The Dangers of our Post-Truth Era


Postmodernism is best understood as the cultural logistics of late capitalism. It refers to the historical period of rapid capitalist development that also manifests in the style of artistic practice and criticism.


Postmodernism arises as a deviation from the 17th to 19th century European Enlightenment which imagines the human race as striving for new universalities in terms of morality and intellectual self-realization [1].


The European Enlightenment presupposes that universal historical experiences enrich our capacity to reason — and this is a notion heavily criticized by Postmodernists.

This discussion will discuss the history of Postmodernism and how it has ushered in our current era of post truth — which has led to the decay of political and social norms.
Post-truth is a symptom of the Postmodern school of thought — and it diminishes the role of truth and reason.
The rise of post-truth not only threatens our democratic institutions, but it also creates a counterproductive atmosphere that derails public discourse and civic engagement.
With immense prescience, the great British novelist George Orwell predicted this phenomenon when he said: “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act”.

German Philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche, who lived from 1844 until 1900, is often viewed as the precursor to postmodern political thought. Nietzsche’s nihilistic moods imply that there are no universal truths. This perfectly encompasses the rebellious ethos of the postmodern school of thought [2].


Nietzsche, who is a known provocateur, goes even further and claims that it is morally good to act as though there were no such thing as moral goodness. In Nietzsche’s magnum opus, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he cries “My brothers, break the ancient tables.”


Nietzsche postulates that we should repudiate traditionally accepted and authoritatively imposed moral norms and rules [3]. Nietzsche is saying that there is no such thing as good and evil independent of what we happen to decide at that given moment. Nietzsche claims that it is up to us, humankind as a whole to make good and evil by our own free decisions.


The emergence of post-truth goes beyond Nietzsche. Post-truth political culture is usually characterized by a relativist standpoint that devalues the truth claims of the political establishment and the mainstream media, thus approaching all truths as mere opinions or expressions of ulterior private interests [4].


The devaluation of truth is often held to undermine the democratic sphere, thus paving the way for political extremism, charlatanry and obscurantism.


The descent of this crisis could be traced back to a variety of events such as the rise of new technological innovations that have created an intimate relationship between big data and social media as well as the current liberal hegemonic moment.


Many also connect the phenomenon of post-truth to Authoritarian populist movements and figures, the decline of trust in mainstream media and expert knowledge, and the growth of alternative media.


One of the more controversial links made is between post truth politics and the poststructuralist French philosophy of the 1960s-1970s. Particularly, Michel Foucault is invoked to be responsible for the onset of the post-truth discourse by and large due to his relentlessly anti-foundationalist approach that undermines both the truth claims of modern science and the legitimacy of liberal democratic regimes.


Foucault claims that there has never been a “truth politics” that we have left behind in the first place. Foucault postulates that this is why we must be wary about truth denialism as a threat to democracy and be more attentive to the ways we venture to resist it.


Foucault is claiming that we may never overcome contemporary post-truth cynicism and relativism by restoring the authority to truth. Foucault’s approach to the political history of truth is animated by this idea that truth is neither said in vain or uttered once and for all. In all, Foucault claims that we should never dispense with truth nor hide behind its apparent authority.

Post truth rhetoric is also animated by the diminishment of traditional epistemic norms that serve distinct political agendas (this phenomenon was seen in Brexit and Trump elections in 2016) [5].


Post truth rhetoric often stems from the discursive mobilization of ideas relating to the absence of epistemic norms regarding political claims to motivate popular support for ones preferred agenda.


The election of President Donald Trump and the toxic logic of discourse that accompanies his era was inevitable with the rise of post truth politics curated by radical partisan political movements.


For instance, The American Left from 1964 onward has been torn apart by the emergence of a “cultural left” — which is ideologically animated by an academic sensitivity that is highly focused on advocating for recognition of historically oppressed people, such as “people of color’, women and people whom we might now identify as LGBTQ+.


