He’s been the BBC’s economics editor, he’s presented, among other programmes, Radio 4’s Today programme, Dragon’s Den and is the current presenter of Newsnight. So Evan Davis certainly ought to know bullshit when he hears it. He joined Richard Curran on The Business to talk about his new book, which comes with the snappy title of Post-Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit and What We Can Do About It. As that mouthful of a title suggest, the book is all about bullshit: how we got up to our necks in it and how we might go about extricating ourselves from it.
“Post-truth is an expression of what one might call liberal angst at a whole number of things that occurred in 2016.”
Evans believes that most of what we’ve seen in the last year is rooted in the communication habits that go back much further. So, even though the emergence of Trump has pushed it to hitherto unseen extremes, it’s not actually new. The book tries to answer two thorny questions: why people tell lies (and why those lies work) and why we choose to believe certain lies over certain other lies. He cites the notorious Leave campaign’s claim that the UK would save £350m for the NHS every week if it left the EU as an example. Why did people choose to believe that lie and not some of the many other lies told during the Brexit referendum campaign?
“When societies are particularly divided, there is a particular tendency for people to stop thinking about the evidence of a proposition and to start saying, I believe this because this is what my team believes.”
The problem, Evans believes, is that we have an epidemic of closed-mindedness. And that comes out of what is a particularly divided time. The only way to counter that, he tells Richard, is to try to weaken the divisions and take the heat out of the argument.
“The louder you shout, the more each side will just cling to belief in the things that suit their side of the argument.”
Soundbite culture may be partly to blame, Richard suggests, and Evans agrees. Many topics in politics are nuanced and complex, but when condensed into 140 characters for the purposes of putting them on Twitter, that nuance is lost. Evans only realised towards the end of the book that what he has written is a manifesto for being open-minded and polite and respectful towards people of the other tribe or the other view.
Despite working in what he calls the Bullshit Industry, Evans confesses that he’s an optimist and that we, as a species, will eventually gravitate towards those who tell the truth. Let’s hope he’s right.
Post-Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit and What We Can Do About It by Evan Davis is published by Little Brown.
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Main Photo credit: Tim Whitby/Getty Images
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