Post-truth: some thoughts
On the 16th of November, 2016, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word of the year- stating that the term is an apt reflection of the social and political rhetoric of the previous year.
The term is defined as “a political culture in which politics (propaganda and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the subject of legislation)”-the jist of the idea being that a direct emotional appeal is both more effective and more significant than truth. More important than fact. Stronger than reality.
One could infer that this phenomenon has become such an integral part of modern politics ever since mainstream media became a cornerstone of alll aspects of our lives. Everywhere we turn, we are surrounded by information. Endless streams of text, images and video. Smartphones, television, radio, computers- their fundamental purpose is to provide simple, conventient access to information.
However, ever since demand and interest started leaning towards convenience, the tide has turned. If news is being tweaked and optimised for convenience, we have a problem. Surely news is meant to be…well, news. But this revolution in media, and the ease of access of information, means that the truth is- and has been for decades now- being adjusted and modified to suit the needs of the audience. If your target audience wants the news fast and simplified, that’s what they’ll get.
And this is the terrifying bit. The ubiquity of the media- especially quick, fingertip-accessible social media, means that the truth behind any given idea, priciple or event can be manipulated or distorted to suit one particular party’s vested interests.
The crux of what I’m saying is this- reading a 140-character summary of one particular individual’s emotions surrounding a single aspect of a sentence, and then taking it as gospel will destroy the truth behind the original words. That is what modern media- or as I like to call it “news for the people by the people”- is doing. This rhetoric obscures the big picture entirely- it masks it, distorts it and blurs it beyond recognition to a point where it’s impossible to distinguish between truth and lies.
We find ourselves in a world where political campaigns are centered around emotional appeal more than ever before. Whilst it takes fact and evidence to sway those in power, it takes emotion and sentiment to sway the masses. Anger and scapegoating is a simple way to appeal to the masses- focus all negative attention on a single figure, emphasise any action of theirs that may be even slightly questionable, repeat the same rhetoric and manifestos, and they’ll believe what they hear. Yo
We’ve reached a point where emotions can overrule cold, hard facts and truths. In many ways we can consider this ignorance to be regressive, almost primal. Instead of relying upon reason and rationality, the masses now appeal to their instincts and emotions to make crucial political decisions. Post-truth politics allows for dishonesty and flat-out lying to be forgotten and overlooked; as long as people hear what they want to hear.
Look at the previous year as a perfect emobidment of the dangers of post-truth politics. We saw the Brexit campaign- a campaign fueled by indifference, lies, skepticism and hatred- prevail due to the lack of awareness-or regard, for that matter- of the truth. An average man or woman, sitting within the comfort of their homes, cannot be expected to learn and understand every single aspect of the debate upon whether to stay within, or leave the European Union. Now if they open their Facebook feed and are bombardened with the now-debunked lie of “£350 million every week”, which was regarded as gospel truth during the Leave campaign, you would expect them to believe it. Human beings enjoy seeing themselves as victims, and to portray the European Union as an oppresive force that drains money from our bank accounts while giving us nothing back is a simple, yet effective way to appeal to the emotions of the masses. To make them feel cheated, or undermined. However, to bombard one with such “facts” without also informing them of the countless benefits of the European Union is obscuring the big picture.
I’m not here to argue about the EU referendum. But this is the crux of post-truth politics. Emotion overruling fact. Lies being allowed to prevail. It’s a terrifying thought, really. The sheer amount of ignorance, indifference and blind conformism that this whole ideology revolves around. How omnipresent all of this is within our social rhetoric.“Post-truth”, meaning the era of accountability and justification is at an end. It means that we now find ourselves in a world where the truth has become a commodity.