Today’s Radio 4 Today Program “Thought for the Day” speaker considered the subject of Post-Truth. In my online search, I came across an article titled: “‘Post-Truth’ Is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016”, which began: “This is how serious 2016 has been: A year after it picked an emoji as its Word of the Year for 2015, Oxford Dictionaries on Wednesday said 2016 was best characterized by a word that questions the concept of facts themselves: post-truth. The dictionary publisher defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”” It struck me, having lived through the Brexit arguments during the summer and more recently US Presidential goings on, that post-truth was a factor in winning over hearts and minds concerning both outcomes, the repercussions of which will likely be with us for some time to come.
Checking out Wikipedia I found “Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) 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 differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance”. From what I can make out, both sides of both debates operated in a post-truth paradigm, and while I like to think I was not taken in, I suspect to at least some extent, I like most others, was. Even a little prior to writing this, I couldn’t help but resist post an article on social media that created dispersions regarding Hillary Clinton’s character and her suitability for becoming US President, in order to make a point. While my instincts were the article was true, I recognize I hadn’t thoroughly investigated whether or not it was. I suspect though this is a mere tip of the ice berg when it comes to post-truth trading taking place in the afore-mentioned contests.
It is tempting to avoid the truth question in order to come to conclusions that match our prejudices and preferences, and thereby skip some of the hard work needed in order to investigate facts before coming to a view. But here is the crux of the matter – truth is one of the most important (maybe the most) qualities any of us can possess, and while there is a price to be paid in telling the truth, like losing friends and not influencing people (at least in the short term), it is something that endures. Post-truth is in essence lies. As a Christian I follow one who is full of grace and truth, who declared that it is the truth that sets us free. When Jesus was before Pilate, he declared he had come to testify to the truth, to which Pilate responded “what is truth”, illustrating among other things he wanted an easy life and wasn’t interested in finding out for himself. We know what happened next and are reminded before and since that this is how things often are. While there is room for truth seekers to differ radically in their opinions, and to admit their opinions may be based on insufficient knowledge of other perspectives, seeking truth is a life time activity the noblest of our species will take seriously, even if to their own detriment.