The following is really only a draft (from 15th Dec 2016) but prompted to post after seeing this tweet exchange today:
Very true – fake news a powerful tool in the Early Modern period, esp news relaying behind closed doors conversations or information leaks. https://t.co/fqu1lgx9g1
— Dr Joanne Paul (@Joanne_Paul_) January 8, 2017
The post-truth age traced back to the 17th century https://t.co/k73iqJlx49
— Andrew Muter (@andrewmuter) January 3, 2017
I’ve reacted against this “post-truth” meme, that somehow we’ve morphed into a world where lies have replaced truth, where “fake-news” has displaced facts, and that this is something new and real.
In fact all that is new is that ever more ubiquitous media clamour for our attention by turning every topic into a battle between polarised opposites. Polemics have always been part of debate, but debate and reality have always been more than a choice between fact and fiction, and fiction has often contained more valuable truth that facts. As old as history in fact. All that’s new is the ever expanding ubiqity of media and the crowding-out all but extreme opposites and sensational interpretations. Memetic click-bait. There have always been headlines – the original marketing click-bait – but now some expect headlines and 140 char tweets to be a valid summary of the story or …. get out of my sight, scroll on.
Interesting how many “BTL” comments and social-media threads spend time debating “but that headline is false, it doesn’t reflect the content of the story and reference material”. Well no, but now you’ve linked to it, it’s the content we’re supposed to be evaluating. It’s the content the writer put their effort into. We’re increasingly meta about the motives in the media messages – second-guessing agendas than we are concerned with the content. We’re in danger of seeing the medium as the only message.
In fact we’re in a world where we no longer understand what truth and reality are. The only test being if it’s not a true fact it must be false. That’s never been true, except for abstract objects confined to some logical truth-table.
[Post Note: This piece from Peter Pomeranstev writing at Granta on “Why We’re Post Fact”. Hat tip to Terry Waites posting on Agora Critical Thinking’s Facebook page.
It’s a good piece, a good summary of the situation we’re talking about, and Pomerantsev draws heavily on Svetlana Boym’s work amongst others. Reinforces my view that what’s changed is the technology, which is not to blame the technology, but recognise that the technology exposes the underlying human reality. As he says in conclusion “an audience which has already spent a decade living without facts can now indulge in a full, anarchic liberation from coherence.”
I might reword “a decade living without facts” as “decades forgetting what truth is” – losing our grip on the necessary balance of facts and stories that make up truth. All truth is made up?]
Also published on Medium.