Oxford Dictionaries has picked “post-truth” as its word of the year, citing that “a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse” was the driving force that increased the word’s use by 2,000 percent.
It defines post-truth as “relating or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This word, publishers say, has “become ‘overwhelmingly’ associated with politics.”
“Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, ‘post-truth’ as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries. “We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and again in July when Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination.”
So, are we living in a post-truth society? Are our politics dominated by fake news and false narratives? I’d say yes and no. What I find particularly fascinating regarding Oxford Dictionaries’ announcement is the reaction from liberals. Suddenly, people who hold to philosophies that actually undermine and reject objective truth are deeply concerned about emotions dictating facts.
It’s Not Fair to Blame Solely Social Media
I also find it interesting they claim “post-truth” is fueled not by establishment or mainstream media, which have been peddling false narratives for years to advance a liberal agenda, but social media. Remember Rolling Stone’s fake rape story, anyone? Or how about the media false narrative about the Orlando massacre?
I could go on, but you get my point. This doesn’t mean there’s all truth in social media (there’s not). But let’s not ignore how the flight from traditional media to alternative sources happened in the first place. “Post-truth” in media started a long time ago, not just this election year.
Laying the blame for this abandonment of truth at the feet of social media is simply another false narrative. Even reports about fake news on sites such as Facebook are turning out to be fake themselves—or at least heavily biased.
BuzzFeed, for example, has published an article, “Viral Fake Election News Outperformed Real News On Facebook In Final Months Of The US Election,” but this has gaping holes in it, making one question whether it’s actually “real news.” Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner calls the report’s “methodology a mess.”
First, it doesn’t measure how much traffic went to fake election stories versus real election stories — it only picks the top few stories in each genre. Second, the study only chooses from a handful of mainstream sites. Third, the “Real News” stories often aren’t real news at all—a point which doesn’t undercut the conclusion as much as it shows the silliness of the comparison.
Additionally, articles like this one by Amy Wang at the Washington Post, focuses on Trump, not Hillary Clinton, in her “post-truth” analysis, even though Clinton has been proven time and again to be a liar.
“Dozens of media outlets found that Trump’s relationship with the truth was, well, complicated,” Wang writes. She then goes on to cite two rabid NeverTrumpers to make her case.
‘We concede all politicians lie,’ conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote in September. ‘Nevertheless, Donald Trump is in a class by himself.’
The Atlantic’s David Frum, who described Trump’s dishonesty in May as ‘qualitatively different than anything before seen from a major-party nominee.’
None of this seemed to matter significantly to those who supported him.
This isn’t to say that Trump is a paragon of truthfulness—he’s not. But to shift the analysis of fake news and post-truth dynamics mostly to Trump shows a bias voters despise. Wang goes on to cite a Washington Post “Fact Checker” to back up the claim that Trump is a bigger liar than Clinton, and that his supporters relied on “fake news” to get him elected.
Truth-Seeking Can Cause People to Drop the Media
The fact is, however, that most people—even Democrats—don’t believe the “fact checkers” because they are too often biased. As Rasmussen reports, “Most voters believe news organizations play favorites when it comes to fact-checking candidates’ statements.”
This skepticism, however, “is much stronger among voters who support Donald Trump than those who back his rival Hillary Clinton.” That would make sense, considering much of Trump’s support comes from people lashing out against liberal media, who have been biased for years.
Still, the skepticism seems to be pretty much across the board. Rasmussen found that among likely voters, only 29 percent trust media fact-checking of candidates. On top of that, “Sixty-two percent (62%) believe instead that news organizations skew the facts to help candidates they support.”
So what does all this mean? I think it’s obvious: very few people trust the media, and there is certainly a crisis of truth in America. The shining light is the flight to alternative media. It shows that people are looking for some measure of truth. The downside is, too often, they’re merely searching for affirmation of what they already feel and believe (and they often find it). We have to admit that all sides are guilty of this to one degree or another.
Given that it’s hard to judge who exactly is looking for truth and who isn’t, and that facts are difficult to discern in the haze of propaganda that is so rampant everywhere—from TMZ, to Reddit, to BuzzFeed, to The New York Times, and all the media and social sites in between—I’d like to cut through the fog and focus on a foundational issue that is driving this chaos.
