by William Skink
Are we living in a “post-fact” world? Over at Logicosity, that claim is given attention thanks to an article by Peter Pomerantsev. But there are problems from the opening paragraph that hint at an ideology at work:
As his army blatantly annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin went on TV and, with a smirk, told the world there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine. He wasn’t lying so much as saying the truth doesn’t matter. And when Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully sends ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate – then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free. When the Brexit campaign announces ‘Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week’ and, on winning the referendum, the claim is shrugged off as a ‘mistake’ by one Brexit leader while another explains it as ‘an aspiration’, then it’s clear we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world. Not merely a world where politicians and media lie – they have always lied – but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not.
With all the potential post-fact examples out there, the author’s selection of Putin/Trump/Brexit exposes an ideology at work behind the veneer of objective lamenting the author is trying to peddle.
By simply stating that “his army blatantly annexed Crimea”, the factual context of the western-backed coup in Ukraine and the subsequent vote in Crimea to be annexed by Russia is purposely ignored. Likewise, the factual effort by the US government to cover-up the Saudi role in the 9/11 attack is also ignored in order to mock the “inside job” meme. Here’s more from the article:
The flight into techno-fantasies is intertwined with economic and social uncertainty. If all the facts say you have no economic future then why would you want to hear facts? If you live in a world where a small event in China leads to livelihoods lost in Lyon, where your government seems to have no control over what is going on, then trust in the old institutions of authority – politicians, academics, the media – buckles. Which has led to Brexit leader Michael Gove’s claim that British people ‘have had enough of experts’, Trump’s rants at the ‘lamestream’ media and the online flowering of ‘alternative news’ sites. Paradoxically, people who don’t trust ‘the mainstream’ media are, a study from Northeastern University showed, more likely to swallow disinformation. ‘Surprisingly, consumers of alternative news, which are the users trying to avoid the mainstream media “mass-manipulation”, are the most responsive to the injection of false claims.’ Healthy scepticism ends in a search for wild conspiracies. Putin’s Kremlin-controlled television finds US conspiracies behind everything, Trump speculates that 9/11 was an inside job, and parts of the Brexit campaign saw Britain under attack from a Germano-Franco-European plot.
There are very good reasons people have grown to distrust experts and institutions. It should come as no surprise that the corporate media that lied us into war with Iraq isn’t trusted when they dismiss concern over Hillary’s health, portraying any concern as paranoid right-wing conspiracy theories. And while our media peddles propaganda, those experts peddling their expertise have to be closely examined for funding corruption.
Ultimately the author lays the blame of this predicament at the doorstep of post-modernism, the theory that uses a flattening form of relativism to put Bugs Bunny on the same plane of existence as Albert Einstein. Of course! We’re living in a post-fact world because those damn academics with their theories have squished the hierarchy of knowledge into a pancake where crazy coexists with truth:
This equaling out of truth and falsehood is both informed by and takes advantage of an all-permeating late post-modernism and relativism, which has trickled down over the past thirty years from academia to the media and then everywhere else. This school of thought has taken Nietzsche’s maxim, there are no facts, only interpretations, to mean that every version of events is just another narrative, where lies can be excused as ‘an alternative point of view’ or ‘an opinion’, because ‘it’s all relative’ and ‘everyone has their own truth’ (and on the internet they really do).
Maurizio Ferraris, one of the founders of the New Realism movement and one of postmodernism’s most persuasive critics, argues that we are seeing the culmination of over two centuries of thinking. The Enlightenment’s original motive was to make analysis of the world possible by tearing the right to define reality away from divine authority to individual reason. Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ moved the seat of knowledge into the human mind. But if the only thing you can know is your mind, then, as Schopenhauer put it, ‘the world is my representation’. In the late twentieth century postmodernists went further, claiming that there is ‘nothing outside the text’, and that all our ideas about the world are inferred from the power models enforced upon us. This has led to a syllogism which Ferraris sums up as: ‘all reality is constructed by knowledge, knowledge is constructed by power, and ergo all reality is constructed by power. Thus . . . reality turns out to be a construction of power, which makes it both detestable (if by “power” we mean the Power that dominates us) and malleable (if by “power” we mean “in our power”).’
The final separation of fact from politics, according to the author, happened during the 90’s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unmoored from the need to factually prove the west’s capitalist ideology was superior to Russia’s communist ideology, more non-factual liberties were undertaken by a new cabal of spin doctors. Here is the concluding two paragraphs:
But for all their cynicism, the spin doctors and political technologists were, at this point, still trying to pull off an illusion of the truth. Their stories were meant to be coherent, even if they were low on facts. When reality caught up – the audience caught on to the illusion in Moscow and the stories about Iraq broke down and the stock market crashed – one reaction has been to double down, to deny that facts matter at all, to make a fetish out of not caring about them. This has many benefits for rulers – and is a relief for voters. Putin doesn’t need to have a more convincing story, he just has to make it clear that everybody lies, undermine the moral superiority of his enemies and convince his people there is no alternative to him. ‘When Putin lies brazenly he wants the West to point out that he lies’ says the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, ‘so he can point back and say, “but you lie too”’. And if everyone is lying then anything goes, whether it’s in your personal life or in invading foreign countries.
This is a (dark) joy. All the madness you feel, you can now let it out and it’s okay. The very point of Trump is to validate the pleasure of spouting shit, the joy of pure emotion, often anger, without any sense. And an audience which has already spent a decade living without facts can now indulge in a full, anarchic liberation from coherence.
One of the problems with how this manifests in the US is the belief by Democrats that they aren’t susceptible to the vagaries of this brave new fact-free world. But the fantasy of “humanitarian interventions” and the success of identity politics superseding the factual substance of corruption regarding their presidential candidate proves that belief to be false.
Democrats may claim that facts matter to them, and that institutions and experts still maintain a useful authority to direct the progress of our country and our people, but I’m afraid the corruption has become too pervasive at this point to counter. Thanks to technology, most people will remain firmly encapsulated within the scope of their selected biases.
As coherence disintegrates, facts disappear, and emotional appeals replace critical thinking, the leaders of tomorrow will rise by manipulating the levers of fear, playing off insecurities on cultural scapegoats. It won’t matter if it’s a Democrat doing this, or a Republican. They will use the same script because they are protecting the same forces that benefit from this fact-free world.
Clinton and Trump are just the beginning.