If modernism and postmodernism are defined primarily by their relationship to the metanarrative, where does that leave the contemporary world? Newscasters have been chatting a lot over the past year about post-truth politics, a mode of discourse in which the notion of the factual is deemphasised in favour of creating a new reality which supports the speaker. Look at Newt Gingrich’s defence of this when he states that it feels like crime is rising in America, despite the evidence proposed to him that it isn’t.
That’s like the most obvious example here, but you gotta believe that this is everywhere, the conversation regarding the two sides of the Brexit argument, this repeated talking point that Red and Blue America are incompatible as they live in two fundamentally different worlds. It’s hard to argue around this point, however our way of talking about it is fundamentally flawed.
To define a position or view as post-truth is to take a descriptive view of the world, in order to make this statement one has to believe in an objective truth to the world that is being distorted. In the contemporary world, however, we gotta understand that ‘truth’ has changed from something that exists outside a person, to something that exists within them. Has anyone told y’all to live your truth? That’s a good realisation of how in the same way as we project our interiority into the world, the world projects itself into us.
Therefore, truth, rather than being a product of the physical world, exists at the intersection between the mind and that world. We have to decouple the notion of truth from the notion of the factual. Fact is a construct that can be measured and proven, Truth cannot. So we find ourselves in the seemingly contradictory situation in which a statement can be simultaneously factual and untrue because, by its very nature, fact must be singular whereas truth can be plural.
We got these studies that been saying that people would prefer to read content that affirms their views rather than challenges them, even when that choice results in decreased monetary gain. This seems irrational at the head of it, but realise that instead of choosing opinions the participants were actually being tasked with demonstrating their alignment with their truth. Opposing opinions aren’t just wrong, bad opinions, they are demonstrably untrue. You can provide all the facts you want that Marmite is a controversial sandwich topping; the truth is that it is disgusting, and I shall not be persuaded otherwise.
You may think this a fundamentally immature way to view the world, surely it would be better for fact and truth to be aligned. Again we must return to the contemporary world’s obsession with information. There is too much of it, and it is often too complex or contradictory to be the arbiter of truth. Look at how it presented too, I’m as guilty as writing clickbait headlines occasionally too, but the economic reality that drives this habit has led to a fundamental change to our consumption of fact. A clickbait headline is one that will deemphasise fact in favour of truth, we all read opinion pieces, and we all got our news through The Daily Show.
In this environment we have to realise that given the proliferation of information no one piece is of any inherent value. When the well documented and researched long-read sits in opposition to a poorly written tweet we have to set our biases aside, both hold the same spark of truth within them. In the form of this truth, the metanarrative is back, but it does not propel us towards the end of history for it has no singular author. We are all walking embodiments of our own images of the future of humanity.
We have experienced a radical swing from the nihilist postmodern perspective that nothing has meaning anymore. Suddenly everything has meaning and there is too much of it. Everything that is happening is just a result of us trying to cope. I’m just gonna point out here at the end that this is not an endorsement of post-truth politics, just an explanation of why it happens, besides clearly everything that goes against my truth is an aberration.
Image courtesy of zerodean.com