Saturday, 14 January 2017

Post-truth: The Word of the Year 2016

On Defining Post-Truth


  • After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. (Source: Oxford Dictionary)



Why was this chosen? (Click to read)


A brief history of post-truth (Click to read)

How should we read Post-truth?

  • The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971). (English Language and Usage)
  • In many election campaigns, misinformation and disinformation have victory over information. Facts are no longer considered important in campaigns characterised by post-truth situation. People, manipulated by emotional appeals, treat misinformation and disinformation as information. Recall two recent events — the Brexit and the Trump campaigns. In both the campaigns, emotional appeals and feelings, and not facts (truth), were the factors for Britain leaving the European Union and the triumph of Trump.
  • Evidence-based facts and analysis that Brexit will not be beneficial to the country did not convince fifty-two per cent of the voters in the UK. As Sir John Major has said, the voters were bamboozled by ‘a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information’. It was a post-truth campaign. Take the recent US Presidential campaign by Donald Trump. Though about seventy percent of the statements he made during the election campaign were rated false (by PolitiFact), which was nearly three times the falsity score of Hillary Clinton, Trump was considered more honest and trustworthy than Clinton.
  • It is a classical example of post-truth politics. The nouns that collocate with post-truth are: politicians, era, age, politics, journalism, journalists, brigade, presidency, etc. Examples: post-truth politicians, post-truth era, post-truth journalists, and post-truth brigade. Here are examples of how the word is used in sentences: Mr Trump has been described as the leading exponent of post-truth politics — a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact.
  • Post-truth politicians along with post-truth journalists and post-truth campaigners are responsible for creating post-truth voters. In the post-truth age, using euphemisms is a trend to convey that someone is a liar. He misinformed the public. (Albert p'Rayan)


Here are some interesting observations by Kathleen Higgins: (Source: nature.com)

  • Post-truth refers to blatant lies being routine across society, and it means that politicians can lie without condemnation. This is different from the cliché that all politicians lie and make promises they have no intention of keeping — this still expects honesty to be the default position. In a post-truth world, this expectation no longer holds.
    This can explain the current political situation in the United States and elsewhere. Public tolerance of inaccurate and undefended allegations, non sequiturs in response to hard questions and outright denials of facts is shockingly high.
  • More radical forms of relativism are often denounced as under­mining basic values. Friedrich Nietzsche, the nineteenth-century phil­osopher who is often invoked to justify post-truth, was such a relativist, and he does suggest at times that deception is rife and should not be cat­egorically rejected. His point is to complicate our view of human behaviour and to object to moral certainties that encourage black-and-white judgements about what’s good and what’s evil. Thus he denies that there are moral facts, saying that we have only “moral interpretations”, and in doing so denies that moral assertions are unconditionally true. But this does not mean there is no truth. Even when he claims that our truths amount to our “irrefutable errors”, he is pointing to the exaggerated clarity of abstractions by comparison with empirical reality.
  • In fact — contrary to how he is often presented — Nietzsche held intellectual honesty at a premium. His most strenuous rejections of ‘truth’ are mostly directed not at truth, but at what has been asserted as true. Yes, Nietzsche was an elitist who was sceptical of democracy, and so his work does not necessarily fault leaders for talking down to the public. But it also points out the inconsistency of religious teachers who assume they have the right to lie.
  • Scientists and philosophers should be shocked by the idea of post-truth, and they should speak up when scientific findings are ignored by those in power or treated as mere matters of faith. Scientists must keep reminding society of the importance of the social mission of science — to provide the best information possible as the basis for public policy. And they should publicly affirm the intellectual virtues that they so effectively model: critical thinking, sustained inquiry and revision of beliefs on the basis of evidence. Another line from Nietzsche is especially pertinent now: “Three cheers for physics! — and even more for the motive that spurs us toward physics — our honesty!”
  • Here is an interesting example:

The students of Nirma University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat were agitating regarding weekend holidays.
The news paper reported it like this:
The news reads: "The students of Nirma Univeristy are agitating as they are given holidays on 2nd and 4th saturdays which is normal practice in Public Universities and govt institutions.

As soon as this was posted on Instagram, the comment from one of the students was posted. Read it:


  • Humour helps understand difficult concept:











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