“[Post-truth is] a chaotic fog of confusion that leaves observers grappling with stories that are both true and false at the same time. Objective reality is a fleeting shadow that cannot be grasped, and what you believe becomes a function of whom you trust. From here, [it] devolves into mess of “he said, she said” claims and counterclaims; a game of bluff where the main objective… is not to inform or communicate but to undermine.”
– Martin Robbins
As I said in my post of the 10th (“Truth, Post-truth, Fake News, Lies and Opinions”), it’s getting harder and harder to know what or whom to trust, what is true, mostly true, or an out-right lie, or just opinion. I wrote, “Much is being made now over “Fake News”, “Post-truth” and other euphemisms that connote lies. What we are really experiencing might simply be what’s known as “cognitive dissonance”, when facts counter our beliefs.”
But just what is meant by “fake news” and “post-truth”? And how might one try to find the “truth” that might then change what one thinks, one’s beliefs?
Fake news is – as it implies – not true, made-up, intentionally so, it is a lie. And lies can be proven to be lies.
Post-truth is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The “post” doesn’t mean “after, it implies “irrelevant” (as in, “the truth doesn’t matter, what matters is what I believe – and I want you to believe me.”) Since post-truths can contain some truth, it’s difficult to weed out how much is true and how much of it is personal opinion written in such a manner as to influence another’s belief.
An example for discerning truth: Everyone who’s taken a True/False test in school knows that, when responding to a statement, if any single part of the statement is false – no matter how much truth is in the statement – it makes the entire statement false. Statement: “The blood-red Moon rose above the horizon.” True or false: “The color of the Moon is red.” (Have you ever been to the Moon to have first-hand knowledge of it’s true color? Neither have I. We could ask an astronaut that’s actually been there but, unfortunately, they’re all dead now.)
It’s a fact that the Moon rises over the horizon, but if I were blind and had never seen the moon, and two people told me conficting statements of “fact” – the Moon is red/the Moon is yellowish-white – which is telling me the truth? Which one do I trust? If I don’t have any experience with either, then it’s neither, I need to seek out other sources. Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll be right or honest, but I have to start somewhere. So, I Google it.
Well, it seems the Moon may appear red to the casual observer in one place on Earth, or it’s usual yellowish-white to someone somewhere else on Earth, but that’s due to atmospheric conditions in the first instance and reflected sun light in the latter. The Moon is neither red nor yellowish-white in reality, it is actually grey (based on high resolution color cameras aboard satellites, unaffected by the Earth’s atmosphere). Therefore the answer to the question has to be “false”, and both observers seeking to convince me are wrong regardless of what they saw.
But what of political stuff, that directly impacts our daily lives and what we use to make decisions?
It’s been reported that under Obama’s administration, his advisors were instructed to submit 3-6 single-spaced pages on proposed changes to, or new, policies. The same report stated that Trump wants proposals limited to one single page with lots of graphs and maps. Okay, he’s a visual learner. I can identify, so am I.
[One can wonder how much depth – detailing all pertinent variables, arguments/counter-arguments – could possibly be contained in one page, allowing one to draw an intelligent conclusion on the merits of the proposal, especially if a large part of the page contains graphs and maps (“The Moslim countries are here, here, and there”), resulting in a half-assed policy that didn’t anticipate wide-spread negative political and legal reactions. But let’s leave that aside.]
Suppose it had been reported that, “If you want Trump to understand something, you need to draw him a picture because he can’t understand the written word and he can’t focus on any one thought for any length of time.” Would that be fake news – a lie – or post-truth – part true and maybe with the intent to implant an unfavorable impression of him in your mind?
I don’t know the man, but I’d be inclined to categorize that as perhaps “fake news” (possibly a lie, even though it’s also been reported that he doesn’t read books, only looks at a couple of papers, gets most of what he learns daily from conservative cable news sources, and only wants verbal “briefings” from staff once a week). It’s more probably “post-truth”, in that it contains some truth – Trump likes pictorial/graphic illustrative support of the written word. But the intent of that suppositional message is that Trump is functionally child-like and illiterate and its objective is not to inform or communicate but to undermine Trump as a viable president. (Did you catch my heavy-handed parenthetical above as post-truth commentary that states actual reports with a slanted intent?)
So, where does one go to check out what was actually reported, and how factual is it?
FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com or Snopes.com are where I go when I want the facts about what’s reported in the news or for anything said by a politician. If I don’t get an answer there, I just use my favorite search engine.
(You can look it up, what was actually said about one page with graphs and maps; type into your search bar, “Trump wants policy papers to be one page with graphs and maps”.)
But it still begs the question, “Will you believe what you find?” Everything boils down to whom you trust, are you willing to set aside your preconceived beliefs, will you allow that much of what is political is only partially true and therefore, a lie, intended to misdirect you from the whole truth?
Welcome to the post-truth world.