Our Post-truth World
“It’s a post-truth world, and victory belongs to those who understand that reality belongs to the person with the best stagecraft.” So says War Is Boring in an article about Steve Bannon and Brietbart.
We are the stories we tell ourselves. Psychologists have long known the truth of this on a personal level. What’s only starting to become clear is that it’s equally true on a cultural level. We tell ourselves stories about who we are as a people, as a nation. The stories we choose to tell, and tellingly, that we choose to believe, are important: they define us and influence our choices and actions.
Individually, we believe we have control over our perceptions of what is true and what is not. We believe we have real choice about how we will respond to what we see and hear. We “understand” how things are around us and, according to the values we’ve been raised with and absorbed from our peers, we “understand” what we should do.
I quote “understand” because evidence suggests both what we perceive and how we internalize and process those perceptions are often illusions. The truths we see and hear, are told and read, are often not true at all, or only partially true. At a certain age, unless we have subjected ourselves to a strong regimen of training in logic and rationality, we blindly and blithely accept as true statements we’ve been repeatedly exposed to. We soon believe what we want to believe and ignore or dismiss anything that seems counter to the “truths” we’ve become used to.
It may be useful to think of ourselves as members of the audience of a worldwide stage play, one delivered to us by invisible authors and acted by, ready for this? Ourselves.
Media machines, including small independent media and social media, are the delivery mechanisms for this ongoing farce. The point of the play, non-obvious to most, is that we’re to continually decide who we are and what our culture represents. The drama of the play, for we require drama, the more the better, comes from dividing our perceptions of who we are into simplistic and opposing boxes: progressives, conservatives, insiders and outsiders, haves and have nots, various flavors of religions and the non-religious.
We pick our roles as early as possible so we have some clue who we’re meant to be. Television and other youth-friendly media serve as our directors, urging us into identities as we adapt to extra-media social pressures. We choose to be like our parent or parents, or we rebel against their values; we choose, or are chosen by, peers who reinforce our nascent sense of who we are; we begin the life-long process of reinforcement and confirmation of our roles by selecting which media messages we want to believe and which we will condemn as packs of lies.
At this time in America (December of 2016) the spectacle is reaching a dramatic peak that, ironically, makes it possible to glimpse how flimsy the stagecraft really is behind the flash and bang and noise. This may be the only upside to the unexpected and dramatic flip and reverse accomplished by Trump et. al. a month ago. Distracted as we may be by all this, we have an opportunity to see more and thus to shift our understanding of the story we’re being told. If we’re the actors in this melodrama, being fed our script as well as making it up as we go, it means we may be able to shift our consciousness from the drama back to the reality behind it. It may not be easy — the noise won’t stop, the flash will only intensify — but there are calm places behind the scenery if we make an effort to find them. There we may settle, if briefly, and converse quietly. If we have the courage to abandon the script in those moments, we may sit with actors assigned parts opposing our own. We may speak, human to human rather than role to role, and in doing, learn something true, something larger than the play in which we’re trapped. We may realize the play is a play, and not reality, and that we’re all actors, and at the same time, brothers and sisters to each other, regardless of what we’re being told, regardless of what we’re meant to “understand.”
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