Truth in a 'Post-Truth' World
As the infamous Stewart Lee line goes; “You can prove anything with facts”. But in this ‘post-truth’ world we now inhabit I increasingly wonder - does anybody really care anymore?
As illustrated by the Brexit & Trump campaigns, statements of factual inaccuracy no longer appear to be a turn off to voters, even when the perpetrators are caught square in the act of lying. Trump can claim America has “34 million illegal immigrants” (top estimates are around a third of that number) or is “The most taxed nation in the world” (in truth they are below average amongst developed economies) without seeing his popularity dented. The Leave campaign can promise £340 million a week in extra spending on the side of a highly publicised campaign bus, & then disown the pledge hours after securing a Brexit vote, without receiving any sanction. In such a political environment what is to be gained by telling the truth? In a very real sense honesty in your promises & statistics becomes a disadvantage when your opponents can wax lyrical with pledges unshackled by the limits of factual reality.
This lax attitude to verifiable figures, proven claims & achievable promises damages us all. It erodes our faith in politicians & the political system in general to the point that ‘politicians lie’ is now an accepted fact. It is the job of the press & media to take politicians to task for such transgressions - and a very important task it is too. However the current political climate, in which the US President describes any dissenting voices in the press or negative coverage as ‘Fake News’, undermines this process as well. It creates doubt & permits Trump supporters to dismiss well researched criticism as untrue. Again it shows us that ‘truth’ is not necessarily the important factor.
Of course the press has had a large hand in creating this sense of distrust in them by the general populace. Tabloid journalism has chased lowest common denominator stories of lascivious gossip & scandal for decades, and events such as the phone hacking scandal in the UK have left the public, rightly or wrongly, with little faith in the journalistic integrity of the Fourth Estate.
In such a climate then, who can you trust? If Politicians lie & Journalists print ‘Fake News’, what can the individual do to wrestle back some semblance of balance in this seemingly rigged game? It’s time to take some individual responsibility. A colleague recently explained to me how 10,000 Syrian refugees had been bussed into his local town of Hartlepool. This had occurred in the middle of the night in order to keep the operation out of the newspapers. I don’t believe the individual in question fabricated this scenario himself, but he certainly believed it to be true regardless of where his information came from. In this day & age the vast majority of us have access to the internet. A quick Google & a cursory glance at the refugee stats for the UK would show you that there have only been 8,000 Syrian refugees taken into the UK this year. As at least 4 families have been housed in my local town of Wishaw I can be fairly sure that his numbers are at least slightly wrong. When we also take into account that the total population of Hartlepool is around 90,000 then we can easily see that this story is questionable at best.
Now, far from wishing to paint this person as some kind of village idiot, my point is that we are all guilty of doing the same thing to a greater or lesser extent. We all suffer from confirmation bias. While I took the effort to investigate & disprove this tale which jarred with my own personal beliefs, how many times have I taken the time to fact check soundbites & stats from my own politicians of choice? How many stories have I questioned when they positively reinforce my own political ideals? Probably not enough. If we choose to be distrustful of politicians & the media then it is up to us to force some sort of accountability & not just on an individual level. Next time you hear a friend or colleague espouse some ill-informed or incorrect opinions don’t take the easy route & say nothing - call them out on it. This doesn’t have to be done in a rude or condescending manner, merely point out the flaws in their argument. The alternative is to allow the lie to spread. In a post-truth world the truth is a weapon to be wielded indiscriminately & often. Let's send a message back up the chain that the truth is still important.