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:

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.