Look What Man Hath Wrought
The president of Oxford Dictionaries commented “that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down,” and “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.” Vox, a notoriously liberal site, reacts to this saying, “[T]he idea that ‘post-truth’ could not just exemplify this year but — in Grathwohl’s words — be ‘one of the defining words of our time’ is a frightening one.”
Yes, it is frightening, but I have to ask Vox and many others fretting about fake news and post-truth in this election season: Where have you been all these years as America has abandoned truth for relativism especially in higher learning (and now in all levels of education)? Haven’t you been paying attention as we have put emotion over facts in just about every sphere of society? Our nation has been abandoning objective truth for more than a century! What did you think would result?
This sudden outcry against post-truth reminds me of the vapors so many had when they heard the Trump “Grab her by the p—-” tape. Suddenly, people who had been telling us there’s no right and wrong—no objective values or morality by which we can judge others—switched gears and became Puritans in a flash. This is the phenomenon I find truly amazing, and it’s just more evidence of the subjectivism that has been consuming our country for decades like cancer, eating away every part of the civil society.
My response to those to those now worried about this “post-truth society” is “You reap what you sow.” This abandonment of objective facts for emotion is the inevitable result of our culture’s unrelenting commitment to moral relativism. This is the chaos that comes as a result. Look at it, soak it in, and maybe you’ll learn something.
Post-truth is not the fault of social media or of current politics. These are symptoms, not the disease. The disease is an American society that has closed its mind to objective truth and is now being forced to live with the conflict and chaos that ensues.
We Can’t Function Without a Commitment to Truth
Relativism, subjectivism, and materialism are all bankrupt philosophies. Yet these are what drive our culture and politics. When objective truth and values are abandoned, there are no unifying principles of truth or morality that bind together the vast number of disparate individuals and groups that inhabit our nation.
America’s greatness stems from its commitment to e pluribus unum—out of the many, one. Out of the many states, one nation. Out of the many races, religions, and backgrounds, one people. To achieve that—to bind together all these subjective entities into a functioning and civil whole—we need objective principles to which we are all committed.
Reason, objective morality, and principles of equal justice, truth, love, freedom for the individual, and limited government (to name a few)—these are objective realities. But we turned our backs on objective truth and embraced subjectivism, pluralism, and relativism, hiding them under the cloak of tolerance. We abandoned our principles. Now all we have is the many, with nothing to make us “one.”
The fact is when everyone defines truth for himself, there are no ties that bind. If I decide something is true for me, based on how I feel, then it is true. This is all I have if I have rejected objective truth. All I have are my subjective experience, feelings, and natural impulses. These become truth for me, just as your subjective feelings become truth for each of you. In the end, we are ruled, not by a common commitment to truths to which we all are bound or a commitment to exercise reason as we pursue truth, but by our own individual feelings.
The result is chaos and conflict, because there is no real common ground. For there to be common ground, you would have to be committed to something objective, a truth outside of yourself that is the same for everyone. This conflict can’t be avoided if society rejects objective truth and reason.
Abandoning Truth Puts Us at the Mercy of Power-Mongers
What is truly frightening is that human beings can’t remain in a state of chaos, so they look to a savior for peace, unity, and security. In a world that has abandoned a common commitment to objective truth, the only savior, the only path to unity, is an individual or group of individuals with enough power to control everyone else. The motivation of their will to power, just as with all who abandon truth, is to satisfy their own feelings and feed their own natural appetites. Principles and truth play no role. “The object of power is power,” George Orwell wrote in “1984.”
“Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao [objective truths and values],” C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Abolition of Man,” “or else we are mere nature [creatures ruled by emotions and natural impulses] to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.”
If we truly want to make America great again, if we really want peace and prosperity, we must return to the foundational principles and truths that made our nation great in the first place. If we want unity—e pluribus unum—we have to abandon subjectivism and once again embrace objective truth and morality. If we don’t, America will be transformed into a brave new world where truth is defined by the powerful.