This year the Oxford English Dictionary declared a hyphenated phrase made popular by hand waving media pundits as it’s word of the year. This phrase, or “word” for those who don’t know, is “post-truth.” Defined as; “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” it honestly isn’t hard for anyone, regardless of their political or ideological leanings, not to think of a fitting example of such a term.
Yet with so much of the emphasis on this phrase being placed largely at the feet of what many consider conservative victories by virtue of the election of Donald Trump and the outcome of the Brexit referendum, it does become something of an intellectual obligation in many cases to examine the overall legitimacy of this “word” in a broader context, which can and does span the entirety of the 21st century thus far, as well as a majority of the 20th as well.
Considering the immediate references we, the plebeians of the modern age who are meant to merely consume media and information uncritically from the supposedly trustworthy mainstream sources are largely expected to regard for this, the age-old question of bias presents itself once again. In this, the pressing “appeals to emotion and personal belief” as those which were espoused by the “Make America Great Again” enthusiasts as well as those who voted “leave” in respect to Brexit have taken center stage, all while ongoing appeals to emotion and ideology continue to present themselves in mainstream conversation and media without much if any real scrutiny themselves. These at a small sampling, being claims which range from the feminist assertions of there being a “rape culture” in the west, up through the blisteringly ignorant insistences that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
Curiously, even in respect to the immediate and recent shifts in the political landscape the Oxford announcement of their chosen “word of the year” also fails to mention the growing ranks of emotionally laden hysterics that have been plaguing the political left altogether. From safe-space culture, up through the modern academic and institutional assertions that there are effectively countless genders –all of which deserve automatic respect and reverence regardless of how imaginary they may be- the very concept of “post-truth” is one which extends far beyond matters of elections or referendums. In reality it could be said that by its very definition, “post-truth” effectively describes the entirety of retail and media politics.
Consider if you will the nature of most any political movement. Identity politics being low hanging fruit for this example, it will be set aside for the moment. Yet within even the most mainstream of any political campaigns or efforts, appeals to emotions and personal beliefs is generally the bread and butter of any who attempt to sway public opinion in one way or another. The very existence of campaign sloganeering and communications departments –a euphemism for the propaganda wings of a given campaign or institution- is essentially built entirely upon such, in that absent of such appeals to what some may regard as more base or lesser political instincts, any form of communication between a campaign and the public would by definition be wonky, factual and focused on policy specifics.
Should you find yourself largely at a loss to think of the last time such a campaign existed in any regard, do not worry as you are not alone. Nearly all politics and in truth, all social movements to one extent or another rely on the concept now defined as “post-truth,” as the primary vehicle with which to spread their message, all regardless of what the root ideologies or underlying agendas may be. In the rare cases this is not the case or at least not as prevalent such as in debates over well supported scientific theories pitched against religious belief, the uphill battle that raw fact must fight against emotional appeal is evident in the intractable nature of the dispute. Even in such cases of these, when those who naively hope that the raw evidence on hand in support of said theory find it is not enough to sway the public at large, these causes too will often adopt more tried and tested political strategies which rely upon the sorts of emotional or idealistically driven sentiments that propel most other political efforts.
So what then should we draw from this sudden attention paid to the notion of emotion and ideology suddenly now being a central focus in public life, taking precedence over fact and reality? As such has largely been a standard facet of public life in its present form for at least the past century, it does come across as rather telling that now, of all times, both the media as well as Oxford English Dictionary now feel it necessary to address it. Furthermore, with the successes over the decades of the feminist movement to both shore up gender preferential power and advantage and to continue successfully selling the rhetoric that women in the west are oppressed, in spite of stacks of evidence to the contrary, it is almost surprising that as “post-truth” now ascends to the position of hot new buzzword, so little of its relevance has been lent to the standing examples which many credit with creating much of the environment we present live within.
In this, one has to then wonder if the elevation of “post-truth” to the position it presently holds isn’t some sort of meta-joke. This being because while establishing a term in common usage used to describe a circumstance where emotion and personal belief trump objective facts, this coming about in reaction to a series of events which perturbed the beliefs and emotions of those who set the tone of language and public debate, those very same actors become the very vehicles through which such comes to be in the first place. In short, within the eye rolling presently going on, an ironic rhetorical Ouroboros of predictable cognitive dissonance plays itself out for us all, in live time.