The “post-truth” society

Is this a “post-truth” society? I read that “people in this country have had enough of experts” and that people believe what they find emotionally satisfying rather than the facts. There are organised campaigns of lying: the most damaging is climate change denial, which accrues wealth to the powerful at a terrible cost to everyone else.

In that paragraph I am putting a case. In answer I could say that the lies of the powerful have been worse before, and the temptations to exaggerate the truth a little, or pretend things are as you might wish, are as strong as they ever were. I am tempted to pedantry and nit-picking in my attempts to be truthful. There is academic research and informed speculation about why people might believe falsehoods, but not having that expertise I learn of it through journalists. It becomes part of my world-view, and I might mention it in conversation, affecting the world-view of others. There are discrete facts, too complex for me to comprehend, and a narrative about them from opinion-formers.

I read we are in “bubbles” of people who agree with us. On Twitter, people make clever points to encourage their own side, shouting “You’re bad” at people who aren’t listening so becoming part of the problem. My neighbour complained of widespread benefit fraud, of all the people without jobs on the estate where we live. I consider the benefit system is failing disabled people, finding even those incapable of independent living not entitled to sickness benefits. Do we decide based on imaginative sympathy, or our interests real or perceived, rather than brute fact?

How may Friends serve the Truth, living with integrity? I am aware of temptations to fall below a standard of strict truthfulness, and seek to avoid them, and notice that when I speak I am communicating feeling, often, wanting others to feel as I do. Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit. My biggest temptation to assume or make things up is my intense discomfort with unknowing, but unknowing is unavoidable, and the very word “post-truth” produces a fear reaction in me.

Is there anything we might do collectively, with another committee of volunteers or with funded central work? Are there public statements we should make, or lobbying we should do? Can local and area meetings do new work together for Truth? This came to Meeting for Sufferings on 7 April. Depending on the amount of energy you have for this, you might want to consider the beautiful minute from Southern Marches AM on p43 of the pdf MfS papers. Part of it concerns polarisation in public life, and part a felt lack of honesty. We hope that our Yearly Meeting might be a public champion of truth. It mentions the programme on Truth and Integrity in Public Affairs, TIPA, which is explained on the following pages.

Helen Drewery writes, It is possible that this is a re-emerging concern for local meetings or for the Society as a whole, but if so, it has not yet found a focus. Is the Spirit leading us? Meeting for Sufferings minuted MfS has heard a clear call to test this concern more widely and will send this minute and the briefing papers to Area Meetings. We ask Friends to consider this concern, to send any relevant minutes for our further discernment and to share news of any work they are already doing. We expect to return to this matter in November. My local Sufferings rep did not include this in her printed report of the meeting, which instead considered disputes within meetings, inclusivity and equality.

I became aware that I lie to myself because I want to see myself as a good person, and set myself to puzzle out the blind-spots preventing me from seeing truth. I find truth fleeting, hard to grasp and paradoxical, particularly truth about my own motives: sometimes I know what I want when I see what I do. The vocabulary I have to express it affects the way I see things. Nuance and complexity has fractal endlessness. And sometimes truth is pure and simple. We speculate about causes and results. I find unknowing difficult, and wish to practise being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason or even reassuring ideas that I cannot justify. My neighbour’s observation of the people around us, and my own, are affected by interests and desires. The different views are contradictory yet justifiable. Simply because I have an argument to justify my belief does not mean I perceive truth. It is always at best as good as I can make it.

7 thoughts on “The “post-truth” society

  1. Very interesting as you also manage to reflect on yourself too which I find many Quakers try to do and others. Perhaps there are more people reflecting than we realise but there is also so much to be confused about. An old friend who voted leave recently was being worried about the lies and then said ‘ but it was true about bananas though, wasn’t it?’ If only it was just about bananas.


    • I consider the Brexit debate is about how humanity, a social species, should organise itself. Should we band together and democratically decide how to work together for the good of all? Or should those who can accrue wealth and power use others’ needs to force them to follow orders?

      I look at what I have just written and think, that is a very Manichaean view. It is more complex than that. But the lies got people to vote against their own interests.

      Aargh! There are four testimonies, in the current British conception, not just one, and peace is relevant here too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, some real peace work is needed. And I think the younger generation had an insight into the lies and propaganda. At least I hope so but that will be the generation where the English curriculum taught that aspect of power, language and control. Now it’s grammar and exam.

        Liked by 1 person

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