What Truthiness and Post-Fact Era Means
Seriously, the present electoral fiasco feels like we have a gun pointed to our collective head. Does anyone really want more of this inane, truly bizarre and totally useless election nonsense? Anyone who does not long for this weird and depressing presidential election to be over?
What we do want and need are detailed discussions about our priorities, real problems and tangible options that could remedy them. A bonus would be serious detailed discussions about scenarios able to proactively advance our collective situation constructively.
Unfortunately, nobody out there in the parallel universe we call politics is genuinely interested in such discussion. As they see it, it is way too risky for their careers. Better to just amp up our fear and anxiety quotient.
Nonetheless, many assume and are even optimistic that, aside from some post-election grousing, everything will soon get back to normal. And, they are right — it will.
The problem is that what passes for normal in our current political system (an archaic medieval design) is itself extraordinarily weird and depressing. For example:
- The congressional legislative process is so dysfunctional that globally everyone now acknowledges it is a domestic and international problem.
- The public wants substantive change in the process and most policy areas, yet only gets stalemated paralysis or inconsequential, incremental actions.
- Nearly every political commentary reflects amazement about how out of touch politicians are with the reality of the general public’s concerns.
- Trust in politicians and institutional, business and media elites is abysmally low, yet is still falling.
- Political fact-checkers have never been busier, yet increasingly facts seem irrelevant to policy and decision making and conspiracy theories grow like weeds.
- There is absolutely no reason to assume this weird, depressing and useless political nonsense will not continue or get worse over the next four years.
An accident waiting to happen
What may be worse is that we are also seeing these same problems playing out elsewhere internationally. As a consequence, what we now are seeing is a world moving toward two repugnant forms of governance.
- A resurgent growth in autocratic systems that consciously control all media and fabricate a favorable, preferred reality. Systems that now rely heavily on digital media surveillance techniques to preempt the emergence of any consequential dissent.
- Devolving representative systems that are experiencing a growing distrust of all elite rhetoric and an escalating fragmentation of the social order. Systems that are now seeing an exodus of citizens into cloistered enclaves, which rationalizes more and better surveillance techniques to preempt rising institutional fears of losing control.
In both systems everyone continues to go through the motions of a civil order, but without any conviction beyond self-preservation. But, it is a conviction that coexists with a pervasive anxiety that the next “event” — which perpetually feels imminent — whatever it is, is not likely to be a good or favorable one — rather a bad one.
The obvious question is: is this anxiety warranted?
What we have here is a failure to communicate
Anyone who studied political science has learned that politics is a word game about framing a preferred reality and spinning rhetoric to suit the desired message and agenda. Everyone who experiences professional or office politics comes to know that framing reality and favorably spinning rhetoric are more important in power relationships than facts or merit.
Anyone who went to law school has learned how words can be creatively ordered to frame and depict any preferred reality. Everyone who practices law knows there is a legal system, but no justice system, so “the law” is only what judges’ say it is. As a result, the best confabulating wordsmith generally wins.
Anyone who studied accounting, statistics or economics has learned that numbers can be constructed to depict whatever one wants to demonstrate. Everyone who practices in these fields knows there is never one “right” answer, only conjecture aided and abetted by forceful argumentation and persuasion — words.
Anyone who studied advertising, marketing or journalism has learned that persuasion is the primary objective. Everyone who works in these fields comes to know that everything said and depicted is relative to framing a preferred point of view, however relative that may be.
Post-fact era — talk is cheap
Said differently, all of the people working in these fields — together what illuminates our visible collective world 24/7— have learned that words, facts and merit are relative. Consequently, since we, as a society, lack any agreed upon context, goal, vision or end state, everything is relative and can be debated and argued ad infinitium.
One manifestation of all this relativity, which vividly seen in this U.S. election, is the post-fact era we have entered. As The Economist magazine said recently,
[A] shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts…with less resistance than used to be the case….If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced….[It’s] what Stephen Colbert…calls ‘truthiness’: ideas which ‘feel right’ or ‘should be true’. They deal in insinuation…and question the provenance, rather than accuracy, of anything that goes against them (‘They would say that, wouldn’t they?’)…[and] can always be bridged with a handy conspiracy theory….Post-truth politics is made possible by…a loss of trust in institutions…and deep changes in the way knowledge of the world reaches the public….[Trust in] the Western world it is at an all-time low…[so] post-truth politics will be with us for some time to come.
This post-fact relativity is what our political system and, through it, what we have devolved into as a society. Collectively, we are now following a path controlled by meaningless words, truthiness and fabricated framed realities.
No longer moored to reality, up is now down, day is night. So, now, most people have an eerie, intuitive sense we are firmly immersed within a civilizational “twilight zone” — an unreal purgatory.
Despite 21st century sensibilities, endless political rhetoric about nationalism and exceptionalism, extraordinary technological marvels and potential, ubiquitous media and infinite information, collectively we have realized we have no control over the path we are on or where we are headed.
This is our zeitgeist.
Since everything is now relative, it is hubris to say we are Homo sapiens, wise man. Rather, we are now just another extension of biology’s random natural selection process.
Thus, being anxious about the next event being bad is warranted.
While the public at large cannot put its finger on who or what to blame or exactly how to overcome the anxiety, it is, nonetheless, a shared certainty that we are on the wrong path. And, they are right — the next event is likely to be bad.
Deaf, dumb and blind
Consequently, the public is now certain it is being lied to and deceived continuously. Worse, it is increasingly coming to the realization that its future is being screwed up and can easily be lost completely.
Unfortunately, most people have been so heavily socialized and proselytized about the superiority our medieval representative system and our national exceptionalism that they expect a new messiah will eventually emerge and save us. A messianic leader who will instantly be above reproach and have an obvious, simple, good and true-north path to pursue and unify us.
Despite being absolute relativists, every political and institutional elite also expects some visionary leader will eventually come along to fix and save the “system.” This is really ironic because they all know the political system actively discourages and aggressively weeds out visionaries. Thus, what passes for a visionary leader is a demagogue. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, unmoored and adrift from facts and trust, completely confused about where and how to constructively channel their fear, frustration and anger, the public at large lazily consumes any convenient anesthetic available to escape their anxiety.
All along the watchtower
To anyone who grasps our evolutionary context and challenges we face, this electoral fiasco feels like we have a gun pointed to our collective head. Hostages forced to endure this agonizingly long election to its climax.
And, when this long national nightmare is finally over, we will all be released and be able to return our political version of Bill Murray’s, Groundhog Day. An endless loop that, on a daily basis, tortures us with same inane, petty and useless verbal political drivel but takes us absolutely nowhere.
It also means our supercilious political and institutional elites can go back to doing what they do best. Namely, covering their asses while grabbing any available spoils before their watch ends or the next event overtakes them.
Meanwhile, the denizens of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and media can once again detach themselves from their obligatory, but distracting, participation in the quadrennial circus and return to their preferred self-aggrandizing pursuits.
In the end nothing will have changed substantively. Absent a consensually agreed upon context, goals, vision or viable effort to develop a new political system, we all remain imprisoned in this societal purgatory — waiting for the next event to shock our conscience and darken our soul.
All this raises the existential question: Is there anybody out there? Anyone who want to design a new system before this one destroys us?
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You can find more of my ideas at my Medium publication, A Passion to Evolve or my website dochuston1. com
In any case, may you live long and prosper.