Cultural left helped assert the voices of underrepresented communities at the expense of the idea of creating the first classes society animated by man’s common dreams. The cultural leftist approach to justice is theoretical and it doesn’t fully address the problems of social inequities like the politics of collective action does.


Collective action seeks to fundamentally build an alliance between the intellectual left, the labor movement and the working classes. The cultural left’s approach to social justice is mostly based on the postmodern idea that Western Political and Economic norms are oppressive, therefore, new truths must be constructed to include historically marginalized groups.


On the right side of the political aisle, the Tea Party and Donald Trump have an even more problematic implantation of self-constructed reality than their radical leftist counter parts.


For instance, Trump and his supporters use the term fake news to discredit reputable news sources illustrating to us that there is no existence of an actual fact of any matter. To them, all factual claims are merely expressions of partisan bias.


Our current era of post-truth, which allows politicians to change facts and pay no political price whatsoever, is a phenomenon that exists in us and in our leaders. Although the Brexit vote as well as the U.S presidential election may seem inextricably tied up with post-truth, neither was the cause of it — they were simply the inescapable results of our era of post-truth.


Meanwhile, the dangerous rise of post-truth has gradually enabled increased scrutiny of objective scientific results — which are now openly questioned by legions of nonexperts who happen to disagree with scientists [6].


The post truth era is simply a time when the art of the lie is shaking the very foundations of democracy. The Brexit vote, the Trump election, the rejection of climate change science, the vilification of immigrants — have all been based on the power of evoking feeling and not facts [7].


Unfortunately, our modern age is characterized by new clandestine technologies that exploit big data and social media — thus manipulating, polarizing and entrenching opinion.


This divisive political climate is a direct result of postmodern discourses that have led to notions of “fake news’, “alternative facts” and “post truths”, thus paving the way for the flourishing of conspiracy theories, as well as the gradual decay of the importance of a free, independent and robust media. All of this has created a partisan atmosphere that values emotions over facts.


This current era of postmodernism has yielded a dangerous atmosphere of post truths and alternative facts. This has ultimately created a new political tribalism that has employed a regressive approach to questions of identify formation and national consciousness — thus, giving birth to a new political tribalism that has poisoned the waters of healthy political discourse.


This regressive approach to questions of identity-formation and national consciousness favors the creation of subjective notions of presence, morality and civic duty as opposed to a common universal morality and communal civic duties.


Today, post truth discourses have been increasingly taking place in populist movements. These movements have reflected a common trend of authoritarian national populist movements being a pseudo-solution to problems of ungovernability that have plagued democratic societies since the beginning of their inception [8].


The rise of post truth curated by radical right and left-wing circles comes as a direct result of the failures of our current free market neoliberal system of governance. The common Neoconservative mantra of free markets and democratization which enables uninhibited deregulation simply destroys moral and institutional fabrics and recourses in society that are simply indispensable if democracy is to flourish.


This egotism and lack of social cohesion is a direct result of postmodern symptoms such as post-truth, which gradually diminishes political and moral authorities — thus stifling social solidarity and civic life. From this perspective, the symptoms of post modernism, such as post truth in the digital age, have created a process of de-globalization — which has led to the emergence of post-truth populist movements in France, Italy and Austria.


These movements and the ideologies that guide them have yielded xenophobia along with a fresh wave of hate crimes. The rise of authoritarian demagogues such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Recip Tayyip Erodgan in Turkey, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt and Narendra Modi in India have created a new cultural logic that promotes a cultural hybrid of fake news, post truth and authoritarianism, thanks to public hysteria that guides public discourse into postmodern realms.


The rampant dangers across these societies reflect the threat “regimes of post-truth” pose to a civilized world order. The regimes that poison these societies create a system of control, where power exploits new “freedoms to participate/produce/express (as well as consume/diffuse/evaluate) any phenomenon in a society [9].


Overall, these regimes of post-truth often emerge out of post political / post democratic strategies common to control societies where especially rich political actors often attempt to use data-analytical knowledge to manage the field appearance and participation, via attention and effect.


