A tantamount to Earth’s rich biodiversity is the fact that it houses a considerable number of highly intelligent beings, the Human civilization being the most dominant amongst them. The identifiable characteristic that has led to the dominance of highly intelligent primates is their thirst for knowledge, or rather their pursuit of knowledge is a complete truth.
According to the cultural historian Mary Poovey, the tendency to represent society in terms of facts first arose in late medieval times with the birth of accounting. It was the first instance where we could isolate the truth from feelings and deception maintaining complete fidelity. In the centuries that followed, accounting was joined by statistics, economics, surveys, and a range of other numerical methods. The 20th century witnessed an emergence of the industry for facts, but it wasn’t until the advent of the almighty internet that information was widely available to inquisitive beings across the globe. One has to admit that this plethora of information opens up a wide array of avenues detrimental to the transparency that is required for a democracy to exist but one cannot simply ignore the huge burden that tags along with it. The burden being the oversupply of facts in the 21st century: too many sources with varying levels of credibility. The Communicative abundance provided by the web has turned it into an avenue for parceling out knowledge to the public, without the constant need for verification or interpretation. This all has birthed the era of Post-Truth Politics.
Post-truth is the public burial of “objective facts” by an avalanche of media “appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It is an omnibus term that includes old-fashioned lying, buffoonery, bits, and pieces of colorful communication designed to interrupt the background noise of conventional politics and public life. It embraces clever quips, pedantry, and wilful exaggerations. The proponents of post-truth communication relish things unsaid, hence it uses silence, bluffs, and blusters to attract and distract the public. As a result, disconcerting matters such as growing inequalities of wealth, the militarisation of democracy, and the accelerating death of non-human species stay unattended. Another sinister consequence of post-truth politics is that it disorients people to an extent where they become incapable of making a logical judgment. This is the reason why post-truth is regarded as the harbinger of a new totalitarianism.
The combination of populist movements with social media is frequently held responsible for post-truth politics. Although their contribution is undeniable, another radical contributor to the evolution of post-truth is the advent of a data-driven society. As a consequence of the communicative abundance, society has moved on from an era of facts to the wonderful yet deceptive era of data and this shift has posed a question, What exactly does the ideology of truth imply?
Emanuel Kant defines Truth as cognition that is in agreement with its object, but paradoxically that doesn’t seem to be true in the modern world. The only statements that the general public identifies as the truth are the ones that align with their philosophy. Huge sections of the population are ready to ignore facts, and even to accept obvious lies willingly on the account of expressions like ‘felt truth’. Individuals, thereby, have growing opportunities to shape their media consumption around their own opinions and prejudices, and populist leaders are ready to encourage them. This has led to the conception of the post-factual era. An era of “breaking news” stories about “fake news”, “alternative facts” and missing “evidence”. The fetish of entertainment has turned the general public, unwittingly into the poodles of the post. Another consequence caused by the conception of a data-oriented society is the ability to study and manipulate people. The promise of data, by contrast, is to sense shifts in public sentiment rather than provide them with facts. Methods like ‘sentimental-analysis’, repeated and targeted advertisements deviate the public from facts and lead to the formation of prejudiced opinions. At the end of the day, post-truth is much more “art of contrivance” mediated by the production and passive consumption of commodities.
Assisted by the rising communicative abundance and adversaries in politics, the impact of ‘post-truth politics’ is bound to increase. Here lies a concerning issue for the citizens of India. From education to health care and the economy, particularly its slavish obsession with GDP, India can be considered a world leader in post-truth politics. The multicultural and diverse nature of the country provides political leaders an avenue to conceal major concerns behind the walls of religion and social-divide.
Booming Wall Street yet failing main streets, teacher-less schools, and infrastructure-less villages are all evident displays of post-truth. Citizens of India may have the ability to influence the world but without the joys of good governance or basic living conditions for a majority of them.
The government has successfully been able to divorce key decisions from the everyday lives of Indian citizens by manipulating facts to seem like they have been made for their benefit. India’s post-truth era cannot be traced to a single year- its complexities go back generations. One of the most evident example being India’s demonetization drive, which plunged the country into crisis, against the advice of its central bank, and hit the poorest people the hardest. Despite the levels of extreme poverty in India. When it comes to social development, the cult of growth dominates over the development agenda.
As politics becomes more adversarial and dominated by television performances, the status of facts in public debate rises too high. Rather than sit coolly outside the fray of political argument, facts are now one of the main rhetorical weapons within it.
The issue is that the experts and agencies involved in producing facts have multiplied, and are now for hire. If you want to find an expert willing to endorse a ‘fact’, and have sufficient money or political clout behind you, you probably can. In such trying times, it is therefore important to remember to dissociate oneself with one’s beliefs and prejudices as facts when ignored, do not cease to exist, but just stay camouflaged within the society.
In any democratic society, the pendulum of public opinion swings from one pole to another. In the US and the UK, as in India, we are now seeing the pendulum swing to a populist, or post-truth extreme. For all three countries, the assumption is that as the pendulum swings more in one direction, the invisible forces of democracy will eventually work to bring balance, which will lead to a swing in the opposite direction. But that also assumes that no untoward large-scale irreversible damage is done to the world in between swings. And yes, that is a big assumption, given where the world stands now.
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