Facts don’t matter anymore. If this statement doesn’t come as a surprise to you, you’re probably living in the year 2016 and you’ve already observed this to be true. You’ve seen the Donald. You’ve been bombarded with stupid ass memes enough times to know what we’re talking about here. You’ve had Facebook debates with people that used to seem so smart.
Granta, the literary magazine from the UK which is dedicated to kick ass fiction, non-fiction and photojournalism has just published an article on this. Peter Pomerantsev has a new piece called “Why We’re Post-Fact.” His big reveal is not that politicians lie. We all know that. He posits that they actually don’t care whether they tell the truth or not because we’ve reached a new era in which truth and fiction are no longer in competition.
What does that mean? Let’s dive right into the nuts and bolts.
The information age and ‘digital wildfires’
Social media has become the biggest news source for most of us. The big problem is that this content is hand-tailored by the algorithms of Facebook, Google and others to cater to our own individual preferences and biases. Yes, we could actually spend most of our cyberspace time chumming around with people who also believe that the earth is flat, if that’s what our clicking habits lead Google to believe about us. These algorithms serve as a way of reinforcing our own biases. It’s going to give us more of what we want. And most of us want to see that which reinforces what we already believe. It’s helping us create our own ‘safe space.’ Yay.
But are we seeking the objective truth or are we seeking reinforcement of “our truth”? There is a difference.
Fragmentation and disorientation pushes us into nostalgic nationalism
Sound-bytes and snippets and memes smack into our consciousness at an unprecedented rate. This is billboards on steroids, if you will. It leaves us with our heads spinning. Disoriented, we retreat into what philologist Svetlana Boym refers to as a “proliferation of nostalgias.” According to Boym, we are attempting to “rebuild our lost homeland” by doubling down on our defiance against a disorienting globalism. Putin promises a restored Russia while Trump promises to make America great again, and ISIS seeks a “mythic Caliphate.” As the world grows more interconnected, the response of many is to try their hardest to remain isolated, entrenched in their own traditional views.
The rise of ‘alternative media’ has thrown everything into question
Both the left and the right are full of conspiracy-theory fueled distrust. The idea that objective reporting does not exist has given birth to a lot of new competing ideologies, all of which, have their own platform upon which to disseminate their ideas on a large scale. These ideas get passed on via click and share and like through social media and pretty soon, who the hell knows what’s true anymore? By the time the fact checkers get to it, the average person has already gone to bed or is busy with something else. In this sense, Joseph Goebbels was right. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” As mentioned before, social media algorithms are offering their services millions of times a day to help this happen.
Post-modernism and relativism has been the breeding ground for all this shit
Let’s sum this up by connecting some dots. According to Nietzche and post-modernists, there are no facts, only interpretations. This leads to the ability to excuse lies as a personal opinion or ‘just a point of view.’ If the truth is simply a point of view, then so are lies.
In 2004, when discussing facts that do or do not justify an invasion of Iraq, truth and reality took on a whole new meaning. A senior Bush advisor could simply explain to the New York Times why he no longer believed that “solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” He went on to say: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Aha. Got it.
Flash forward to 2016 and Donald Trump can call Mexicans rapists and outrageously claim that he saw thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks. He can even contradict himself time and time again, and still he skates by. Evidently, people are tired of nit-picking at little inconveniences like facts. Because really, truth is a matter of perspective.
And facts are a thing of the past.