Well, there’s a whole lot of references these days to “post-stuff”, like post-modernism, post-post-modernism (really?), post rationality, post-logical (does that mean that post hoc ergo propter hoc* is now okay?) and post-truth.
Those are just a few of the posts that come to mind – still they are enough to make me wonder if we aren’t doing a tad too much post-ing. Regardless, I would like you to think about the whole idea of post-truth in particular – it’s a scary beast and deserves “a little light”.
So, what is this post-truth stuff anyhow? That most authoritative source, Wikipedia, explains that post-truth is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.
Post-truth is about politics and flimflammery gone mad, where P.T. Barnum’s ‘suckers’ don’t care that they are ring cheated, and in fact seem to relish in it.
It is the fodder of the Donald John Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Recep Erdogan, Victor Orbán, Vlad Putin crowd – the authoritarians for whom truth is but an unfortunate inconvenience.
Post-truth is a rather confusing sociological concept to be sure and the psychology underlying it is equally confusing.
How is it that anyone could or would purposely disregard verifiable facts in favour of emotional claptrap, pure nonsense not even well disguised?
The evidence of this nonsense is obvious in the Trumpist world where no amount of evidence pointing to the president’s corruption, debauchery, turpitude and ignorance seems to sway their devotion.
According to the Washington Post as of his 700th day in office, the guy had lied or issued misleading statements over 7,500 times.
He obviously makes up the stuff he says on the fly. Really, the man is such an obvious and profligate liar that it is hard to understand how anyone can support him. But they do.
If you have time, dig up the documentary Sour Grapes. It’s the story of the Rudy Kurniawan wine scam and it’s a wonderful example of how people stick with their beliefs regardless of the evidence that proves them wrong.
This Los Angeles-based scam netted Kuriawan millions of dollars before the rare wines he was selling to the rich and famous were in fact proven to be bottled in his kitchen without a whole lot of attention given to disguising his fraud.
Even after Kuriawan was caught, tried and jailed, some of the victims of his crime refused to believe what they bought was cheap wine of no value.
They had invested so much of their personal and public self-images in their purchases they could not admit that they could be defrauded. I mean, they ‘knew wines’, right? They couldn’t be drinking Chateau Thames Embankment – that would be impossible.
This very weakness is what so many in the current political arena exploit. If they can connect with our fears and exploit our egos then chances are any of us will join their new cult.
The result is an audience of magical thinkers, like Kurniawan’s victims, who are emotionally bonded to the message to which they have committed themselves and desperately need to believe – those bonds will transcend logic for far too many.
That much is evident. Stoke misogynistic or xenophobic fears and people will ignore the obvious lies.
Tell the lies, big or small, often enough and they become ‘emotional facts’ that support the emotional commitment of the naïve.
Post-truth as a political ethos is really about “I believe” being more important than anything supported by empirical evidence and as such is the ultimate demonstration of a social narcissism that validates feelings over evidence and allows for bizarre political actions and behaviours that really should be anathema.
Trump and his ilk (both on the far right and the far left) are particularly adept at exploiting this psychology and use the fear and alienation of a cynical public to be twisted into a dangerous movement.
Post-truth does not mean that ‘truth’ is unimportant in our world or that it has disappeared.
Indeed, fighting the normalization of this social movement is very important. We may as a species be confused by the statistical uncertainty that surrounds everything we do, but that does not give us license to believe anything we want to believe.
Donald Trump spoke for two hours and two minutes at a recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting during which the Toronto Star counted 60 outright lies and his wasn’t the most bizarre speech given at that spectacle of post-truth madness. The audience cheered throughout.
It is challenging, but battling this insanity requires insight, awareness and commitment from all of us who value democracy and freedom.
It is not something we can pretend is a passing fad and will disappear in the next political swing.
Authoritarianism simply doesn’t work that way.
* Post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this, is a logical fallacy that states “since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.” It is often shortened simply to post hoc fallacy. – Ed