The pendulum swings both ways.
Big things or changes in socialactions and behaviour of human beings, in its true macro sense, do not happen within a year. To a section of observers of the social and political developments around the world, post-truth did largely manifest in 2016. It would be a mistake to assume similar interpretations of the post-truth version being equally shared by the significant majority across the world. Two key events of 2016 shaped up the formation of this post-truth world scenario: one was in June – Brexit, the referendum which saw Britain voting in favour of leaving the European Union; and the other was in November, when political maverick Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America.
Vast majority of the expert opinions and statistical forecasts in both the cases, majority defined in the limited context of what mainstream media largely focuses on, failed largely to see them coming. The historical to future speculative importance of both the events can best be gauged by understanding that these two events happened in the UK and in the USA. One was the key driving force of the world from the nineteenth century till the World War II, the other since then. Both played key historical and critical roles in defining democracy and a just society, both being among the top English speaking nations (as first language) of the world, other than being influential in all social, economic, political and military areas. The US & the UK often have shared a similar point of view on global geopolitical developments – as strategic allies or “most important bilateral partnership”.It is not wrong to say that global mainstream English news-media are largely concentrated in these two nations, and thereby act as the largest influencer of global news narrative anywhere in the world.
Had it been any other two nations, the intensity of the impact of ‘post-truth’ perspectives surely would have been lesser.
Events of such historical importance in quick succession, across the Atlantic, would naturally shake English-speaking Western intellectuals up, and post-truth – as a term and a concept – can possibly be an outcome of that.
There also exists the possibility, whatever remote, to argue that the US and the UK have been living in denial of facts and evidences for years – the denial that they have been, as part of various military alliances, helping in Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria or in many other parts of the world. Recent partisanship in the US where its Intel agencies and main stream media have been on one side with the alternate media in the US siding more with WikiLeaks or Russia Today while the President being in the former club and the President-elect being in the other camp, acknowledging that the narrative is not a simplistic binary explain this ‘post-truth’ realities.
Post-truth, other than its usual meaning, can also mean, possibly when a section of the influencing elite in the US and the UK reckon another version of reality (or truth/factual – selective or holistic) which isn’t what they expected. Because one-camp isn’t comfortable with the truth, it coins the term post-truth. When the highest order of scrutiny comes, none of the narratives should be off the table.One who seeks facts from one set of events outcome faces the same flak of ignoring evidences and going for assertions from another set of events.
Point is: It is relative. The degrees vary.
It will be interesting to point out that in 2016, the emergence of the post-truth political world happened after a decade when Time magazine voted ‘You’ as the person of the year back in 2006. Facebook or fake news, as mainstream categories, were still largely unheard of by the common man back in 2006. If one examines post-truth in 2016 devoid of that ‘You’ of 2006, one may not get the unbiased picture. That ‘You’ may not be an elite, or an acknowledged global expert voice; nonetheless, that ‘You’ is neither any more stupid than the former, the elites, at times make of themselves. Yes, we all at times make fools of ourselves. Post-mortems are easy, future is increasingly becoming more and more uncertain. That ‘You’ includes both the believers and nonbelievers of the ‘post-truth’ narrative, in a relativistic framework of a ‘factual’ society.
One could have referred Howard Zinn of 2006 to draw this conclusion earlier (Ishaan Tharoor’s article in the Washington Post is nothing new if one followed Zinn or Chomsky, there was no need for Russia Today to refer it to present its case; well, unless RT wanted to pick up a recent article from the Washington Post) , but the world – largely influenced by what the US and the UK thinks – did not, again largely, consider the other possibilities that Chomsky or Zinn repeatedly stated, with facts.
What rest of the world thought about truth in the UN or in similar multilateral forums mattered less, what mattered more was what the US (along with its strategic ally – the UK) often thought. As years pass by, as we – some of us from rest of the world – have more willingness to accept that the US (and the UK) did not help bring peace or stability in Afghanistan, Iraq or much of elsewhere, we realize that we have been living in a post-truth world, where the landscape of reality – the good and the evil, were largely seen from the perspectives that the US-UK alliances wanted us, the rest of the world, to see.
There can surely be an argument now – that, in the absence of a credible uniform narrative echoing from the US now (as US itself seems divided with its President-elect PEOTUS being seen in one camp and the present establishment of POTUS being in the other camp) and similar scenario in the UK, no consistent, coherent and uniform portrayal emerges from these two nations. Even from the US, it no longer the same old often repeated version of Russia being bad and Putin being evil picture. There are groups within the US and the UK – be it in their domestic issues or in their foreign policies –have exhibitedsharply divided opinions in most fronts.
