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.