Post-truth, a dubious compound word has been officially recognised and admitted into the Oxford dictionary in 2016 thereby acknowledging its legitimacy.
Shamefully, our acceptance of this word into our vocabulary is in truth a measure of our moral inadequacy, because it shows that we are willing to conform, play the game and allow public deceit and political dishonesty to become part of our way of life. It means that we have conceded to the degradation of our culture.
We are living in what has already been labelled ‘post-truth culture’.
Here’s what Oxford Dictionaries have said about the entry: “ After much discussion, debate and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
‘It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse,’ Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries said, ‘Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.’
With the entry of the word post-truth it appears that our perception of truth has been sacrificed at the altar of unrestricted public deceitfulness. It is as if genuineness and integrity have been officially devalued and virtues like truthfulness and honesty have been relegated to being artefacts of history in disused and dusty museums.
But, what is truth? Dictionary meanings are simple enough. (a). Truth is the quality of being true.(b). That which is true, or in accordance with fact or reality. (c). Sincerity in action, character, and utterance.
The concept of truth as discussed in art, religion and philosophy has been found to be more challenging to define. And, our own perspective of what is true is personal; we do not know if our community will agree with our perspective of truth. So what’s true for me may not be true for the community, or anybody else.
Fredrick Nietzsche, the German philosopher, felt that objective truth doesn’t exist; absolute truth was not possible, and, we could never get an across-the-board agreement on the truth. He also wrote that we were, for the most part, unaware of our lies and our interpretations and daydreams about the world. He felt that we were unable to distinguish our lies from reality. It seems Nietzsche was prescient about our present era of post-truth!
What’s disturbing about the acceptance of the word and the idea of Post-truth is that we have become a world, a people, to whom facts don’t matter. Truth has become irrelevant. We choose our own truth as long as what we want to believe suits us. Our world of post-truth is one in which a perspective of truth is the one that benefits us most. Principles are tossed aside so that we can choose our own principles.
We often admit to our confidants that we have been economical with the truth, we tell white lies; we spin the truth. We tell ‘new improved’ truth. This takes place a lot in our daily lives and also in advertising, public relations and corporate communications, and all the time in politics. However in advertising and corporate communications post-truth is not in creating false facts but it is in leaving out information; being economical with the truth. Facts are never made-up in advertising.
In politics however, post-truth is routine, it is the way of life of a politician. Politicians mouth all sorts of falsehoods and meaningless twat; they exaggerate and twist facts, and invent facts to remake reality to suit their spin. They make fact out of their fantasy. They make non-fiction out of their fiction. They make up stories all the time which do not stand the scrutiny of evidence.
What’s creepily unique about us as a part of the post-truth culture, is that we do not expect politicians to be truthful, so, we the general public (us), buy the lies that politicians make up as facts. And we allow ourselves to be taken in by disinformation; we permit ourselves to receive deceit and dishonesty as the truth. We indulge ourselves and our favourite politicians in their dissemination of lies. We shamelessly allow ourselves to treat what we know for sure are lies, as real. We tolerate inaccurate discourse. And when politicians are queried, we put up with their outright denials of facts.
So, we being philosophically inclined and enthusiasts of Nietzsche’s viewpoint, go along with Nietzsche in believing that there is no such thing as absolute truth, so what’s all the fuss about! Not only that, this phenomenon of accepting lies as truth from our favourite elected politicians is world-wide, and the world over, they are the ones who tell the most lies and fabricate the most non-evidentiary facts.
But does our shameless pandering to the lies of politicians arise from ignorance, indifference, disinterest, or fatalism, or does it arise from fear? Is it ‘Learned-helplessness’ where we feel helpless and accept our situation and believe we are in a place that is inescapable. Or do we resort to ‘Wilful-blindness’ when we pretend that we don’t see or know about what’s happening in our surroundings? Or do we take refuge in ‘Amor-fati’ – where we love of our own fate, and accept circumstances as inevitable? Or is it our sheer naiveté and our childlike trust in the words of politicians? Politicians know that “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” Stephen King.
We don’t know for sure, though fear of going against the grain is the most plausible reason for our acceptance of lies. We fear standing up for truth. We fear inciting arguments and hostility from our unthinking friends and acquaintances that are in thrall of the rhetoric of politicians. A legitimate fear is of suffering a backlash from a ruthless government, because the political administration makes it clear to us that our disagreement with their point of view is considered either hatred of them, or is labelled anti-national.
The thoughtful people amongst us must reject Amor fati, ‘learned helplessness’ & ‘wilful blindness from our beings. We must conquer fear and turn our thoughts to ‘wilful action’, ‘learned helpfulness and ‘Love of freedom of choice’ and express our right to compassion, humanity and individual dignity.
We must rise above being taken in by emotion rather than fact and draw on our
own inner resources and common sense and our own morality, dismiss our cynicism, pack-off our fear and make up our minds to do whatever we do with ‘integrity’ which is listening to our own inner conscience and our own truth. And in our own way, asserting our right to exist in the way we feel is morally and ethically right.
And though it can be difficult to face the truth which many people avoid, and though we may not discount Nietzsche’s view that objective truth is a philosophical hoax, in this age of post-truth we must allow our own values of honesty, ethics and responsibility surface, and we must resist and counter the unfeasible and unsubstantiated ideas, and the blatant lies and manufactured facts disgorged by politicians.
To live in this politicised post-truth society, we should continue to fight for our perspective of the truth; for the greater common good; live with compassion, and rise above the world of post-truth culture.
Pratap Antony, Passive activist/Active pacifist, freelance thinker and writer