Is Post-Truth An Elite Invention?

THIS IS AN OPINION ARTICLE, REPOSTED TO START A CONVERSATION. SOURCE. 

“There is a joke in the humanities circles about the predictable trajectory of conventional intellectual debates in university spaces and elsewhere. The proper way to understand the world, so goes the joke, is to engage with terms like orientalism, colonialism, nationalism, modernism etc. and then start the process all over again by prefixing ‘post’ before each term in the same breath. The ingenuity of the joke is striking as it reveals the inability of scholars to capture contemporary reality as anything other than post-ness of earlier realities. Even then, these scholars may be forgiven, or even sympathised, for the simple reason that, at least theoretically, these post-everything claim to contest the truth claims and universality of those post-less terms. Thus post-modern is not necessarily the aftermath of modern, but a more critical and nuanced attitude towards modernity, or as one of the advocates of postmodernism proposed, it is ‘an incredulity to meta-narratives’.

For academics and scholars, truth claim is associated with power, and by that logic, the emergence of this chimera called post-truth should bring hope rather than despair. Interestingly though, the world of journalism which gave life to post-truth as a contemporary truth-slaying monster has not been able to match the theoretical sophistication of academics and philosophers. We may say that the post-truth order is a manifestation of our lack of imagination to understand our times and our place in it. And we are told that this new order is something, which has descended upon us and has made itself manifest in Brexit and Trump’s presidency and is facilitated by something called fake news.

Some Indian columnists and intellectuals see elements of post-truth in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rise to power and everything he says and does. But if truth-claim is an intellectual vice, where do we place the term ‘post-truth’, which mourns the loss of reason in contemporary times? In 2016, post-truth became the word of the year though it was coined earlier in 1992 by an American dramatist. The term is defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

If post-ness means an attitude of incredulity/suspicion, we should be celebrating the ‘absence’ of truth, the way we celebrated post-modern and post-colonial. The fact that we are mourning over it not only betrays the inability of thought leaders to decode people’s behaviour, but in an insidious way, deny people the privilege of accessing truth. Though post-truth is linked with degradation of news media and the latter’s descent into the world of lies, what is conveniently ignored is that the very idea of media is predicated on the act of mediation or re-presentation; that is to say, media at best can only attempt to capture reality, but cannot really capture it. Untruth or lies are not extrinsic to media; they are in the heart of the latter.

Regardless of our conviction that the journalist is a truth-agent and is interested in unravelling truth, the fact of the matter is that truth is not antecedent to his/her social and moral universe. In reality, post-truth does not reveal the incapacity and irrationality of people; it reveals the growing realisation by elite subalternists that their time of entitlement over truth is over and that people are willing to explore and even produce their own truths outside mainstream (mostly left-liberal) media. For elite subalternists, subalterns are good fellows as long as they trust their elite emancipators.

Mainstream Media And Their Fake News

Post-truth order and its tools in the form of fake news reveal mainstream media’s fear that people no longer believe in their claims of transparency and see them as ideologically driven. Here are some illustrations, which will establish the collusion of left-liberal news media in the production of half-truths and lies. Recently, there was a news item in the form of a confession from Karan Thapar, a leading TV anchor whose intellectual credentials in journalistic circles is beyond doubt. He retracted from his earlier accusation of the Modi government for not having done enough to retain Raghuram Rajan as the Governor of RBI.

Thapar was not alone; all mainstream English media houses asserted the same and did not forget to add that Rajan was shunted out for being a critic of Modi’s politics. This is in spite of the fact that Rajan himself had cleared the air that he will not be able to extend his leave from his university. After spreading this ‘truth’, Thapar owned up the mistake, but while doing so, did not forget to establish himself as a responsible journalist and seeker of truth. First he produced truth in imagining Modi’s aversion to Rajan and then claimed that it was a mistake, thus making way for another truth. Truth indeed can reward one twice.”

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Photo credit: Getty Images

What do you think of this opinion? Should we celebrate the Post-Truth Era?

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