By Jason Michael
We are talking about post-truth as though it is something new that has arrived on the scene to pose a threat to our freedom, when in fact it is “the truth” itself that we must be prepared to critique and destroy. Facts have never been the problem.
In 2016 the Oxford English Dictionary named “post-truth” its word of the year. This is a concept that has shot to relevance on the back of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, but there is nothing new about post-truth. That it has come to more of our attentions over the past six months and that it has become the latest buzzword in the global political arena owes more to the nature of these political events and to the internet than it does to its apparent novelty. Brexit and the US presidential elections were similar in one significant respect; they were both conflicts between polarised factions of the ruling class – the part of society that controls the language of political and cultural discourse. Social media ensured that it spread rapidly to every quarter of the internet.
According to Wikipedia the term was coined by the Serbian-American playwright, Steve Tesich, in an article he wrote in 1992 for The Nation magazine. In this he said: “In a very fundamental way we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” His thesis is that we who live in our comfortable Western liberal democracies have become so entranced by endless entertainment, consumerism, and well-packaged media spin that we have developed a desire to delegate our responsibility to engage with often inconvenient news rather than rock the boat by critically evaluating the narrative fed to us by those in power.
Thus the powerful rule with our consent by renegotiating the social contract; giving just enough people enough of what they want in exchange for a free pass to govern without too many difficult questions being asked. So long as this contract functioned with the ruling class on top, with the dominated class kept divided and docile, the mechanism continued to operate. Now, however, that the struggle for power has become a clash between contending sections of the ruling class the inherent problems and injustices – and the language used to describe them – have become more widely discussed. The docile and dominated class are no longer being given enough to keep just enough silent, and the media – the record of the narrative of the ruling class – is explaining, albeit inadvertently, to everyone else what is really happening.
All of this is played out in two specific locations; in the political discourse itself and in the university – the traditional nursery of the ruling class. It is essential to first recognise the difference in categories that gives post-truth its power. This is the power made possible by confusion. Facts are not truth. Facts are little more than bites of information and, as we have learned in the past year, facts are irrelevant. The truth on the other hand is what is made of the facts – how they are presented, spun, and manipulated. Truth – or what we have come to call the truth – is the narrative. Yet the term “post-truth” itself confuses these categories and in so doing misdirects our attention back to the less important facts, and facts have always been unimportant to politics.
Post-truth is not post-fact. No one, for example, disputes that there is a war in Syria and that this has instigated a refugee crisis. These are facts, and their universal acceptance makes them irrelevant. What is relevant is the narrative of this war and this crisis, and more generally the spin the power players put on their politics. Post-truth then is a smoke screen. While it alludes to the overarching and competing ideologies and narratives, it is really unconcerned with “the truth.” It has become bogged down in unimportant and – for the most part – uncontested factualities. Our real concern must be with the narratives, and as these are the crown jewels of the political ruling class our best chance of seeing how they are created, controlled, and protected is in the training ground – the university.
Both the academic left and the academic right – that is the Alt-Right and the Social Justice Warriors – have developed their own weaponised ideologies and constructed around them siege defences. On each side we note that language and identity have played an integral role in forming and defending their respective narratives, and by individuals aligning themselves to these ideological positions and adhering to their rules they forge a path to power. It must be inferred that this mode of thinking and behaviour is a replication of how things are done in the ruling sphere of society. These narratives, rather than any facts, are their truths – and these truths always and without exception serve class interests. It is these – unassailable truths – that must be challenged.
Post-Truth: Why Facts Don’t Matter Anymore
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)