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Who is to blame for the ‘Post-Truth’ era?

Jonathan Bowering debates how modern society has moved away from truth, and why we must combat that

With the creation of the internet, came a new era of self-educators, a new era of students eager to find out information for themselves and less likely to accept the ‘facts’ prescribed to them by teachers and parents. We can think of these people as a new breed of anarchists. Instead of a reaction against prudishness and uptight-ness, as in the 80s, it is a reaction against conforming to the state-prescribed educational structure.

These students have been told, through a multiplicity of sources-not least the previous generation, about ‘untrustworthy politicians’ and how they have been ‘lied to’ time and time again. After all, how readily are we told that it was Thatcher who destroyed northern domestic industry? How often is it said that it was Blair who autocratically led us into an illegal war in Iraq? Why should we trust governmental educational policy if we can’t trust their other home or international affairs policies?

This is the view of the misrepresented and it is part of the reason for populism’s recent victory over the progressive liberalism of the last 50 years. It is simply a fact of people refusing to look at the full picture and instead turning, due to a lack of time and motivation, to attractive young people flouting their often undeveloped views over social media. These people write with a level of passion not often found in legitimate sources of information. It is an obvious psychological reality that, following a disenchantment with authority, the self-educator will turn to the most convincing orator or writer-regardless of the legitimacy of such a source. We have seen this with Brexit and with Trump. The question is whether we allow rhetoric to dominate truth.

What we notice, as a result of this educational disenchantment, is the young following in their parents’ footsteps by taking an anti-intellectualist view with a foundation in opinion, rather than fact. This group often writes under the heading of the ‘alt-right’, a synonym for “I am angry with the nature of society without necessarily knowing anything about it but a man, with cool hair and sunglasses, told me all about it so he must be right”. The line “everyone is allowed their opinion” may be issued in response to my complaint and it is, of course, true. However, it is not freedom of opinion or speech that is the problem in our society but the ease with which the ‘layman’ accepts opinion as truth.

It is unfair to blame the internet too greatly for the new wave of anti-intellectualism—there are many other causes of it. The disproportionate representation of white, Oxbridge-educated males in high-level professions, for example, is a legitimate reason to feel disenchanted with ‘the system’. And of course, the internet does provide a wealth of legitimate information. The difficulty lies in part in public laziness. People are unwilling to look hard enough for the truth when so much convincing rhetoric on major issues can now be found on social media. This is not a new problem—why take the time to look for the truth when something claiming to be that truth is so easy to find?

The traditional media must therefore also take its share of the blame. The media, the pinnacle of freedom of speech and information, perfectly exemplifies my point. The issue with the traditional media is that everyone knows that news companies are corporate businesses which are ultimately designed to make a profit. By their very nature, they must appeal to the masses and thus project and represent a specific political view. What was not explained clearly enough to the previous generation is that people read whichever news has political spin aligning to their own views, and that this does not make it the objective truth.

Throughout 2016 we have seen that there is an over reliance on media, both traditional and social, for facts. This failure, mostly caused by the past generation, must now be conveyed sensitively to the present internet generation. We must explain to them that opinion is individualistic and personal, it should not be relied upon as truth. Whilst we must allow freedom of speech and access to the opinion of others, we must not allow millennials to be indoctrinated by rhetoric and must teach them the value of differentiating between falsehood and fact.

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