Friday, December 9, 2016

The ugly truth about post truth

 Every year I send the Oxford Dictionary my suggestion for their annual “word of the year”.  This year I submitted a word I invented; “Imbert”. This “means “making it up as you go along until a riot starts”. As in “We haven't really thought out this fuel price increase, let’s just Imbert it”. But as usual those snobs in Oxford have ignored me. Instead they have chosen “Post Truth” as their word for 2016.

 “Post Truth” means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. As in “I don’t care about shifting rocks releasing energy triggering seismic waves - earthquakes are caused by gay men kissing. That’s just the post truth!”

Ever since Donald Trump won the US Presidential election and the Brexit vote prevailed in the UK, “Post truth” has become all the rage. That’s because political pundits and intellectuals combined their brainpower to decipher why these shocking events occurred and have come up with a remarkable theory; voters are idiots who believe anything they read on Facebook. Which is also the general theory most people have when their side loses an election.

Recently, writing in his column for the Trinidad Guardian, culture critic, Raymond Ramcharitar, (You’ve been Facebooked) accused the social media site of helping to tilt the outcome of the US election via a “relentless stream of fake news” and of being an “echo chamber for racist paranoia” Mr. Ramcharitar whose columns usually warn of the impending doom posed by illegal immigrants, talk radio and Carnival bands, even thinks Facebook is responsible for mental illness. Though he admits he has no data to support that. Just call it his “opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Those who believe that Facebook is responsible for Trump’s victory or has the power to destroy democracy need to be reminded of a few things. Firstly, “fake news” is hardly new. It has existed as long as “real news” has. So too has the political trait of lying about your opponent to make them look bad. As well as the tribalism of political supporters to believe said lies. Plus if people readily believe nonsense they read on Facebook, it’s only because people generally readily believe nonsense. There are entire industries which cater to the gullibility of the average person.

Everyone from holistic medicine practitioners, vitamin sellers, chiropractors, to organic food peddlers and Pastors all depend on most peoples’ ability to happily ignore facts and evidence. Why should we expect better from politics? Even as someone who considers himself to be a rationale person, and who understands that the new Apple Mac cost ten times more than his current lap top which does the same thing ; I’m still going to buy one. Because Apple Macs are awesome and I’m an idiot.

Before the internet became the go to place for crackpot conspiracies, newspapers, magazines and movies were the ones churning out outlandish nonsense. Who didn’t believe the CIA killed Kennedy after watching Oliver Stone’s crackpot movie JFK? Who didn’t think Bush planned 911 after watching Michael Moore’s dumb movie Fahrenheit 911?   Who doesn’t watch the History Channel, and know that every important scientist, artist or world leader was or is actually an alien?

The second thing for Mr. Ramcharitar to consider is that it’s not Facebook’s responsibility to determine what fake news is or not. Those demanding that Facebook “crackdown” on fake news are really calling for censorship of speech they don’t like. In fact Mr. Ramcharitar says so plainly in his article and scoffs at those who think restricting free speech in order to preserve democracy seems like a contradiction. “Astonishing how crazy and dishonest people can come up with arguments which rely on the sanity and integrity of others”, writes Mr. Ramcharitar. This is same reasoning Fidel Castro used when he jailed writers. And who our flag flew at half-mast for last week.

The major problem with the hysterical concern over fake news though, is the fallacy it perpetuates; that better informed people make better decisions. Research says the exact opposite. Brighter people are more prone to ideological blind spots, and hence more prone to faulty decision making. This is why arrogantly dismissing people who voted for Trump or Brexit as dumb rubes is simplistic, wrong and dangerous. The ugly truth is the world has always been post truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How ironic a post about fake news from a propaganda journalist. You write like what you say is actually "gospel" and this shows a very immature style, and your lack of real world experience and humility. Here is someone who supported US backing of terrorists in Syria. What do you have to say about that now? Capitalist apologist, grow the fk up kid.