Truth in a post-factual world

We live in a world in what’s true is a question of opinion, not a matter of fact. Imagine his guy, his father, and girlfriend sitting around a campfire drinking a few brews near Brockville, Ontario. She says the Earth is flat. The father insists that it’s round. Tempers rise and the father starts throwing things into the fire, including a propane bottle. Firefighters arrive on the scene and police charge the father with mischief.

truth

Wasn’t the fact of a round Earth determined long ago? Mark Kingwell, professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, wonders how anyone can dispute centuries of scientific knowledge based on Pythagoras and Galileo.

“It can seem as if we are living in a world where fact, truth, and evidence no longer exert the rational pull they once did. Our landscape of fake news sites, junk science, politicians blithely dismissive of fact-check, and Google searches that appear to make us dumber, renders truth redundant. We are rudderless on a dark sea where, as Nietzsche said, there are no facts, only interpretations (Globe and Mail, June 19, 2016)”

Truth has evolved over time. Philosophers used to believe in an absolute truth.  Now they offer a more pragmatic version: those that are empirical and falsifiable. If you want to know if the Earth is flat, travel in one direction and see if you fall off the edge.

The Bush era ushered in a new kind of truth, one based on hunches such as “Iraq processes weapons of mass destruction.”

Bush aide Karl Rove explained the new truth to writer Ron Suskind. Rove told the writer he was part of a deluded group, a “reality-based community, who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” Rove explained. “We create our own reality,”  “We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.”

Truth continues to evolve with Donald Trump. He makes President Bush look good.

“The cynical, political aides of George W. Bush argued that they created reality out of power. That position was doctoral-quality compared to the haphazard, say-anything approach of the new Republican regime.”

Bush’s reality was, at least, sensitive to rebuttal. The world according to Trump sees rebuttal as an opportunity to double-down. Correction used to cause shame and confusion. No more.

When Trump arrived in Scotland, it didn’t bother him at all that Scotland hadn’t voted to leave the European Union. Instead, Trump tweeted “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

Shame and confusion are not part of Trump’s repertoire. When a reporter with a deformed hand questioned Trump, he mocked the reporter’s deformity rather than answering the question. “Now, the poor guy,” he said, “you’ve got to see this guy.” Trump curled his arms to mock the reporter.

Conspiracy theories are regarded as sophisticated in the post-factual world. Trump claims to have seen news reports from 9/11 that show “thousands and thousands” of Jersey City residents of Middle-Eastern descent cheering when the Twin Towers fell. Those reports do not exist.

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