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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters

Global events have struck me dumb…Brexit did not so much surprise as shock me – into a deep depression. But it’s not so much the result per se as the new tone of global politics of which this is simply one expression – any pretence at reason has been surrendered to the exercise of brute power and stirring of visceral hatreds as evident in Trump’s victory and events in Turkey, Nice and Munich…..let alone Baghdad and Kabul

They’ve apparently been talking in the US for some 5-6 years about “post-truth politics” but it was an important recent article argues that technology is at the root of the new drift 
It was hardly the first time that politicians had failed to deliver what they promised, but it might have been the first time they admitted on the morning after victory that the promises had been false all along.
This was the first major vote in the era of post-truth politics: the listless remain campaign attempted to fight fantasy with facts, but quickly found that the currency of fact had been badly debased.The remain side’s worrying facts and worried experts were dismissed as “Project Fear” – and quickly neutralised by opposing “facts”: if 99 experts said the economy would crash and one disagreed, the BBC told us that each side had a different view of the situation. (This is a disastrous mistake that ends up obscuring truth, and echoes how some report climate change.)
Michael Gove declared that “people in this country have had enough of experts” on Sky News. He also compared 10 Nobel prize-winning economists who signed an anti-Brexit letter to Nazi scientists loyal to Hitler. It can become very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and 'facts' that are not…
For months, the Eurosceptic press trumpeted every dubious claim and rubbished every expert warning, filling the front pages with too many confected anti-migrant headlines to count – many of them later quietly corrected in very small print. On the same day Nigel Farage unveiled his inflammatory “Breaking Point” poster, and Labour MP Jo Cox, who had campaigned tirelessly for refugees, was shot dead, the cover of the Daily Mail featured a picture of migrants in the back of a lorry entering the UK, with the headline “We are from Europe – let us in!” The next day, the Mail and the Sun, which also carried the story, were forced to admit that the stowaways were actually from Iraq and Kuwait.

 A few days after the vote, Arron Banks, Ukip’s largest donor and the main funder of the Leave.EU campaign, told the Guardian that his side knew all along that facts would not win the day. “It was taking an American-style media approach,” said Banks. “What they said early on was ‘Facts don’t work’, and that’s it. The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”
 Twenty-five years after the first website went online, it is clear that we are living through a period of dizzying transition. For 500 years after Gutenberg, the dominant form of information was the printed page: knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format, one that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths.Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.
Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago). ……
There are usually several conflicting truths on any given subject, but in the era of the printing press, words on a page nailed things down, whether they turned out to be true or not. The information felt like the truth, at least until the next day brought another update or a correction, and we all shared a common set of facts. 
This settled “truth” was usually handed down from above: an established truth, often fixed in place by an establishment. This arrangement was not without flaws: too much of the press often exhibited a bias towards the status quo and a deference to authority, and it was prohibitively difficult for ordinary people to challenge the power of the press.
Now, people distrust much of what is presented as fact – particularly if the facts in question are uncomfortable, or out of sync with their own views – and while some of that distrust is misplaced, some of it is not.

update; I now see that there was talk in Britain even in June of "post-truth politics" - and that I must have borrowed my title for this post from a post on 23 June by Chris Grey

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