THE POST-TRUTH ERA
Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life
I did not get a chance to read the full book as I could not find it in the library or online, but the excerpts that I have read have really illuminated the topic further for me.
One interesting part I found is:
”We no longer tell lies. Instead we “misspeak.” We “exaggerate.” We “exercise poor judgment.” “Mistakes were made,” we say. The term “deceive” gives way to the more playful “spin.” At worst, saying “I wasn’t truthful” sounds better than “I lied.” Nor would we want to accuse others of lying; we say they’re “in denial.” That was sometimes said even of Richard Nixon, the premier liar of modern times, who went to his grave without ever confessing to anything more than errors of judgment. Presidential aspirant Gary Hart admitted only to “thoughtlessness and misjudgment” after reporters revealed Hart’s dishonesty (not only about his sex life but about his age). When, during a primary debate, John Kerry referred to a nonexistent poll that put his popularity well above Hillary Clinton’s, an aide later said Kerry “misspoke.” And it isn’t just male politicians who parse words this way. In the course of writing The Dance of Deception, Harriet Lerner asked women friends what lies they’d recently told. This request was invariably greeted with silence. When Lerner asked the same friends for examples of “pretending,” they had no problem complying. “I pretended to be out when my friends called,” said one without hesitation.”
I don’t know if its the large plethora of data Keyes pulls at or the way he words it, but I highly recommend this book.
Part of the reason we decided on our topic was because of its contemporary relevance.
With hardly a day passing without a new controversial claim surfacing on Twitter etc. by either Trump or one of his aides in the US administration, there are plenty of illustrative examples that demonstrate how ‘truth’ may be utilized in a flexible way in order to fit a certain political agenda. Below are a few examples that we discussed in one of our previous meetings:
Friedrich Nietzsche once noted down the following:
Die Wahrheit ist häßlich.
Wir haben die Kunst, damit wir nicht an der Wahrheit zu Grunde gehen
This translates to something like ‘the truth is abject. We have art so we don’t decay in virtue of truth’.
This line of thought presents art as a form of shelter that allows the subject to take refuge in its vast oeuvre every time ‘truth’ becomes too unbearable, unpleasant or complex to process.
While this might be labelled as escapism it simultaneously yields a very different effect.
It could indeed be argued that art is the medium that comes closest to producing truth. Without ever claiming to portray truth in its pure, objective form it nevertheless seems to stir up strong feelings and emotions that yield into direct action. Unlike any other medium, art has the power to mobilise, unite and stir up public sentiments.
The Protestant theologian F.D.E. Schleiermacher who is closely associated with German Romanticism, is often labelled as the father of modern hermeneutics.In opposition to what he perceived as the overly rationalist approach to religious knowledge promoted by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Schleiermacher averred that feeling (or emotion) and imagination were important sources of such knowledge. He thus argued that the appropriate method to employ when reading a text such as the Bible would accord a central place to these affective faculties. Specifically, he argued that feeling should be used to stimulate the imagination – the latter being the key to understanding the text. According to Schleiermacher, reading the Bible in the way he prescribed, and by its means acquiring religious knowledge, was to participate in revelation. It was, therefore, a religiously significant undertaking, in his view. (Harrison 2010)
By emphasizing the psychological dimensions of reading and understanding a text, and of revelation, Schleiermacher presented an alternative to the logical positivism that was prevalent at the time. Building up on his thoughts, Hans-Georg Gadamer also stressed the creative nature involved in understanding a text and pointed to the need for an ‘imaginative reading’ that pays attention not only to the words as they appear on the page but also take feelings and emotions into account in order to arrive at true meaning.
Art is a very successful medium in this regard . Instead of limiting itself to ‘hard facts’ it often appeals to the reader on a much deeper level. In this capacity it offers an alternative way to arrive at truth that has as its biggest asset its self-understanding as being subjective and contextual (i.e. being situated in a certain context).
Throughout our research we have come to understand that truth has lost its capacity to be compelling in present times. Art might be an effective tool in invigorating the search for ‘truth.’
A specific part of our presentation deals with Virginia Woolf’s time at King’s College. So in an effort to explore that, I went around the building aptly named after her and these are some of the things that I found. I even found a life-size installation of her!
We started off our group project by brainstorming potential topics, perspectives, case studies and strategies. Attached are a few screenshots of this process which might help to illustrate how our initial raw and abstract ideas slowly developed into more of a pronounced research agenda.
The central theme that resulted from this initial brainstorming was the failure of (academic) truth to be compelling. After having established this we went on to think of relevant examples that we could consequently incorporate into case studies.
See following posts for more on this.
It is an interesting contradiction of terms that Adam Curtis’s documentary, Hypernomalistion, falls down by the very same flaw that he wishes to expose in modern politics. In a moment of insightful, if somewhat sensationalised journalism, Curtis identifies the emphasis on political narrative over truth in the situation in the middle east from the latter twentieth century to the present day. To evidence this, he discusses the process in the middle east by which Assad senior of Syria attempted to create a more politically unified middle eastern state. A unified middle east ran contrary to the foreign policy aims of the west (in particular the US) who preferred to play one country off another to progress trade aims. Curtis suggests that the situation on the ground in the middle east became so complicated politically as a result of this that western politicians turned their backs on engaging with political realities. Instead, they decided the best thing to do was to create a more straight-forward narrative of good and evil to justify their intervening actions. To do this, they began to propagate the idea that Gadhafi of Libya was a kind of “super-villain”, diametrically opposed to western ideology and building an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. There is limited evidence that Gadhafi ever had WoMD and Curtis states that instead he was used as a willing scape-goat: western politicians had a simplified narrative to feed the public about the situation, and Gadhafi had a tangible presence on a world stage (whereas before he had been deemed a minor player).
It is interesting, therefore, that Curtis’s documentary itself is at its least convincing when he attempts to propagate a unified narrative of critique. Instead of accepting that the realities of the situations he is talking about are incredibly complicated too, he attempts to make grand connections across geographical and historical boundaries. What we are left with is a documentary narrative that is incredibly compelling, just like the political narrative of good and evil in the middle east, but not necessarily truthful.
This group project is largely concerned with the failure of truth to be compelling, The example of Curtis is interesting because, in some ways he is attempting to undermine false narrative in politics in favour of truth, but in order to make his work compelling he is sometimes similarly guilty. What we hope to find in this project is a method of critiquing false narrative without ourselves resorting to similar methods AND without the work becoming boring or overcomplicated.