2016’s Word of the Year is ‘post-truth’. Is this just another political distraction?

  • What is it that ails us all that we cannot point to an untruth or some deceit and simply call it what it is – a lie?
  • Have new words for lying taken us further from the truth (whether that truth be deemed relativistic or not)?
  • Is life in a world full of post-truth politics any more devoid of truth than it was even half a century ago?

In an attempt at keeping truth and honesty alive – let me tell you that I’ve been grappling with this nonsense word for days and I have no real answers to the questions above. The word ‘post-truth’ has had my head in a spin. Anyways, here is my response to that grappling.

With the recent endorsement from Oxford Dictionaries for the word ‘post-truth’ many writers have weighed in with comment and analysis. Most comments have centred around the political contrivances around truth, lies and everything in between. Some have written about the relativistic nature of truth and how post-truth politics is simply a necessary expedient for challenging the status quo, as if this excuses the lack of anything in politics even bothering to approximate some kind of verisimilitude. Obviously I understand how there can be shades of truth when we are dealing with complex issues that have impact on the lives of millions: beyond the universal needs for safety, security, health and well-being, not everyone’s needs or wants are the same, therefore political discussions around truth can definitely be seen as relativistic.

Sticking with politics, and in an effort toward some version of truth, I think I’m safe in assuming that deceit and duplicity are what politicians trade in. Akin to advertising, politicians deal in fear and aspiration and sleight of hand. And no matter how hard or how long they decry that opinion, we voters do understand the blame and shame game that is the political show. But still we buy it (like the advertised products), and we play along with them by voting for one party in favour of another because that’s the only game in town. Some of us voters (and not everyone votes) prefer to veer towards those who seem to  feed us fewer lies than the other parties. Some of us voters are happy to vote for anyone who deals in falsehood so long as it adheres to our bigoted, small-minded, racist, xenophobic, unkind and untrue beliefs about the world.

Before post-truth became a thing Timothy Garton Ash, in his work The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of 1989 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague, (1990), had this to say about political truth (he was responding to Václav Havel’s comment about the need for “living in truth”):
“… we expect many things of politicians in a well-functioning parliamentary democracy. But “living in truth” is not one of them. In fact the essence of democratic politics might rather be described as “working in half-truth”. Parliamentary democracy is, at its heart, a system of limited adversarial mendacity, in which each party attempts to present part of the truth as if it were the whole.”
(emphasis mine – see full article here)

Sadly, we can go further than the point Mr Ash makes because now politicians are happily jousting in post-truthiness – the words on their lips are no longer just half-truths but outright lies.

An obvious example of how politicians have gone from half-truths to post-truths (read lies) is Trump’s claim that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. That’s one hell of a claim. And it’s a lie. Just because he made that claim in public in his usual loud and pouty way to millions of people does not make what he said a truth – not even relativistically. His claim is an outright lie. Not a post-truth, not even a half-truth, just a simple, straightforward and, to my mind, revealingly-immature lie.

Currently in India we are dealing with the lie that demonetisation will strike a lasting blow to black money. I’ve no doubt that later on, when the dust eventually settles, the information from which the Modi/BJP action of demonetisation was formulated will be called post-truth. To my way of thinking such actions are transparent methods of power grabbing and power wielding.

In a balanced article in The Hindu, Sundar Sarukkai points to the fact that politics is indeed in the business of power – gaining and maintaining it at any cost. Truth and facts, to whatever level of relativism one wants to measure them, are ignored in favour of actions, rhetoric and general babbling with the sole aim of keeping or grabbing power. Mr Sarukkai goes on to suggest the need for a new understanding and discourse around politics and truth. That need is possibly not new, but it is certainly a current one.

I think a global discussion around this point has become necessary because whether we like the notion of this newly-endorsed word ‘post-truth’ or not, for me the word signifies something else unrelated to politics but rather to an abuse of language. I’m all for language adapting and morphing with the times. But to lie about lying seems to be taking language modification in bizarre and ludicrous directions.

The word ‘post-truth’ seems to be an abuse of language as well as an obfuscation of a more straightforward and simpler expression about something that is not even close to the truth. Why is ‘truth’ even part of this new, to me, non-word? Discourse deemed post-truth is generally neither a half-truth or half-lie (depending on your point of view you can be coming at a thing from either side – glass half-full/half-empty kind of thing). ‘Post-truth’ equates to deceit, avoidance of anything verging towards fact or even relative truth, and as such is an outright lie.

