[NetBehaviour] 10 Minutes of Doubt - Charlotte Webb guest editing Furtherfield

Edward Picot julian.lesaux at gmail.com
Sat Apr 15 15:49:52 CEST 2017

Charlotte -

On the post-truth thing, I think it's possible to discern a couple of 
different layers. First of all, of course, there's the fact that Trump 
himself has foregrounded the term 'fake news', accusing his opponents of 
trying to discredit him by spreading lies and rumours about him, while 
doing the exact same thing himself, making pronouncements which are 
either based on no evidence or very little evidence, without any 
reference to where he's getting his information from.

Secondly, there's the style in which he makes his pronouncements - for a 
start the way he talks is much more like some opinionated bloke in a bar 
than the average politician. He hedges his bets far less, he seems much 
less self-conscious, he's more colloquial, and he backs up what he's 
saying with lots of repetitive and essentially meaningless phrases such 
as 'Oh yeah, you'd better believe it, it really is' - all of which gives 
you the impression that he's just blurting out what he thinks without 
there being much intellectual process involved. This is precisely what 
makes him an attractive figure to a lot of people: he comes across in 
some ways as an 'ordinary guy', although of course he's really anything 

And then there's the fact that a lot of his pronouncements are made 
online, via Twitter. Twitter isn't the right place for people to publish 
considered opinions or engage in intellectual debate. It's a place for 
claim and counter-claim, for opinions without substantiation. So, in the 
era of Trump, political debate seems to have come down from the 
broadsheets and the newsrooms into the bars, the streets and social 
media. It's not about investigative journalism any more, or facts and 
figures, or historical perspective, or political or economic or social 
theories - it's all gut feeling and prejudice. You can't refute what 
Trump and his supporters have to say by pointing out that it hasn't got 
any foundation in fact or any intellectual coherence, because they're 
not interested in that stuff. They're only interested in who shouts the 
loudest, or who can make the showiest claims.

Of course this is really nothing new. Just look at Hitler.

But there's also another layer to the post-truth thing, which is about 
the difficulty we (the left-wing or left-leaning intellectuals or 
sort-of intellectuals of the UK and the USA) have in accepting that the 
other side (right-wing or right-leaning prejudice-mongers) won the 
Brexit vote and the last presidential election. Surely people can't 
actually believe that stuff? They can't actually hold those views and 
want those things, can they? It's been some kind of con trick; the wool 
has been pulled over people's eyes; they were taken in by a lot of false 
claims about the money that would be made available for the NHS if we 
came out of Europe, or about the new jobs that would be created or the 
existing jobs that would be safeguarded if the tide of immigration could 
be stemmed; and they've also been corrupted by their i-phones, their 
x-boxes, their social media and their online porn, the whole digital and 
virtual world, which has prevented them from paying proper attention to 
the realities of the political and social situation, stopped them from 
giving a shit about things like health care and care of the elderly, 
stopped them from being responsible citizens or having a sense of 
community or solidarity, and turned them into selfish blinkered 
I'm-all-right-Jack bullshitniks instead. We're living in a post-truth 
world where fake news is the norm and nobody has to face up to any hard 
truths any more: just believe whatever you like instead, go with your 
base instincts. If that wasn't the case, the argument goes, then Trump 
and the Brexiteers could never have won. In a sane world, where people 
actually looked reality in the face, it never could have happened.

But again, you only have to look at a bit of history to see that the 
division into a truth world and a post-truth world is a difficult one to 
define with any precision. Political debate has always been awash with a 
murky mixture of fact, propaganda, half-truths and downright lies. 
Political policies based on careful research and good hard evidence have 
always been the exception rather than the norm. I doubt if people are 
really more stupid, selfish, distracted and/or hoodwinked now than they 
have been in the past. I do think the left has lost its way. It's failed 
to come up with a convincing counter-vision to the prevailing right-wing 
monetarist only-profit-can-save-us view of things. People are feeling 
the pinch, and that makes them scared of economic instability, which 
makes them conservative. It's nonsense, because it's perfectly obvious 
that we haven't got enough money in the system to pay for good health 
care, or good care for our old people, or good education, and the answer 
is not to cut back public services even harder but to put up taxes so 
that everybody can make a fair contribution to the cost of the things 
they really care about - but the people on the left have convinced 
themselves that if you say this out loud you'll lose votes and upset the 
economic apple-cart, and by gagging themselves in this way they've 
basically handed the initiative in politics to the people on the right.

Bollocks to it. I think I'll move to Scotland.

- Edward

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