Reality in the Post-Truth Era

 “You’re saying it’s a falsehood while Sean Spicer, our press secretary gave alternative facts to that” – A Spokesperson for the President of the United States.

The need to find a balance, and to assert that each side has its own merits and demerits is a part of conventional wisdom. However, the concept of observable reality used to be able debunk the ‘Fake News’ and establish a few basic facts the two sides agreed upon. What is truly unnerving, is that the last sentence was framed in the past tense.

The next person to quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan and say, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts” should just admit they’ve been living under a rock these past few years. It is uncertain what is more frightening; the existence of this fake, alternate realm of reality or that it has become accepted as a normal part of life. Perhaps we can find a ray of hope with the outrage that followed the statement of “Alternative Facts”, but is the term ‘Ideological impasse’ really any better?  In most situations, there isn’t a two sides of the coin argument to be made. Some statements are just inherently true, they’re plain and simple fact. There is no alternative viewpoint to be placed.

Today though, there is no shame in a liar’s game. On being fact checked, one doesn’t need to retract the lie but can instead, double down. Talk loud enough and long enough and people ultimately stop trying to fact check you. Another method is a fraud’s greatest asset, a trick called ‘projection’. Wherein you claim the weakness of your own argument is immaterial because the opposition’s argument has a weakness too. A weakness, that most if not all of the time, is completely concocted. Thus, we end up with two sides to every coin, even if that’s just a coin drawn on paper.

Therein lies the worst case scenario, that even statements we once considered well established, we have allowed to be ‘balanced out’ by a ‘sceptic’.

Let’s consider a recent crowd favourite. “The new ₹2000 note has a GPS chip to track black money.” To many of us this claim sounded patently ridiculous, as it of course was. But that isn’t what a majority of people in the country believed. And even some people who you’d count on to be sensible about issues like these, were swayed by the flood of emails and WhatsApp forwards that followed the notes’ release. Enough people seemed to be saying it, so it must be true. We used to laugh at the crazy man screaming about some random conspiracy theory, but now we’ve allowed him to become an intellectual core of the conversation.

So what got us here? Most blame social media, saying the easy access to everyone’s opinion allows the bombastic rhetoric to drown out the tepid truth. “That’s the best part,” said comedian Bill Maher as he chided his ideological opponents “you’re not telling lies, you’re just ‘sharing’ them.” Agreed, that explains the transmission of this disease, but what caused it? Some say its that we don’t trust each other anymore, some that we trust too easily. It’s neither. It’s this thirst we have for sensationalism, a constant demand for ‘Breaking News’ that can only be met when the supply contains at least a little bit of fake news. Even so called ‘reputable’ news sources ran with the story of the ₹2000 notes, some retracted it later while some didn’t. Why? Because nothing sells like tabloid journalism. Even more so when it can be soaked in partisanship.

It didn’t used to be this way, the news used to be just information broadcasting. It used to be objective, but then, the profit motive got involved. And it all just turned into a race. Shouting matches and ‘subjective’ news, dashing full speed in a race to the finish. Unfortunately for the world, in this race, the truth became roadkill.

– Written by Ashutosh Sinha

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