Oxford Dictionaries, in relation to their word of the year, have been quoted as saying, “There is evidence of the phrase post-truth being used before […* see below], but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.”
(see comment and quote in full here)

Truth itself has become irrelevant!

What – The – Fuck!!!!!

* Oxford Dictionaries state that the word was previously used by Tesich when he wrote about the Iran-Contra incident and also the Persian Gulf war: “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.”

Noooooo – I never decided that!

I don’t want to live in a post-truth world where “truth itself has become irrelevant”. No fucking way.

Looks to me as though the notion that all truth is just relativistic has allowed certain sectors to bandy about lies, as though tossing candy to the starving – sugary inducements that lack any substance, which is insulting and despicable at best, ruthless and destructive at worst.

On The Collins Dictionary website there is a prescient entry from June 2016:

post-truth-by-collins
Well, I’d rather be left in the dust of something verging on truth and live in a world where it’s OK to say “you lied” than endorse king-makers out of liars, or lying kings for that matter. I wanna be free to say “you lied” knowing that I’m not a bigot, a fascist, a racist, or anything other than compassionate and kind to the best of my conscience and abilities and where calling out a lie is a kindness to both sides.

Fuck ‘post-truth’ and all hail some honesty. Lies perpetrated as truth are a disease and are generally used and abused by those who do not want to be challenged about what they say in their never-ending attempts to grab and maintain power. And using any means possible, usually not honest ones, to avoid being challenged or quell anyone with the temerity to attempt a challenge, whether in politics, at work, in the family, is fascism in action.

To all those involved in the Trump and Brexit campaigns. You lied. Everyone else lied too, but you took political lying to a whole other low. Here’s a radical suggestion I know you’ll ignore:

Woman-up and start dealing in some compassionate honesty.

In the meantime – I solemnly swear never to deal in post-truth anything. I might lie to you, but, rest assured, unlike the unconscionable world of politics, I won’t lie about lying.

Note: Embedded links are to provide readers with more information and are not endorsements in any direction. The opinions in this post are entirely those of the author.

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A #RushForCash Update: Feeling Blessed, Cynical, Sheepish (but not necessarily in that order)

Queues at ATMs and Banks Continue
Some ten days following the demonetisation of ₹1,000 and ₹500 notes, queues outside ATMs and at banks continue throughout India. This morning’s TV news revealed that banks would only be dealing with senior citizens today. I’m sure the intention behind this was laudable; give room and space for the elderly to do their banking without the aggression and tensions of younger generations jostling them. But consider this – most people have older citizens in their family. Are they going to be pressured into carrying out their family’s banking when they had no intention of putting themselves through that ordeal today?

Locally, the closest SBI ATM has the longest queues ever. Ordinarily the most a queue has ever been is one other person ahead of me. Now, the queue does indeed trail away from the building, along the forecourt, across the access point of a government compound and down the road. The people standing in that queue are bunched up and almost heel-to-toe with one another. A sight unseen.

Cash-Ready Again (Feeling Blessed)
Given all the sites and sights of awful, seemingly interminable queues, I am almost in disbelief about the ease with which we acquired our own stash of much-needed dosh. The cash I pictured in my last post came about because we have access to a non-SBI (State Bank of India) bank branch and in a small town. This, I feel, truly is our blessing. Others are not so lucky. The SBI is a major player in the Indian banking world. Even on an ordinary day mid-week, the local SBI is mobbed with people. Chaos or some version of disorganised activity is the norm. During the current circumstances the situation can only be even more awful for both customers and staff alike. Our good fortune is that on one side we have not had to go through the ordeal of endless queues with people in varying degrees of distress or impatience and on the other to being cash-ready again.

