Living in a Post-Truth America: I

I have no idea who coined the phrase, “Post-Truth World.” An email invitation to subscribe to Scientific American had this as a headline: “Reject a Post-Truth World,” and that is when I saw it for the first time.

This is the way Scientific American described this new world:

Advances in science elevate all humanity, but science and journalism are under siege. Special interests distort facts and evidence to serve narrow economic and political goals.  Pseudoscience and falsehoods are widely disseminated through a pernicious amalgam of Tweets, fake news, and bluster.

The last round of elections at every level gave ample evidence that perhaps we have arrived full grown to a post-truth nation.  Perhaps we need to think about truth.  Pilate asked the Christ, “What is truth?” and that has perhaps been a basic question of humankind.

One distortion of truth in the election campaign was to make a personal attack on the opponent rather than attack the position he or she held.  An opponent was given a label that was negative or unsavory in the minds of the electorate, such as “liberal,” “oil baron,” ”shady bank executive,” etc.  This could lead people to vote for or against another candidate based upon an aledged personality or label, rather than the candidates political principles.

Another political distortion is the half truth.  I can define it by an example.  Several years ago the leader of a Protestant denominational agency was accused of being in favor of abortion.  This would be a moral and ethical position at odds with his denomination.  To prove the charge, his opponents quoted his words: “Free choice is a wonderful thing.”  That could mean only one thing: he favored abortion.

I researched the literature, and sure enough, the man had said, “Free choice is a wonderful thing.” But the article he had written had nothing to do with abortion. The word abortion did not appear even once.  He was writing about religious experience and the fact that God gives us free choice to acknowledge Him or not.  To the writer, the ability of humans to have God-given moral freedom of choice was a wonderful thing.  Yes, it is true he said it, but his critics did not give the context and people were misled.  This was a half truth; the same as a lie.

A popular notion today is that all ideas are equally valid.  In a free society you can believe what you want to believe and that belief is so personal that we do not question it.  In fact, I have had students who had no idea how to question or evaluate an idea.

We live in a world of ideas, but there are some ideas that are better than others.  We  need to know how to evaluate ideas and to recognize which ideas are the better ones. The reason it is difficult to evaluate ideas is because we react positively to ideas that we already have, and ignore those with which we disagree.  Generally, we have not thought about the validity of our ideas.  They are ours, and they are OK since they are our ideas.   Professional speech writers know this about us, so they deliberately use verbal images that will draw us to agree with the speaker.

It would seem not only politicians, but other segments of society as well, believe the end justifies the means. The end determines what is true – and we buy into it – true or not. Our democracy is endangered if truth is no longer a value to be preserved.

To be continued.



One thought on “Living in a Post-Truth America: I

  1. I appreciate you articulating what many seem to be struggling to find the words to express. For those who may be wondering, the question from Pilate to Jesus is from within John 18:28-40 (verse 38). Looking forward to more Dad!

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