“Post-truth” – a big deception


by Jacques Perrin, Aubonne VD


A new terminological gadget is born: the post-truth.

The editorial staff of the Oxford English Dictionary chose “post-truth” as “the international word of the year 2016”. They define this term as follows: “neologism relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia [french version, translator’s note] teaches us that the post-truth age “describes a culture in which the leaders escalate discussions on emotions by using a variety of linguistic elements while ignoring the facts – as well as the need for their argument to be pitted against these facts – consciously or unconsciously, for election tactical reasons.”

This term seems to have emerged in 2004. The panic haunting the “authorised commentators” on the occasion of the Brexit and the successes of Messrs Orban, Putin and Trump, brought them to the idea of using the post-truth as a weapon for a counter-attack.

We expect journalists to inform us truthfully. That they are frightened by the post-truth era and therefore want to help to honor the truth, should rejoice us. However, the scorn is closer to us for the following three reasons:
First of all, we are stating that tales telling and lying to the counterpart, not keeping promises and evoking emotions, as well as defending a cause with flimsy arguments, are not only to be found since the election of Donald Trump to the President of the US. In the 5th century BC, the sophists of Athens rang in the age of post-truth. The philosopher and rhetoric teacher Gorgias boasted about triumphing injustice by means of his unbeatable argument. In the 21st century, the sophists are called “communications consultants”. The PR consultant must not only tell untruths – as long as the truth brings in something, he is interested in it. The PR agencies promote the interests of the person who pays them, and treat the opinions with deep going emotional means. The democratic politician who wants to get votes from a certain “clientele” must pursue communication. In other words, he must multiply the promises he will not be able to hold. He arranges himself with the truth, also due to the fact that the electors do not necessarily appreciate it. They often prefer to live in the illusion, except in some very dangerous situations as in 1940, when the British agreed with Churchill’s announced “blood and tears”.

Furthermore, as we know, the political-media elite at the end of the 20th century were only moderately interested in the concept of truth. It has restricted itself to reduce its effect, or, rather, to negate it under the pressure of the deconstructivists. Our so “versatile” press has spoken little of the philosopher Jacques Bouveresse, who criticised the pseudo-Nietzsche aberrations of the deconstructivists, above all Michel Foucault, with great practicality.
What has not permanently been heard concerning truth: “Each one has his specific truth”; “True is, what is useful”; “Objectivity is inaccessible”; “Truth is the expression of power”; “The power relations prevailing in a certain era determine the content”; “There are no facts, there are only interpretations”; and again and again the saying of the French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal: “Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other side.” [“Vérité en-deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au-delà.”]

Suddenly, the concept of truth is “rediscovered” because of Trump’s and Putin’s misdeeds: Colin Powell, Hollande, Sarkozy, Juncker, Barroso, and Hillary Clinton have never, of course, played with the truth, nor the beautiful Barack!
Finally, the renaissance of the concept of truth is connected with the rehabilitation of diplomas. There have never been so many researchers and academics who leaped at the “deciphering” of the smallest “populist” demand. All these “highly-graduated” persons have long-standing lists of articles, publications and specialist books. They should be infallible when reviewing facts – apology, “fact checking”. We can rejoice that a fundamental intellectual activity will take place again, but we nevertheless allow ourselves to express some doubts about these activities, which are performed by a camarilla, which has incessantly dragged school, university, culture, logic and civil sciences through the mire so far.

Reality is more prosaic


For the first time in decades, the liberal-socialist intellectual power has been questioned. Differing opinions are coming to light increasingly, partly because of the social networks. Perhaps we will see a replacement of the media professionals. Social positions are at stake. The previous staff is shying away: its first reaction is to retire into the university sphere, just as the historian Patrick Boucheron, professor at the Collège de France, “committed” author of an allegedly “disturbing” world history of France, who refuses to appear in a broadcast of the TSR (Western Suisse Radio/TV) to stand up to his opponents Eric Zemmour and Alain Finkielkraut, under the pretext that he does not need to go down to the level of two essayists without “academic” education. The applause of the “elites” was not long in coming …

Inventing the term “post-factual” does not increase the concept of truth. Truth is hardly of interest to the professionals of knowledge, because they have no time to deal with it. The fight against Trump, Putin and Marine Le Pen binds all their forces.     •

Source: La Nation No. 2064 of 17 February 2017


(Translation Current Concerns)