The Masterstroke behind the Apparent Masterstroke? (Feeling Cynical – and a little Sheephish)
While watching the morning news programme, with its ongoing surfeit of coverage about the Demonetisation Debacle that continues across India (there were indeed other Breaking News items in the mix – but I’m sticking with the one item for this post), I considered a possible turn-around on my opinion of Mr Modi’s ‘Masterstroke’. As any right-minded person knows, one can surely not be expected to take the word of a politician at face value. Ergo, the claim that the current ruling party (BJP – Bharatiya Janata Party) acted radically to attack the black market economy can definitely be seen through highly-critical eyes. The suspicious amongst us (that’ll definitely be me) are wondering what is the truth behind the BJP’s motivation. Here’s what I reckon is one reason, one part of the current government’s agenda if you like.

India is frequently cited as a fast emerging economy. Yet a huge proportion of its citizens do not own a bank account, and many do not have the appropriate or accurate ID cards in order to legitimise any chance of changing or depositing their now worthless currency. As this is the case in India, a country striving for global legitimacy, any government can see that to help the country increase its growth and prosperity it needs as many of its citizens to be up-to-speed with current business practices. Most of the world is now online in some way. India has a huge mobile network and many people will have smartphones even where they continue to live in mud huts. Surely, then, to coerce, or rather force, people to adopt new and emerging technologies to help grow the economy quickly Mr Modi has certainly hit upon a masterstroke. For example, a few days ago I scoffed at the notion being purported that vegetable-market vendors would now start accepting payment by a phone app. (such as PayTM for example). I’m kinda laughing the other side of my pretentious patronising attitude now the media has reported that very thing is happening. I’ve not yet been to our own vegetable market to discover if those transactions are taking place here, but now I shan’t be so surprised if the vendors in our small town are happily clicking payments through wirelessly, without besmirching their hands or their customers with grubby notes. That said, I’m guessing they won’t be accepting transactions for my usual ₹30 of carrots.

Meanwhile, Related News Elsewhere……… (Feeling Grateful again)
I’ve been shopping! My kitchen shelves were becoming echoey; the fridge felt unloved; a restock was necessary. Not only did I return home from a fruitful forage with five full bags of goodies, my wallet went from trimmed down (holding a few crisp ₹2,000 notes) to a bulging version of itself full of ₹100 notes. Despite all the shopkeepers happy to have custom, they  half-begrudgingly, almost sorrowfully, doled out their stash of precious ₹100 notes. Here’s hoping those promised ₹500 notes appear soon, and the ongoing mass-induced misery of queuing for regular banking services ends, which will surely put a smile of relief on the face of more than just me and mine.

Aside

We’re Back in the Money!

Woohoo! We have cash!! The Delectable Mr D did the necessary and has just returned home with some readies from his bank branch. Apparently town is busy as hell with the monthly full moon flood of pilgrims, but he was undeterred and succeeded in bringing home the bacon and the fat. See – crisp, new ₹2,000

new-rupees-2

The all-new ₹2,000 – and all ours!

Not only can I now forget any Modi-initiated diets, a much-needed hair cut and a dentist appointment are now back on the cards. Phewie!! I think I’d better go lie down – feels as though the relief is causing an endorphin rush….

Are You Making a #RushForCash? – How some of us are dealing with the lack of cash in a cash-driven economy

On Tuesday 8th November 2016 just after 8pm IST (Indian Standard Time), while I was busy in my office in India uploading files and checking emails, I heard my boyfriend’s voice from the living room – “What useless rubbish is this?” exclaimed Mr D.

A TV programme Mr D had been watching was interrupted for a live televised announcement by Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, declaring that all 500 and 1,000 notes would no longer be legal tender. Mr Modi was giving everyone 30 minutes notice. Yep, you read that correctly. Thirty minutes notice on a major nationwide-sweeping action. With the slash of his mouth he had caused long-ranging disquiet. He then babbled on for around an hour about the reasoning behind the apparently impetuous demonetisation declaration.

Mr D and I sat and watched in disbelief as the information was relayed across a host of different TV stations, both English-speaking and Tamil. We looked at each other opened mouthed, quizzical, not immediately comprehending what was going on. Was this action for real? Was this news some kind of joke? How could cash we’d been using for years suddenly, in the space of 30 minutes, become useless? What stroke of lunacy was this by Modi and his government? Why so little notice? How the hell was this political stunt going to deal with black money? As we digested the facts as they presented on our TV screen we realised this was not a hoax, this was a true event. Our disbelief and consternation were compounded because we had significant plans for the following day (Wednesday 9th November).

