When reading Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, you would find the phrase “post-truth”, a buzzword in the media meant to describe a phenomenon sweeping every facet of our increasingly interconnected society, a contempt for truth and an embrace of fiction and wishful thinking over objective facts.
It is easy to dismiss the incantations of the media as simply driving up fear and use sensationalist imagery and words in order to drive up ratings and revenue but this time it is different. Post-Truth is an easily demonstrable aspect of our modern society. Encouraged by the amplification of nonfactual opinions with the internet, distrust of institutions and a need for simplicity over substance.
Imagine, if you can, the world in which people still believe in the theory that the Earth, rather being an oblate spheroid, is actually a flat disk, hard to imagine I know.
Despite numerous evidence pointing to the contrary, even in the enlightened age of unhindered progress in the 21st century, people still believe that the Earth is flat. This theoretical phenomenon I described, is real and it is derived from the popular but untrue belief that everything can be questioned.
Not everything can be questioned.
We cannot question whether or not the Earth is flat because all evidence points to it being round. We cannot question whether or not the Earth revolves around the sun because we know that every other planet does and we cannot question whether or not gravity exists because we are firmly planted on the ground as I write this article.
Post-Truth has allowed ideas formerly consigned to the realm of imagination and wishful thinking back squarely to public debate, turning forum and conversation into a circus where nothing is true and that everything is a spectacle.
Certainly, this does not apply to the realm of politics where everything is up for grabs. We can still debate the merits of universal health care, basic income or military intervention in sovereign states, however, to say that slavery was advantageous to slaves or Hitler did nothing wrong and that the Jews did in fact deserved to be exterminated is wrong, it’s just one of those verifiable facts that Hitler was a bad man, no matter what advances his Germany may have made and it’s a fact that Slaves didn’t like being enslaved.
In some circles, this is still being questioned.
Which brings me to my second point and one made by Timothy Snyder. Post-Truth is Pre-Fascism. Consider what I said earlier: In a post-truth world, nothing is true and everything is a spectacle. If this is the case what does this bode for the realm of politics? Would we, rather than accept pre-existing norms, anchor our believes and our futures to the latest politician to make the headlines?
Where else but in a post-truth world do we see supporters of a certain President of the United States of America being able to reconcile his hardline stance on national security while simultaneously signing a defense contract with a country where fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers originated from?
In a fascist society truth is an infinitely malleable concept. In George Orwell’s magnum opus “1984”, the concept of doublethink is one necessary for one’s survival in the totalitarian society of Oceania. The practice of believing two, mutually contradictory thoughts and hold both as truth is a seemingly irreconcilable idea but the fact of the matter is we are all practicing it.
For leftists, Obama is a peaceful president however they criticize him for his jingoistic drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. All this being held at the same time. Similarly, for the right wing Trump has promised to reduce the national debt while at the same time promising to not cut spending on entitlements and defense, an ambition so rife in wishful thinking that even Ronald Reagan would call it Voodoo Economics.
The truth is a prerequisite in a democracy and if segments of the population are unable to uniformly agree on a demonstrably true fact then democracy is impossible. To defend democracy one must defend truth and without truth, the siren’s song of fascism continues to call to us.