It, essentially, is complicated. Binary pictures always failed to represent that complexity, some of us have suddenly woken up to realise it. Therefore, the mere emergence of the post-truth version of the world as one camp sees it need not be extremely alarming – the degrees to which it swing would be something to be worried about. And a watchful eye, more than ever, is necessary.
And that is the problem with the ‘post-truth’ world in 2017. Management consultants or IT professionals, having the luxury of playing around and coining new managerial jargons, abbreviations and acronyms every few years, know that the newly-coined term, as here ‘post-truth’, would also have its due share of use along with more shares of misuse and abuses, in coming days.Matter of fact is – we witness it already.
India: Moving from minority appeasement to discriminations, rest being similar (NDA + Cow)
That was the global context of post-truth and its advent. India had nothing much to do with it. Rather, it can be argued, that the world’s largest democracy, much poorer and whose internal or external matters influence less at the world stage than that of the other two stated above, has been living with the post-truth world for many years in its critical social areas when it comes to neglecting educationand healthcare, and thereby,overemphasizing on the GDP-cult. It continues the focus on growth of the economy without development of the people or the younger generations, pre-and-post-2014.
On the inclusiveness side of the political landscape, post-truth India since 2014 is significantly different. The year of reckoning here did not happen in 2016, rather in 2014. If there was visible signs of ‘appeasement’ vote bank politics followed by earlier ruling political parties, today India witnesses a majoritarian rule with widely reported discriminations to minorities. If the appeasement of minorities were inappropriate to a certain extent before 2014, in general; the discrimination of the same people is probably much worse now.
It may also be inappropriate to assume that all of the manifestation of the post-truth world politics, be it in the UK or in the US, from its origin so-to-speak, to becoming impactful to an earthshattering level globally happened within a single calendar year of 2016- without any visible signs or warning prior to it. It can, at best be argued, that couple of visible inflection points may have occurred in 2016 in that largely invisible trend so far.
Essentially, those arguing that large part of us have been living in a post-truth world post-2016 may be the people who lived in a post-truth world prior to 2016, for the world; or for India – the year for India being 2014.
India’s version of the post-truth politics is different due to India’s socio-economic status, with per capita nominal income (2015) being lower than 3% of that of the US (or 4% of that of the UK), and there is not any inflection point like 2016, unless one looks at the degree of it in demonetisation and other major acts of the ruling government. The older narrative of the post-truth trend in India continues – the post-truth world of having a Wall Street without main streets, having a cashless economy with teacher-less schools and banking-infrastructure-less villages, ability to influence the world (including sensitive South China Sea)without having basic governance and living conditions of the citizensinside the nation.
The intensity – the degree part of it – has magnified, since 2014, when the new government led by PM Modi came to power. The increasing intensity saw how decisions and narratives can be anything and everything, sans reality, with India’s latest demonetisation drive. With India continuing its negligence in social sectors even more than before, and inclusiveness of democracy diminishing from the social fabrics – the post-truth political landscape of India is different from that of the US and the UK.
If the post-truth year for India was 2014, it had probably been a harbinger of the more impactful post-truth events in the UK and the US of 2016, throughthe ‘nationalism’ narrative.
Point is: Post-truth does not carry the same meaning and context across the world. Each nation and each society, politically and socially, has its individual interpretation of post-truth political world and its impact on the social and the economic landscape. Following Einstein’s theory of relativity, it is a relativistic term.
Justice Anthony Kennedy of the US Supreme Court, back in 2012, while scrutinizing Obama’s Healthcare Insurance reform opined “most questions in life are matters of degree.” With post-truth, the degree as well as the context varies with each nation, that Obamacare itself of POTUS facing its existential crisis from PEOTUS.
In spite of the differences amongst politicians to columnists/journalists, agreement can be reached on one aspect of it: As the pendulum swings more in one direction, the invisible market forces – immaterial whether it originates from social, economic and/or political forces – would do the needful by bringing in the much needed balance, following Newton’s 3rd law.
Assuming, no untoward irreversible damage is done to the world by the symbolic pendulum by the excessive one-directional swing. Yes, that is a big assumption.
Prof.Ranjit Goswami is Vice-chancellor, RK University.