Tackling Post-Truth“Politicians, and indeed everyone, have been lying since humans could communicate… But it’s different now.”

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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Each year, the people at Oxford English Dictionary pick a word that somehow encapsulates a particular movement or mood that has defined that year, a word that has broken through into the public consciousness and established itself in public discourse.

In 2013, that word was “selfie”, a descriptor that would have earned looks of puzzlement just a few years earlier. In 2015, for the first time, an emoji took the OED Word of the year gong. Officially called the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’,   was chosen as it represented the “ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.”

And given that same justification, few could argue with the choice of 2016: post-truth. It was certainly a phrase that defined so much of what went on in an extraordinarily historical year here.

Much has been written about the concept of “post-truth”, and joining the fray of writers with something to say on the subject is veteran journalist and Guardian columnist, Matthew d’Ancona, who spoke this morning to Sean O’Rourke.

Amongst the questions posed by Sean, was the simple issue whether any of this is new. After all, we’ve had propaganda for centuries, lying is very much part of the human condition. So what’s different now?

“Politicians, and indeed everyone, have been lying since humans could communicate. There is nothing new about lies, falsehoods, mendacity. What is different now is the culture we live in, where there is an increased risk that emotions dominate our decision-making, rather than facts.”

In common with many commentators, the author looks particularly at recent voting patterns on either side of the Atlantic: the election of Donald Trump United States, and the Brexit referendum in the UK.

“It was emotional content, rather than facts, that drove the results. That’s a consequence of a number of things, one of them is that we trust institutions a lot less than we used to…. A certain amount of suspicion and scepticism is good. But when it comes to just not trusting anything you hear from the normal sources of information, then you’ve got a problem.”

Matthew’s new book is entitled Post-truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back. And it is the latter part of the title that perhaps differentiates this work from others. Part of the challenge, he writes, is tackling the sheer volume of information we are confronted with on a daily basis.  “Information overload means that we must all become editors: sifting, checking, assessing what we read… learning how to navigate the web with discernment is the most pressing cultural mission of our age”.

Post-truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back is published by Ebury Press and costs £7.99 sterling or around €9.

To listen back to the interview with Matthew d’Ancona in full, click here.

© The Listener 2017

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