Trump lies and we all know it. He lied about Russian business ties. He lied about his inauguration numbers. He lied about terror attacks in Sweden, and lied about forest fires in Finland. There seems to be no end to it all. The public, at large, have come to shrug off any new lie, just as the law of diminishing returns would lead us to predict. But with the advent of Trump, we were told, came also the final victory of the proponents of “post-truth”.
What was this “post-truth”? And has it really claimed victory? It is assumed that post-truth emerged in step with the internet age. It was the result of the diversification of media, and the dumbing down of newsworthy content on mainstream stations. Indeed, few news networks nowadays fail to make their political allegiances clear, and indeed, the public appear to tune in to the station that most closely maps their own biases. It had become clear to everyone that major corporations had unprecedented influence over which stories would air, and how they would be framed. And Wikipedia became a battleground for warring camps in the fight for the control of information. This all happened very suddenly. Indeed, I hazard a guess that fair and objective news media was all but destroyed over the course of about 15 years (1995-2010).
But, as a matter of fact, the story of post-truth reaches back further than the internet age. It began in the mire of French post-modern thought of the 60s and 70s. It traces its lineage through prominent left-wing French existentialists and “deconstructionists” and their impact may still be felt today (particularly in the academy). Notions such as objective truth, objective beauty, and objective morality were nothing but social constructions for these thinkers. They saw the diversity of subjective human viewpoints not as a means to establishing some external truth, but as the end in itself. There is no world beyond our disparate visions of it. Moreover, the apparent success of the mathematical sciences at describing such a world was achieved through either fakery, trickery or sheer luck. The advance of modern technology was a blight on human well-being.
It was the goal of these thinkers to advance their agenda through the denial of human nature and the establishment of a state in which one could become the very sort of thing one wanted to be. Human flourishing is not one particular kind of thing. What it takes for you to flourish is not what it takes for me to flourish. Consider Armin Meiwes, the German cannibal, who tortured and consumed a willing participant. He is no monster: on the contrary! He is just one example of the infinite potential of human subjective experience! And his victim, whose name escapes me now, is an example of the breadth of human sexual exploration. Man is not a “rational animal”. Man is any sort of being he likes.
This picture of the diversity of human experience and viewpoints has dominated popular culture for half a century. But with the advent of Trump, the very idea of “post-truth” may finally have lost it’s seductive shine, especially for the left, and especially for philosophers of this particular stripe. It is clear already, to any person with half a brain, that Trump’s words are not representative of a meaningful, private, subjective experience, which is both unique and compelling in the great variety of human subjective experience. On the contrary, Trump’s words are seen for what they are: denials of the true state of affairs.
“The true state of affairs…” Such a lovely phrase. It is a phrase that may never have been uttered again, had Trump not ascended to the presidency. But as he pushes his own presidency further towards the cliff, with lie upon lie, and untruth upon untruth, the very value of truth has finally been exposed for what it is. It is no longer fashionable to talk of different but complementary subjective viewpoints. Rashomon is no longer the favourite film of every Tom, Dick and Harry. We live in an exciting time, for now it seems that facts (not viewpoints) are the flavour of the month, and I pray it will remain this way for many months to come.
I hereby declare the post-truth era to have at last come to an end.