A world where the truth matters not
Populists pandering to parochial identities, polarising multi-ethnic societies, posing extravagant claims but backtracking without any blushes after securing their objective (while the public doesn't seem to care), reversing rationalism, demonising dissent and blaming the other/outsiders for all ills. Welcome to the "Post-Truth" world where the truth is no longer an obstacle - and its very concept is contested.
But Donald Trump, the Brexiters, the climate change deniers, the anti-vaccination or anti-immigration crowd, even our own infallible leaders, and the like proliferating all around are consequences, not causes of the "Post-Truth" phenomenon.
And it is not only rooted to these people or issues, contends British political journalist Matthew D'Ancona, noting that even Trump's eventual departure from office will not mean its end since the phenomenon is not only a mere contest between two competing ideologies of the political spectrum.
Therefore it is necessary to know why it this different from politics so far, how did we get to such a state of affairs, and why should we care.
It is a new strain of politics, shows D'Ancona in this book, one which goes beyond the usual tactics of less than the full truth, exaggeration and hyperbole or spin seen so far but is far more worrying because of its unwholesome underpinnings, response of particularly credulous public and reach and impact of digital technology and social media which facilitate it.
"We have entered a new phase of political and intellectual combat, in which democratic orthodoxies and institutions are being shaken to their foundations by a wave of ugly populism. Rationality is threatened by emotion, diversity by nativism, liberty by a drift towards autocracy. More than ever, the practice of politics is perceived as a zero-sum game, rather than a contest between ideas. Science is treated with suspicion, and sometimes, open contempt."
And "at the heart of this global trend is a crash in the value of truth", with honesty and accuracy no longer prized in such politics.
D'Ancona notes Trump figures quite a bit but clarifies his book is not about him or the the far right or any other ideology, but seeks to explore truth's "declining value" for society and its implications.
"If indeed we live in a Post-Truth era, where do its roots lie? What are its principal symptoms? And what can we do about it?" he asks and seeks to go to some quite unexpected areas to find the answers.
For its roots, he, tracing warnings from George Orwell in the age of totalitarianism, seeks to lay some culpability on Dr Sigmund Freud and his system of therapy giving primacy to emotions to the post-modernists and their attack on the notion of any objective reality.
But D'Ancona also shows how blame also lay in eroding trust in institutions spanning the governments, parliaments, big business (especially banks in 2008), media and experts of all stripes, which led to to "an uprising against the established order and a demand for ill-defined change".
And there was no shortage of politicians, to use this trust deficit- not only out of unscrupulousness but also of zealotry (sometimes closely linked to bigotry too) and the conviction they are right.
The symptoms of this phenomenon are too well known for anyone who follow the revolt against the status quo, seen most in the Brexit campaign and Trump's rise. D'Ancona is particularly scathing on the latter, terming him "a soiled Gatsby" or an entertainer with a talent for emotional narrative who has successfully "recast the presidency as the most desirable role in show business" and pointing how erroneous his statements are.
D'Ancona not only describes this "pernicious trend" of Post-Truth and its dangers but also calls on anyone who is worried about it not to sit passively for it to dispel but fight to defend respect for the truth, and rational, scientific thinking against its practitioners' "plutocratic, political and algorithmic firepower". He also offers a selection of strategies, ranging from vigilance to verification, and even satire, to confront it.
Ultimately it is up to us to determine if we want to think independently or allow someone's prejudices to determine our choices and future. IANS
Title: Post-Truth - The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back; Author: Matthew D'Ancona; Publisher: Ebury Press/Penguin Random House UK; Pages: 164; Price: Rs 399