In the aftermath of the populist rise of Donald Trump, the word “post truth“ was named the word of the year in 2016 by Oxford Dictionary. Oxford defines it as an adjective `‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’`.
Although the word is of recent origin, the connotations associated with it represent typical archetypal assumptions. The idea itself dates back to one of the most influential philosophers in history, Friedrich Nietzsche. In Beyond Good and Evil, he writes “To recognize untruth as a condition of life; that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.“
Nietzsche was, by no means, interested in objective truths. On the contrary, he emphasized on values. For Nietzsche, the consequences of the falsehood mattered more than its objectivity. His saw facts as a reflection of the human mind. However, Nietzsche did not believe that all of reality was a human social construct (a claim popularized by the postmodernist thinkers).
Individuals driven by ideologies follow the same rule, sometimes unconsciously. Post truth writings are often characterized by political agitprops as well as a reticence to look into opposing points of views.
Political psychologists claim that our political leanings are inadvertently influenced by our personality and external environment. An individual has no control over these external factors. Generally, psychologists use the Big Five personality traits to determine an individual`s personality. The Big Five factors are- openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. These traits are primarily heritable. Individuals who are high in openness tend to associate themselves with liberalism, while individuals who are high in both openness and extraversion are more likely to be interested in becoming politicians. Narcissistic, conscientious and honest individuals tend to be politically conservative.
Political behavior is dependent on multiple factors, i.e. it is a multivariate problem. Although personality alone cannot predict political attitudes among the general population, it is reliable enough to influence political attitudes at the individual level.
News outlets and TV channels express their political leanings explicitly nowadays. Individuals do not form their opinions by reading news reports, instead they read and watch the news reports that subscribes to their worldview. As political leanings are influenced by personality traits, there is minimal chance that individuals will change the political attitudes after reading news reports.
The difference between an ideologically driven mind and a moderate political individual is significant. Neutrality for the media in today`s world is a sheer impossibility. Yet, it is a gargantuan responsibility that the media has to eventually fulfill.
In the post truth world, ideologically driven news outlets are starting to describe themselves as “unbiased“ despite projecting contrary attitudes. Such attitudes are widespread among the neo-Nazi and radical left propaganda outlets. The neo-Nazi portray the notorious holocaust denier David Irving as an unbiased historian while the radical left portray the works of Jacques Derrida and Andrea Dworkin as axiomatic truths.
Neither the left nor the right is interested in objective scientific truths. Both of them use scientific theories to justify their political ideology. Perhaps, Nietzsche was right. Untruth is, indeed, a condition for life.
We are already living in a post truth society. Both the east and the west have created narratives to suit their political agendas. India has already witnessed an attempt by the state to interfere with generally accepted historical facts. The government`s attempt to rewrite NCERT textbooks in 2002 drew much flak from intellectuals, including the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. The textbooks published in RSS-run Saraswati Shishu Mandir Prakashan continue to propagate the Hindu nationalist view of history. One of these textbooks (called gaurav gatha) goes on to make the claim that Qutb Minar was actually built by Samudragupta!
Similarly, the European textbooks have deliberately omitted any reference to the atrocities committed by colonialism. Historians like Niall Ferguson have even praised colonialism!
Many fact checking websites and news sites have gained prominence during the last few years. The advent of the internet has popularized alternative facts. Many of us get our news from social media platforms and memes. The majority of us don’t have the time to check the sources and so we end up believing in it. Memes are the artificial equivalent of genes. In simple terms, memes are ideas that replicate themselves.
The word only gained popularity after the internet redefined it. Internet has given everyone an equal platform. While good communities have grown out of it, xenophobic and racist communities have also virtually organized themselves through it.
In these tumultuous times, neutrality is what we desperately need. Dante reserved the darkest pits of hell for those who maintained their neutrality in times of moral crisis. However, a highly ideologically driven society is a threat to stability. There will always be political differences among human beings. It is the duty of the responsible media to balance the views. Neutrality might not lead us to heaven, but it might save us from inferno.
Written By Anwesh.