I just read that Oxford Dictionaries has selected “POST-TRUTH” as the 2016 international word of the year. According to an article in the Washington Post, “the dictionary defines ‘post-truth’ as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’”* The article continues, “’post-truth’ is not to be confused with ‘truthiness,’ a subtly different term…that describes the phenomenon of ‘believing something that feels true, even if it isn’t supported by fact.’”
Confused? I am. But this next quote helped me a bit. “In this case, the ‘post-‘ prefix doesn’t mean ‘after’ so much as it implies an atmosphere in which a notion is irrelevant.”
Irrelevant. The documented details are irrelevant? I’ve got to tell you, just saying that – as a point of fact – sounds weird to me. If I understand this right, post-truth doesn’t say that truth doesn’t exist. It merely says that emotion and personal belief supersede it. As a result, I should not be held accountable to getting the facts incorrect. Why? Because they are irrelevant. What is relevant is how I feel and what I believe.
So, if I believe that America is overburdened by immigrants, I should not be held accountable if I also say that all Muslims are terrorists. We all know that ALL Muslims are NOT terrorists. But that is irrelevant. What is relevant is my emotion and personal beliefs. And if I believe that an overburdened immigration system is giving rise to terrorism I should be given latitude to misspeak the facts.
Where this gets fuzzy for me (as if it wasn’t fuzzy from the beginning) is that often in post-truth statements there are traces of fact actually in there. For instance, the facts absolutely support that some Muslims have been found to actually be terrorists. Some – not all.
So – what if I were to say that ALL white, American males ARE murderers? Wait a minute! I’m a white, American male. But post-truth says that this statement is totally justified if I feel/believe that American Whites have been oppressive of other races in the U.S. Add to that the fact that some American, white males have been convicted of murder. Surely I should be able to say that all American males are murderers. Under the rules, as I understand them — this feels allowable. Not accurate — but allowable.
Real quickly – this isn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative. This is about what we will justify saying in the name of supporting our beliefs and feelings.
Let me quickly say that I do believe that feelings and beliefs matter…and everyone is free to have some. I have them too. But, as my dad used to tell me, freedom demands responsibility. In other words, the freedom to have feelings and beliefs should come with the responsibility of having some substance behind them. If that is true then should an accurate recounting of the documented facts matter as well.
Hey – maybe I’m misunderstanding. But this all just feels a bit too freaky to me. Have your opinions and interpretations. Have your feelings and beliefs. I’ll have mine too. But walk wisely in this season of post-truth. How we handle this seems like it should matter…at least that’s how I feel and believe.
*The Washington Post, ‘Post-truth’ named 2016 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, Amy B Wang, November 16, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/16/post-truth-named-2016-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries/?utm_term=.cad1ca05951f