Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back, by Matthew d’Ancona (Ebury Press, 2017)
That politicians lie is not exactly news, and no one would surely bother reading a book about that well-established fact. However, in recent years there has been a disturbing trend wherein we no longer seem to care that they lie. This is the topic of Matthew d’Ancona’s new book, Post-Truth, in which he suggests something very alarming:
We no longer expect our elected politicians to speak the truth: that, for now, has been written out of the job description, or at least significantly relegated on the list of required attributes.
Naturally, as a book published in 2017 about the effects of fake news, it makes numerous references to the tragic rise of Donald Trump and the regrettable decision by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the EU. However, these are not the subject of the book, which looks more broadly at the history of and importance of truth, and where it all stopped mattering. He gets into climate change denial, anti-vaxxers, and other conspiracy theorists, stating that, “like an infection resisting antibiotics, a virulent conspiracy theory can fend off even incontestable facts.”
For such a short book, Post-Truth does cover a lot of ground. It looks beyond Brexit and Trump to other examples of the diminishing value of truth in our society, exploring why we no longer care so much for facts. Of course, he gets into the rise of the internet and people’s growing distrust of the mainstream media (although, tellingly, as a proponent of the MSM himself he fails to acknowledge its role in moving us into the post-truth world).
It seems that these days people prefer emotions to facts, and that reality is often less appealing than a carefully crafted but utterly false statement like, “Make America Great Again,” which, he says, “may have won votes, but are also insultingly hollow.” D’Ancona explores various examples of politicians and media outlets blatantly exploiting people’s emotions and, in the process, getting them to move away from an appreciation of anything that is factually true.
Although it may seem depressing to live in a world where Donald Trump can be elected to the most powerful office and people will blindly follow the most obvious lies, doubling down on their certainty even when presented with undeniable evidence that they are wrong, d’Ancona suggest that it is not all so bleak, and the book ends on an upbeat note, with some advice for stemming this tide of idiocy. He acknowledges that “the gap between rhetoric and reality breeds disenchantment and distrust,” but suggests that those on the side of reality – ie people who believe in science and truth – ought to deliver their facts in a more palatable way. “Truth requires an emotional delivery system that speaks to experience, memory, and hope,” he says. If Trump and the Brexiters could win people’s support by sugar-coating obvious lies, why not sugar-coat incontrovertible truths to make them more appealing?