Mr D had been to the bank earlier in the day to withdraw enough cash for both of us. Up until Mr Modi’s announcement, we felt we had got ourselves adequately prepared for our important excursion to the city. But there, on our TV screen, Mr Modi had just made life difficult for us – and the whole of the 1.34 billion population of India. We cared less that all banks and ATMs would be closed the next day – but we did care that in one fell political swoop and we were lumbered with a load of useless ₹500 notes.

All in however, the next day we travelled, ate and went about our intended business without too much worry or hassle. Many of the businesses we visited allowed us to pay using our bank cards. One thoughtful and business-savvy restaurant owner agreed to take and give us change for a ₹500 note for our lunch. Nevertheless we returned home with our wallets full of now illegal cash and, more crucially, down by a few precious ₹100s. True to the notifications, all banks and ATMs were closed so we never saw what took place the following day – queues everywhere as people attempted to deposit illegal notes or, more necessarily, withdraw low-denomination cash.

Watching the TV images of lines of people at banks and post offices across the country I considered the fact that Mr D easily and successfully managed to deposit our ₹500 notes on Thursday afternoon. But we were still very much reliant on the few ₹100 notes we had left. I, like countless others, raided my coin tin and was delighted to find several ₹5 coins and even a couple of ₹10 coins in amongst the silver. I’m still holding on to them though. Not having an Indian bank account I am reliant on ATMs. Where we live, in a small town out in the sticks, we are both blessed and cursed by the inoperable ATMs.

We are blessed not to live in a city where there are more people needing access to cash. TV images show interminably long queues at all the banks where some people have reportedly been standing in line for up to eight hours. A few bank branches are dispensing new ₹2,000 notes (although if you’re unable to get change, they are, quite frankly, fairly useless at this early stage of the mayhem) and some ATMs are working, if only for a short time until the insufficient quantity an ATM’s cash cassettes of ₹100 notes run out. On the flip side, our curse is that being in a small town of about 145,000 people means our ATMs will be among the last to be up and working. Mr D has been out everyday to find out if any ATMs in our town are yet working, but nothing as yet. And when they are, they’ll surely be out of the necessary readies almost immediately as ATM operatives struggle to keep up with the intense demand.

So we too are going to have to join a queue at one of our local banks – and standing in queues is something I loathe. When I see a queue for something I’d planned to use or see, I walk away without hesitation. The only queues I tolerate are at supermarket check-outs and waiting for a bus, otherwise I’m outta there. Although I don’t have an Indian bank account, the fact is Mr D is going to have to go to his bank and get us some cash.

Modi has claimed that ordinary people will not suffer. But that statement is already being proved erroneous. The media is reporting that people are stocking up on tinned and dry foods, ATMs are unlikely to be fully functional for at least two weeks, people’s wallets are empty of legal tender, businesses unable and unwilling to accept banned notes – all of that seems to me to be a form of suffering everyone is experiencing. Everyone but Modi and those who already trade in the black market economy I’m sure.

As has been reported elsewhere, India is a cash economy so the news that regular folk are the ones bearing the brunt of this sudden change in the rules is no surprise, that outcome is as assured as the sun rising and setting each day. How Mr Modi expects to put an end to black market money mills is curious to me. He has asked for patience, for everyone to wait until December 31st before castigating him for this actions, but the truth is, I’m certain, like everywhere in the world, those who successfully deal in a black market economy, especially in a country as cash-dependent as India, are probably five steps ahead of the government.

So let’s see, as he says, what the state of play will be come December 31st. Who really will be the winners, the losers, and those laughing all the way to their offshore bank accounts behind the backs of their low-paid, highly inconvenienced workers and staff. As for me, I’m either going to have to go on a Modi-instigated weight-loss regime due to a lack of food, or swallow my queue-dissing pride and line up like thousands of other people are doing every day.

In the meantime we have been fortunate. Mr D’s various forages for food and supplies have been successful: a few vegetables for a few rupees; other items secured on credit by those small businesses who know and trust us to return with cash as and when we’ve got it. Despite the many frustrations of everyone in this unexpected and inconvenient situation, the beautiful thing I can take from it all is that we are still surrounded by people being kind and generous-hearted at a time of difficulty for everyone across this truly incredible land.