Living in the Post-Truth World

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By Graham Simon

gs-1308The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is “post-truth – an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In October, a British filmmaker, Adam Curtis, produced a 2 hour 46-minute documentary titled “HyperNormalisation.” The provocative trailer to the film starts with the words:

We live in a world where the powerful deceive us
We know they lie
They know we know they lie
They don’t care
We say we care but we do nothing
and nothing ever changes
It’s normal
Welcome to the post-truth world.

The fundamental thesis of Curtis’s documentary is that governments and politicians, themselves beholden to business interests, have deceived us so brazenly and for so long, that we no longer expect to be told the truth. Bereft of the hope that we can shape the world in which we live in a meaningful way through the political process, we channel an increasing amount of our energies into inconsequential pursuits that take place in cyberspace rather than the real world. When we do participate in the political process by casting our vote, our selections are frequently made not on the basis of truth, facts or likely outcomes, but out of frustration, confusion and disaffection. To Curtis, both Brexit and Donald Trump are evidence of this post-truth world.

This article addresses two questions: Whether the notion of a “post-truth world” actually describes a new reality, and, how we got to where we are today.

The “post-truth” world: a new reality or sour grapes?

The notion of post-truth suggests that people have historically had access to objective information and possessed the ability to assess the objectivity of facts presented to them when forming an opinion.

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