The rise of post truth and post politics has reiterated the need for a return or a recreation of some form of collective public reasoning and civic engagement.


Political Theorist John Rawls (1921-2002) stresses the importance of public reasoning and how it requires we articulate political arguments in a civic idiom consistent with our most cherished constitutional values. From this perspective, public reason encourages a certain discourse of fairness, which complements Rawl’s notion of Justice as Fairness.


Rawls defines passive citizens as members of the political community whose capacities are restricted to the prerogatives of “civic belonging” — while active citizenship entails the right to vote and the right to stand for office. The postmodern approach to political theory is incompatible with Rawls theories — as it does not believe in universal truths and obligations, thus, it detaches the citizen from any political institutions or civic agency.


Similar to Rawl’s theories, Hannah Arendt’s theories call for ‘civic’ actions that emphasize public good. Arendt’s advocates for a civic professionalism that fits seamlessly with her notions of viva active (active life).


Arendt’s notions of The Human Condition (labor, work and action) all emphasize the need for an active political life in which we act together to succeed in creating new political institutions that are based on advancing political ideas and spaces that accept a plurality of visions of how politics should function [10].


Arendt’s vision favoring political pluralism is simply not possible in postmodern and post-truth discourses since they shun any universalities in favor of more subjective and individual political and moral experiences.


Our postmodern era has enabled a rise in technology and rampant individualism. This alienates the general citizenry from the collective political and civic action that Arendt vehemently advocated for. Robert Putnam notes this phenomenon in his magnum opus: Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.


Putnam claims that social capital (civic society) is crucial to a healthy and flourishing democracy. Unfortunately, Putnam notes that there is a noticeable decline in social capital in the United States [11].


Crucial factors such as social trust are eroding rapidly in the United States — and this may be as a result of the current postmodern digital space which alienates the general citizenry from objective reality and truth.


So far, this discourse has allowed for fundamental questions to arise, such as the following: How do we deviate from the post-truth era while simultaneously addressing Foucault's concerns about the unsound and contradictory nature of the western world’s notions of universal truths? How do we create an honest society that maximizes human flourishing and civic engagement based on Rawls and Arendt’s models? Who determines what is true or not?


As Foucault claims, the western world has created fluid, vague and inconstant notions of truth. The “Judeo-Christian values” that the western world boasts are often antithetical to scientific progress and human flourishing. Foucault’s categorization of “universal” truths in the western world as a constructed illusion is accurate.


The western world has been guilty of numerous moral inadequacies, such as slavery and colonization — therefore, previous universal truths and moral frameworks prove to be invalid.


Foucault’s political history of truth challenges the Western World’s confidence that universal notions of truth and morality do in fact exist. Foucault’s timely critiques can help us create an original universal moral framework that maximizes human flourishing and weakens our current era of post-truth.


Modern societies need to address the numerous problems that arise from post-truth.

Likewise, modern societies need to address the inadequacies of Eurocentric models of truth and morality.


Perhaps modern societies should use collective action to apply universal notions of truth and morality that emphasis the legitimacy of international human rights laws. A societies approach to truth should be based on an accurate depiction of reality — and should be animated by common principles of truth and morality that transcend culture, society and politics [12].


The antidote to the problems of our post-truth era as well as the inconsistencies of Eurocentric universalities must be solved by applying a healthy balance between truth and morality in public discourse.


Seeking to advance either truth or morality with little regard to the other can easily hamper advancing the other. For instance, when we are pursuing truth with little regard to moral concerns, the rights of humans are often sacrificed. On the other hand, when we are pursuing moral concerns with little regard to truth, we risk creating an unproductive and lawless society.

There is a fundamental distinction between postmodernism and its analogous symptom of post truth that will help prevent the latter from poisoning the fruits of public discourse.
Unlike postmodernism, the post-truth mindset often acknowledges objective truth — but chooses to use mental gymnastics to justify preferences [13].
The fundamental danger of our post truth age is that if the evidence fits our preferences and opinions, then we are happy — but if doesn’t, then basic evidence is deemed inadmissible or offensive to us.

