Ok, you don’t have to agree with a word I say, nor believe what I write as fact. Please do your own research and make sure you do everything you can to verify anything that is presented to you as fact. Why? Because we live in what has been topically coined as the ‘post truth’ era. Over the last few weeks, as my country of birth has been dragged through an unnecessary and ill-conceived referendum (opinion), I have witnessed ‘facts’ from official sources that would have caused serious problems of balance for Pinocchio. Not consigned only to one side of the argument, it seems that the Leave campaign wins first prize for the speed with which its claims were revised. The very campaign bus that toured the country and touted a 350 million pound windfall for the NHS on leaving the EU was rapidly re-painted, and leading Brexiteers were quick to point out that these funds would not be available after all. Amongst other major statements, the Leave team also promised a reduction in immigration numbers. This was, once again, hastily denied after the vote was in.
I do not wish to dwell on the rather dubious methods used to persuade an Exit vote in the referendum, as this is simply a symptom of the culture we now inhabit in our increasingly information-rich connected world. Fast on the heels of the EU referendum the Chilcot report was published after 7 years of research into Britain’s participation in the second Iraq war. Yet again, we are now, only years later, learning the truth about WMDs in Iraq!
However, this has become the norm and it is seriously exacerbated by media outlets determined to sell their particular agendas. Only recently has the Sun newspaper reluctantly apologized for its appalling accusations against fans of Liverpool football club for the disaster at Hillsborough 27 years ago. The other day, I was trawling through cat videos and family barbecues on Facebook interspersed with serious articles on current events that could have passed for sketches from the Monty Python archives.
I read that vast areas of London are living under Sharia law, that crime has escalated following stricter gun laws in Australia. A few years ago, I had to provide an answer to many who questioned me on Britain’s health service ‘Death Camps’ as portrayed by a certain vice presidential candidate from Alaska. Now we are told that immigrants are responsible for the high levels of crime in the UK, and yet independent statistics point to the opposite being true. What makes matters worse, is the fashionable revision of history that seeks to paper over the cracks of untruth and present a pristine new version of events. We now hear that the EU referendum is a resounding mandate from the people. We are told over and over by the gun lobby that more guns would prevent mass shootings in the US. So, how, I wonder, does this claim stack up against reality when over 100 armed policemen were unable to stop one lone gunman in Dallas from his bloody rampage?
Our problem has only been magnified by the sheer weight of information available and the somewhat sinister way in which it is now presented, particularly on social media. A vast majority of our population now use Facebook as a source of streaming information. Some of it is harmless and boring. But when it comes to current affairs and news items, Facebook uses an algorithm to place items it believes are of interest to you, or support your point of view in order to garner more attention from you and thus more exposure to its revenue source; advertising. And so, the news stream is delivered in a censored format and then from sources that vary hugely in reliability. Unfortunately, with such a weight of information at our disposal, we have little time to verify the truth of it all. The edifice of truth we build is often created on a false foundation, the walls are constructed from sources that say what we want to hear and back up our stance or position, cemented together by ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ that often bear no relation to the truth. I admit, this has been a problem for much longer than this generation. Most faiths have cherry picked writings from holy books to support their doctrinal position for centuries. However, these days, we seem beset by partisan issues at every turn and the voice of reason and honest truth has been lost to ever more strident factions, whose positions are further and further removed from honest assessment and a humble willingness to hear the truth. I urge myself and all who care about this ‘post truth’ world to value that which is proven and be ever questioning of the source of our information.
One thing that came to mind as I read over today’s post is the notion of us all being herded around like sheep by those that tell us tales, true or not, directing us into the “thought pens” they’ve prepared for us . . .
This sentence shot my mind back to my reading of an author whose works are on the Gutenberg and Librivox websites, Jacob Abbott.
His short histories on various people of ancient history are wonderful. The Roman world as seen in Cleopatra and Julius Caesar for instance, as well as Hannibal (the story of the Carthaginians) have evidence of how the governing bodies, and the public as a whole were manipulated via propaganda. Hannibal wanted a war with the Romans to avenge a death, so he manufactured support for it, and proceeded to make war on Rome.
There’s nothing new under the sun, is from Ecclesiastes, and it’s quite true
Yes indeed, thanks for that. As you say, nothing new under the sun.
Of course, by declaring it a ‘post-truth’ world you imply that there was once a ‘truth’ world. That notion slightly undermines the suggestion that it is the foundations and scaffolding that underpin contemporary socio-political discourse and sociocultural structures that are responsible for much of the current malware. Put simply, this ‘truth’ pickle didn’t just appear overnight. It’s the result of entrenched social structures that stretch back decades, centuries, and in some cases millennia.
And the historical precedent for truth-based headaches is well established. Regardless of whether one actually believes in a fundamental ontology – whether an organised religion, spiritualism, or science – one only has to look to the Council of Nicea to see the futility of expecting humans to be able to handle truths in a responsible manner. Power and control is intimately linked to ‘truth’, and always has been. Indeed, the tree of knowledge is a case in point.
I agree with the general argument that Foucault outlines in his critique of Kant. When Kant attempted to answer the question ‘What is Enlightenment?’ he responded by claiming that it is rational thought. By this he meant scientific classification of animal, mineral, and vegetable. This establishment of the normative – the paradigm – as the basic unit of understanding set us on a path of very dodgy statistic truth-making. If there is an ontological normal, there must be its opposite. Our evolving understanding that women are not substandard to men, that blacks are not substandard to whites, that gender is not a binary, that consciousness is far more complex than was ever previously thought, etc, shows just how frightening the idea of rational truth-making can be.
If this is the ‘truth’ in your ‘post-truth’, then we should be grateful to be shifting beyond it, even if the early stage of that journey is uncertain and far from smooth.
What the current climate is doing is holding up the myth of truth for inspection, and finding it woefully inadequate. Like an antiquated piece of machinery that has been recycled and up-cycled and adapted and otherwise meddled with, ‘truth’ as we know it is no longer fit for purpose.
And good riddance to it.
But the media should burn in hell. I’m with you on that one.
Thanks for that – great addition to this debate. I do agree with the notion that this is an age old problem. I think my main concern today revolves around the exponential proliferation of ‘facts’ and information and the sheer weight of numbers of people who are simply listening to whatever handy source they look to for their dose of truth – apparently Facebook is probably even more influential than any one branch of the media. Great to have your contributions!!
Indeed! Case in point: Facebook was recently up in arms because the BBC hadn’t reported a major fire in Hyde Park, London, England. After a couple of hours people began to point out that the fire was in Hyde Park, London, Boston. It took a further three hours for it to become clear that the fire was actually in Hyde Park, London, Canada.
Tobias and I see this all the time with people getting on their political bandwagons regarding military interventions. The classic is always “the military refused to release figures of civilian fatalities…” following an air strike, which is interpreted as being deliberate concealment in order to deceive the public. When you point out that it’s because the insurgents purposefully leave the place wired with IEDs that have to be painstakingly cleared before the civilians can be rescued (and casualties counted) people just don’t believe you. Which is also important, I think. I’m noticing more and more that people are desperate to create their own truths from a landscape that makes no sense, and they come up with formulae that are fed by fear and doubt.
Wouldn’t it be great it they taught critical thinking in school?!
Wow what a thought – critical thinking for school age kids!!! Now that would be revolutionary – appreciate the insights on the military front – not an area I am familiar with but come across statements like that often in the media. It’s good to get an insider perspective.
Brilliant piece. That, at least, is true 🙂
In my opinion, at least 😉