Post-truth, cults..Putin? Exploring possible research questions

Tuesday was a sunny day complemented with quite a productive meeting that we had with Sophie. The meeting involved a lot of brainstorming on the possible research questions, case studies, and theories that we can utilize and contribute to as a group. This was not an easy task, which goes to show how challenging interdisciplinarity can be. However, this should not diminish the strength of the multifaceted approach to the project. Ultimately, we came to a very interesting and relevant topic on the construction of a ‘charismatic leader’.

The brainstorming started off with discussing the common line that Su Anne, Gladys and I share in our essay, which relates to ‘post-truth’ politics. To be more specific, we focused on how truth can be constructed and its implications in the real world. With her background in Philosophy and Theology, Su Anne emphasized on the ethical side of ‘post-truth’ and cults theory, as an example, where truth can be shaped by one central authority.

Brainstorming ideas

Gladys raised a pressing question on the comparison of cults and new religious movements. Indeed, the line between distinguishing cults and religious groups is often blurred. This can be especially seen in the case of ISIS, as an extremist branch of a mainstream religious group. This led to a discussion on the role of a leader or an authority that can completely distort what people believe in. Hence, we touched upon the notion of individual and collective free will and agency in the contemporary society. Do we as individuals and groups actually have control over our perceptions? How do we know if something we believe in is the actual truth?…These kinds of questions were put on the table.

Because I and Glady’s have focused on the role of media like photography and the Internet in politics, we eventually tipped our brainstorming session towards the portrayal of power. We talked about the diminishment of the role of mainstream media as a source of information, as more informal sources are emerging online. This is why, assessing truth has become more complex and challenging, as people can generate various facts and pose different perceptions on the same matter. Going back to the discussion of charismatic leaders, we concluded that it would be interesting to investigate how the image of a charismatic leader can be constructed, especially in the media. Indeed, charismatic leaders, utilize the means of communication and media to shape their public image and influence. However, people have the agency to shape their image as well, mainly, through the Internet.

We agreed that topics on post-truth politics and media’s influence on the public image today are mainly associated with Donald Trump. Because this has been already done by other groups of students, we eventually decided to explore Putin’s image as a case study for the presentation. What we have to do now is to research on the literature on cults theory, social constructivism and morality, which can help us to dig out interesting things about his image.


Meeting 27/01/17

In our previous discussion on Tuesday, we were interested in the concepts of fictitious entries, post-truth, and knowledge as belief. This led to the potential idea of creating a podcast, based on Serial but instead presenting lies as truth.

Taking from the concept of mediating the truth presented in the podcast proposal, we have decided to make our project a live performance. In essence, the presentation is centered on a case (whether or not it is fictitious or historical is yet to be decided), in a courtroom. One member of the group will play a defense lawyer while the other four are witnesses called to stand. Each witness represents a different form of the truth:
1-A witness telling the truth but having it skewed by the lawyer.
2- A false witness used as truth by the lawyer
3- One with partial information
4- Having one which is discredited
5- Having an irrelevant witness whose information is made relevant by the lawyer.
One of the above truths it has been suggested may be represented as a news bulletin or fake newspaper piece. We would like the audience to act as a jury, by taking the information presented to them they have to judge the guilt of the defendant.

Three key areas we would like to address in this performance are:
1- Does truth matter?
2- Does the deliverance of knowledge matter?
3- the presentation of potential lies as factual by the witness.

Other areas of discussion that arose where John Rawls’ theory of the “Veil of Ignorance” and the “Original Position”. In his thought experiment Rawls argues that if one were not to know what position they would have in a new world, whether they were rich or poor, black or white, straight or LGBTQ+, they would always choose for the new world to follow a maximin principle. In theory, a jury should be clouded with a veil of ignorance, their knowledge of the case should be derived from what is heard in the courtroom, but so often is shaped by media from outside the room.

We set homework to try and read both “On Truth” and “On Bullshit” by Harry Frankfurt as they give an easy entry into the discussion of true and false. Also to watch “Twelve angry men” by Reginald Rose.