WHEN you have no real foundation for your arguments and your imagination is baffled by the truth, simply twist or bend the facts to mean the opposite. And if you still “can’t convince them”, then take Harry Truman’s political advice, and “confuse them”.
While you’re at it, promote a dark and atomistic worldview that is outlandish enough to beggar belief, and push the boundaries of propaganda and disinformation to the extent that society starts to demand political reverence rather than truthfulness.
Welcome to the post-factual, post-truth, anti-intellectual era wherein politicians and journalists rely on assertions and statements that “feel true” but have no basis in fact or reality. As the political campaign of Donald Trump has demonstrated, this practice involves a selective use of facts and lenient dealings with matters of truth – questioning institutions and received wisdom, and not appearing to feel any discomfort about back-pedalling.
Soon, I suppose we’ll need special educational programmes and courses to help us become smarter at recognizing and combating outright fabrication which take the form of hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation. It’s simply horrendous – the extent to which fake news, fuelled by mass communication, have grown in scale, and the manner by which apoplectic political fury has won the day, particularly in the United States and Europe.
In the age of the ubiquitous Internet, one fake article in an influential “news” outlet has the same persuasive and staying power as probably 20 television campaign ads. And just when you thought the fake-news media was simply about reporting false information, Wikileaks has emerged as a force to be reckoned with – transitioning from simply publishing secret documents to providing context and analysis for both reports and documents.
What a tangled web the “fake news” industry has weaved in its effort to distort views through its fake pages, bots and trolls – like cigarette butts strewn across a forgotten highway. The purveyors of unmitigated gloom behind this insidious trend have taken “freedom of the press” to new heights – abusing its underlying tenets and orchestrating a campaign to discredit serious journalism that embraces the spirit and virtues of real reporting, fact-checking, expertise and attention to detail.
Besides, it appears these ideologues and demagogues in the fake-news media are entitled to not only their opinions, but also their own facts. With malicious forethought, they often overlook facts in favour of journalistic colour – basking in the belief that voters are unsophisticated and gutless fools easily dazzled by casuistic waffle. But, does ignoring the true facts make them go away?
No doubt, educational institutions and thought leaders around the world have become highly attuned to this omnipresent fake-news threat – engineered ostensibly to create instability and obfuscation rather than to foster creative thinking and enlightenment.
Alas, if you believe economics and politics should be based on evidence, then you should think again. It no longer matters whether or not something is true, but whether it is believed by the right people. Across supposedly information-rich and enlightened Western democracies, popular trust in expert opinion and established institutions has tumbled. But is it possible to live in a world of data but no facts?
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel may have been on to something when she recently pointed out: “It has been said that we are living in post-factual times. Supposedly that means people are no longer interested in facts – they follow only their feelings.”
From all indications, the fundamental values of progressive democracy – enlightenment, evidence-based information, respect and decency – are no longer self-evident, let alone sought after. If civic life in a democracy depends on a certain amount of common ground, then post-truth politics and narrowcasting (where people tune in to news channels and cable news chatter that reinforce their ideology and views) have managed to restrict opinion and sow cultural discord – creating comparatively small audiences or targeted consumers in micro-communities who view the world through the prism of the biased and contentious information presented to them.
Only recently, the American actor Denzil Washington insightfully quipped: “If you don’t follow the news, you are uninformed, and if you do, you are misinformed.” Of course, Mr Washington is raising serious questions about the credibility and biasness of America’s media in particular, while also highlighting the staggering magnitude of Donald Trump’s social vulgarity and emotional ineptitude.
We probably don’t know for sure when the “factual” times began, but we certainly know when it ended: in 2016 – the year of fake news, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In this post-truth world, naked facts seem worthless politically and economically – often taking a back seat to romanticism and sentimentalism in politics.
While some justify the end of the “factual” era on the rise of unfettered crony capitalism, others base it on the filter bubble of social media – much of it based on a lack of scientific communication. Everybody has an opinion today: wrong or right, it doesn’t matter, as long as a social media outlet exists to express it.
“Today, savvy politicians are harnessing the anger and fear that certain demographics feel over economic woes and immigration, and channelling those emotions into a narrative that argues stronger borders will solve most any problem,” Vincent F. Hendricks writes in Quartz Magazine. “For the purposes of a political campaign, it doesn’t necessarily matter if these narratives are true. An appealing story may get likes and up-votes on social media regardless, and the social validation of a given narrative can be turned into votes. But believing something doesn’t make it so – and a lot of people believing the same thing doesn’t make something true either,” he further laments.
Trump’s victory, no doubt, has changed the world. His entire campaign made use of the “feelings barometer” – pushing the limits of what can be said and selling his followers a concoction of falsehoods and conspiracy theories. Like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and other rights populists, Donald Trump won by getting feelings right and facts wrong, and treating the factual evidence presented by his opponents with jocularity . If the rise of the populists – who prostitute truth to the petulancy of idle ideology – is a sign of democracy’s strength and functionality, then God help us all.
For comments, write to Clementsoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.