Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew D’Ancona
Best for: Those of us feeling a bit hopeless as we see that facts don’t seem matter to so many people.
In a nutshell: Over five brief but information chapters, author Matthew D’Ancona walks us through what has been happening lately (focusing on Trump’s election and Brexit), offers some ideas of how we got here, and suggestions about what we can do to keep the hole from deepening.
“Yet political lies, spin and falsehood are emphatically not the same as Post-Truth. What is new is not the mendacity of politicians but the public’s response to it.”
“This collapse of trust is the social basis of the Post-Truth era: all else flows from this single, poisonous source.”
“All that matters is that the stories feel true; that they resonate.”
“Among the most pernicious myths to afflict our times is the insistence that there is an unbridgeable gulf between an intellectual, ‘over-educated’ elite and ‘ordinary people’ in the ‘real world.’”
“It should be a core task of primary — not secondary — education to teach children how to select and discriminate from the digital torrent.”
Why I chose it:
I am someone from the US who now lives in the UK. I’m watching as Trump destroys relationships with allies, rips children from parents, and generally screws over the US, while watching the UK continue punching itself in the face as it refuses to accept that Brexit is a utterly shit idea. I was looking for something to pulls me out of the despair.
This is an interesting and well-written book that left me feeling slightly more optimistic, although it’s definitely not a panacea. Mr. D’Ancona has researched the history of politics (and philosophy; more on that in a minute) to provide a feasible argument for how we’ve gotten to a place where facts matter very little, and opinions on what is true are all equally weighted even when they very much shouldn’t be. He spends time discussing climate change and anti-vaccine absurdities, but most of his focus is on how Trump was elected and how Brexit happened.
He offers support for his thesis that we are shifting to a place where emotions matter more, but he is careful to point out that we haven’t ever lived in some utopia where everyone accepts and views reality in the same way. I think that’s important, because while things are definitely getting worse, it’s naive to believe that there was a time that was dramatically better. The concern is that its getting so much worse, and will keep going unless we actively stop it.
When the President* refers to facts as fake news, and people believe him, it’s hard to not feel as thought everything is a lost cause. How do you reason with someone like Jenny McCarthy who ignores all the actual evidence and decides that her son is all the proof she needs? How do you get through to people who have a worldview — and values — that are incongruous with many facts?
Mr. D’Ancona talks about the influence of post-modernism on where we are (though he is careful to point out that this seems less intentional — Trump likely doesn’t know what that even is); that it makes some measure of sense since that school of thought asks us to question our reality. The problem comes when you view all the perspectives of that reality as equally valid.
So, what can we do? The final chapter focuses a lot on technology, but also on our need as people to be vigilant about checking our sources and not spreading misinformation. This is where I start to diverge a bit from Mr. D’Ancona — he talks a lot about trying to reach those who, for example, voted for Brexit. I’d argue that perhaps the better use of our time is trying to work with those who have expressed indifference in the past, at least initially. In the US in 2016, 100 million people didn’t vote. Perhaps they are less invested in manipulating facts, and are just tired of trying to sort it all out. Perhaps we can reach them.