – we bear a large portion of the blame.**
Our devotion to fact-checking at the expense of real truth has generated this idea that everything is okay. And to keep this myth going, we must continually attempt to define the undefinable – what it means to be humane – not just human. What it means to struggle in someone else’s reality, or to bear the weight of their burdens. No, not us. We cheer when our leaders lay waste to other countries, because we choose to define which facts are worth our attention. We’ve allowed our information to be fed to us so we no longer have to have discussions to determine what truth is, what our truths are, because truth-seeking is not what we are interested in.
No, we don’t live in a post-truth or post-fact world. I believe we live in a society that craves, on a very deep level, to connect. Even in day-to-day conversations with friends, loved ones, or co-workers, we whip out our phones to fact-check their statements – often while they’re still talking. We correct the words people use, without even listening to the ideas behind the words. We are the fact and word-police.
We continually fail to engage a large group of people, and we assume the fault lies with them. Most people want to form connections – to have meaningful conversations without conflict. But the nature of most political discussions these days is laden with conflict. We don’t engage with people. We demean them. We belittle them. We ridicule mistakes and mis-steps, not realizing that making those very mistakes and allowing the conversation to grow naturally (and without interruption) is how they – and we – will grow.
When it comes down to it, though, we don’t want to learn. We don’t want to grow, we don’t want to cure the disease of disaffection prevalent in our society. No, we want to be right. And so long as that is our focus – we are right and everyone else is wrong – we won’t grow. We will be stuck in this mire of disputing the supposedly indisputable.
And that’s the crux of the issue as I see it. Our reliance on fact-checking has heralded not a “post-truth” world, but an era where, as a society, we care more about being right than doing right.
*The seminar was wonderful – watch it or listen to it as podcast. I highly recommend it, and though it inspired this rambling entry, all opinions expressed herein are my own, and not those espoused by the actual esteemed journalists at that seminar.
**I am only half-way through The Shock Doctrine, and reading about what the western world perpetuated in South America, Russia, and the Middle East, toppling democracies in favor of dictatorships that favored our capitalistic approach, is, simply-put, devastating. While the work itself is journalistic in nature rather than scholastic or academic, there are certain truths in it that cannot be denied – we, in the west, glorify those dictators who support our model of cheap labor and cheap goods for us, and vilify those who don’t bend their knee to our capitalistic idealogies. We, as a people, continue to show that this is okay, because we continue to support the growing corporate monsters. As we often see now, we are supporting corporations guilty of perpetrating crimes against humanity, and the politicians they support. We are voting – every day – with our money.
7 thoughts on “Are We Living in a ‘Post-Factual’ or ‘Post-Truth’ World?”
Damn straight! I read a particular blog post yesterday about smartphones and how they’ve turned us into emotionless zombies with white glowing faces. You’re absolutely right, social media is “feeding” us the news that fits into our convenient bubbles of truth that supports our ridiculous need to be right. It offends me. I don’t want to be right all the time, I want to be proven wrong so I can continue to learn and grow as a human being. My wife, whom I love very much, is one of those smartphone zombies until I get mad and pull her in to reality. We recently had a conversation about Trump and him picking Jeff Sessions for AG, whom she actually supported. I knew all about it, his history of racism and bigotry, and after explaining why I didn’t support him because of that, she picked up her phone to “check” if it was true, I just walked out of the room. About an hour later, she came downstairs and we had a very engaging conversation where she admitted she hadn’t done any background research and just believed what was on Facebook at, ignore the pun, face value.
The truth is out there. The truth will set you free. The truth is important for us, as a society, to grow as a species. It’s not an American problem, or Russian, or Iraqi; its a human problem. I’ll admit that American news is the absolute worst and given that CounterPunch.org was accused of being a Russian propaganda machine last week proves my point. The problem is daunting, a massive pile of crap that needs sorting, as the truth is covered up and hidden to encourage clicks on headlines like “Trump names new cabinet member, you’ll never believe who it is!”….
When did our society switch from intelligent individuals encouraged to free-think to mindless zombie drones hypnotized to group-think?? When we can answer that, we can then start to untangle the quagmire of non-truth that has painted our walls like New York graffiti.
I should have just “Pressed This” instead, lol.
Mission: Truth, Liberty, and Justice
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Yes! You hit the nail on the head on so many points. Our media is terrible and here and I’m so tired of us just accepting certain “truths” at face value. Russians are all hackers, socialists support evil dictators, and the US is a glorious upholder of freedom abroad… oh, wait…
We have our work cut out for us, and the starting point is realizing no information should be accepted if it’s just there to make us feel warm &a fuzzy, or superior to folks everywhere.
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Thanks, WW, for your Post-fact, post-truth piece. I’m in Rochester, MN, and have paired it with a piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by D.J. Tice about a recent Pew survey on the anti-science bias in America these days. I’ll be discussing both articles in my Sunday Current Events adult-ed class. We have the ultra-scientific Mayo Clinic here and half my class either works there or is affiliated, so it’s an intelligent, scientific group. I’m concerned that even among these bright people we have lost our grip on what’s factual. I simply try to help our congregation to be more articulate about their beliefs in general and their faith, in particular. Eventually, they both intersect and we need to be smart about it.
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Thank you. I agree, we definitely need to be more cognizant of what is factual, and it’s definitely difficult to determine what is fact and what is not. I actually just read a great post on discerning “fake news” from “real news”, that was great. I’ve seen a lot of images going around that try to simply tell people what is “real” and what is “fake”, but each of those memes make judgment calls based on what they believe to be true. Many of them, for instance, list Vox as a good news site. I like some of what I see there, but they aren’t technically news- their tag line is “explaining the news”, so it’s often op-Ed pieces, complete with moralizations. This article is great, because it reminds the consumer of news that we must be vigilant. Here’s the link, if it’s helpful: http://billmoyers.com/story/savvy-news-consumers-guide-not-get-duped/. Thank you for your input! I will go check out the Tice article, too!
Thanks for the link. RR (how I addressed you as WW is a mystery – apologies). I like Bill Moyers and will bring his checklist to my class. The Harvard Bias exercise looks interesting and I’ll explore that one, too.
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Oh, it’s no worries! I assumed the WW was from the “would-be writer”, so I completely understand! I like Bill Moyers, too. He and his associates are pretty level, and offer great links to other resources. I do hope your class goes well, and if there’s a good discussion, I would love to hear how it goes.