When does lying become ‘post-truth’?
By Barry Lord
2016 will certainly be a year memorable for all the wrong reasons, but at least we’ll have done away with lies once and for all.
Okay, that’s clearly wishful thinking. People will still tell fibs at home, in the workplace and particularly in the political arena.
But when we have to account for our actions, when we are inevitably hauled in to the office, in front of a judge or an enraged spouse, we have a new form of defence: we never told lies. We told ‘post-truths’.
Post-truth is the latest metamorphosis of the English language to be given serious credence by the Oxford English Dictionary, which has now accommodated the term in the same stable as the ‘twerks’ and the ‘hipsters’.
The official definition is given as “an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.”
Indeed, far from being ridiculed, it’s been claimed by Oxford Dictionaries President Casper Grathwohl that the term could become “one of the defining words of our time.”
So in a nutshell, those voters in the U.S and UK seduced by much of the rhetoric surrounding the Presidential Election and Brexit, were not lied to in many instances by those spearheading the respective campaigns.
No, they believed in what is now characterised as ‘post-truth’.
In other words, you can indulge in all the fallacies you want if it helps you reach your favoured destination. Cold, unbiased facts mean little compared to political bombast.
For me, this is a very worrying notion.
In all this tampering with everyday expressions, I’m reminded of the legendary American comedian George Carlin, who once did a memorable skit on what he referred to as ‘soft language’ – the kind of politically correct vocabulary intended to spare an individual’s feelings or mask an ugly truth.
In this uniquely Americanised form of communication, words like “bombing”, “spouse-beating” and “constipation” could all be softened if replaced by broader (or simply wordier) phrases like “neutralising”, “intermittent explosive disorder” and “occasional irregularity.”
Defenders of this form of language will claim that these words have a purpose. They act as a protective mechanism for groups that are regularly maligned, socially displaced and culturally disadvantaged.
This could well be the case. But it seems to me that ‘post-truth’ serves no other purpose that to let the user off the hook, to give the peddlers of propaganda and blatant mistruth some room for manoeuvre. Some ambiguity.
We understand that truth can be shaped to suit any agenda and lies are there to be scrutinised. It’s only if we lose that ability to scrutinise so-called ‘considered’ and ‘factual statements’ that the idea of ‘post-truth’ telling will be exploited to the full by those seeking their own personal and political gains.
So can we not call a lie a lie anymore? Do we need this latest revision? It seems that is our choice now. What sounds better? A world where people are accountable for their actions and answerable for statements that are proved to be false or a world of “post-truths, damn post-truths and statistics’?
I know which one I prefer.