We need a common approach to truth that is animated by science, philosophy and the arts. Innovators in these disciplines should speak up when scientific findings are ignored by those in power or treated as mere matters of faith.


Scientists should keep reminding society of the importance of the social mission of science — which is to provide the best information possible at all times, and our public policies should be based on this information.


Scientist’s should affirm public virtues, such as critical thinking, sustained inquiry and revision of beliefs on the basis of evidence to combat the flimsy trend of post-truth. Overall, every society should be animated by a truth that is disciplinary and tight.


For a free and transparent society to assume form, mutual cooperation between media/political/education apparatuses is needed to enable rich and fruitful scientific and political discourses.

The traditional remedy for combating misinformation has traditionally been information literacy, digital literacy, and critical reasoning skills — but this may not be enough anymore [14].
Information professionals have a central role in developing the information literacy skills of the future through sharing their professional expertise about source evaluation that will combat fake news.
In our current day corporate context, the ready availability of informal sources provides a disincentive to hunting out reliable information and fact checking information in general.
The digital space provides our civilization with a unique challenge in regard to the preservation of truth.

From the US to Europe there are signs that political moderates are dying while populist extremes of the right and left are flourishing [15]. The liberal world order is being challenged by a variety of forces — such as powerful authoritarian governments and anti-liberal fundamentalist movements.


Now more than ever, centrist governments and the global world order must face up to the challenge. It is in fact no longer enough to rely on centrist economic arguments around tax and spending.

Now, Governments must also look to behavioral economics, to emotional appeals and to increasingly participative institutions.
Indeed, we must employ intensive efforts to rebuild faith in democracy, and this requires new ways to incentivize truth and inquiry in public discourse.
With the rise of big data, we must preserve truth and create new models for determining what is true and what is not.
We must balance truth and morality, worship science and reason and simultaneously build community and question Eurocentric aspects of our society.

Sources

[1] Woods, Tim. Beginning Postmodernism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.


[2] Smith, Gregory Bruce, and Michael Smith. Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the transition to postmodernity. University of Chicago Press, 1996. [3] Meynell, Hugo. "On Nietzsche, Postmodernism and the New Enlightenment." New Blackfriars 76, no. 889 (1995): 4-18. Accessed March 26, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/43249695. [4] Prozorov, Sergei. "Why is there truth? Foucault in the age of post-truth politics." Constellations: an international journal of critical and democratic theory 26, no. 1 (2019). [5] Forstenzer, Joshua. "Something has cracked: post-truth politics and Richard Rorty’s postmodernist Bourgeois liberalism." Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Harvard Kennedy School (2018).

[6] McIntyre, Lee C. Post-Truth. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018. [7] D'Ancona, Matthew. Post-truth: The new war on truth and how to fight back. Random House, 2017. [8] Wolin, Richard. The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. [9] Harsin, Jayson. "Regimes of posttruth, postpolitics, and attention economies." Communication, culture & critique 8, no. 2 (2015): 327-333. [10] Kreber, Carolin. "The ‘Civic-minded ‘Professional? An exploration through Hannah Arendt’s ‘vita activa’." Educational Philosophy and Theory 48, no. 2 (2016): 123-137. [11] Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital." In Culture and politics, pp. 223-234. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2000. [12] Kriesberg, Louis. "On advancing truth and morality in conflict resolution." Peace and Conflict Studies 6, no. 1 (1999): 8-23. [13] Murray, Abdu. Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World. Zondervan, 2018 [14] Laybats, Claire, and Luke Tredinnick. “Post Truth, Information, and Emotion.” Business Information Review 33, no. 4 (December 2016): 204–6. doi:10.1177/0266382116680741. [15] Suiter, Jane. “Post-Truth Politics.” Political Insight 7, no. 3 (December 2016): 25–27. doi:10.1177/2041905816680417.