“But, I still think that—in balance—the Internet has contributed far more to truth than to non-truth.”
post-truth” is not a salient feature of either the contemporary Right or Left. In fact, I do not think we are living in a post-truth era. To say that we are would be a profoundly pessimistic judgment. I counter that—if we compare our times with previous epochs—we are living the good times. There are many reasons as to why this is the case—and if one is interested in closely understanding the progress our species has made in the past three centuries, Steven Pinker’s want to begin by arguing that “Enlightenment Now is an excellent source.
Chapter 16 of that book is dedicated to knowledge. In variables such as literacy, basic education, years of schooling, women’s education, and IQ gains, the curves only go upwards. And there is no reason why we should think that this pattern will not continue. I, for one, do not like it when my daughters bury their heads in their iPhones at the family dinner; however, I also know that that devilish device will give them access to vast information that—when I was their age—I could only dream of having. It is harder to fool their generation because, alas, they can always fact-check a claim on Google. By contrast, I had to trust my teachers and my parents in what they claimed, and that was that. Only as an adult with access to the Internet have I come to realize that many of the silly things I took at face value when I was younger are simply false.
But, I insist, these messages are delivered as soundbites. Yet, if you go deeper and examine books and intellectual activity, then you realize that post-truth is far more salient on the Left.
Now, this is not to deny that the Internet can also spread false rumors or incorrect claims. Conspiracy theories have been undergoing a revival in our times, partly because a conspiracy theorist in Singapore can connect with a second conspiracy theorist in New York to mutually reinforce their views. And, today, Russian trolls do spread fake news with great ease, whereas in the Cold War days, the KGB had to come up with very elaborate disinformation operations. But, I still think that—in balance—the Internet has contributed far more to truth than to non-truth.
So, I do acknowledge that—though minor—there is some assault on truth in our times. Is it more prevalent on the Right or the Left? Perhaps because in the Internet era soundbites are more prevalent, it is tempting for us to conclude that this is far more prevalent on the Right. Joseph Goebbels infamously said that, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” I don’t know if President Trump is consciously following this advice; however, he spouts lies over and over. And, somehow, he always gets away with it. Kellyanne Conway has put the cherry on top by preposterously claiming that there are, “alternative facts.” Needless to say, none of these people are leftists.
But, I insist, these messages are delivered as soundbites. Yet, if you go deeper and examine books and intellectual activity, then you realize that post-truth is far more salient on the Left. To begin with, the very notion of truth has been considered by many on the Left as a means of oppression. The scientists, so this theory goes, were in the service of empires. When they encountered “people of color” (a fancy term recently in vogue), they arrogantly told them that many of their views about the world were mistaken. And, in the name of truth, they did an act of “epistemic violence” (another fancy term beloved by the Left), thus pretending to establish Western supremacy. The moment you say something is correct (and something else is wrong), you set up hierarchies in the world, and that is not good. If we want equality, so the argument goes, then we also ought to be equal in the validity of our claims.
For that precise reason, there is no truth. One primary intellectual guru of the Left, Gianni Vattimo, has no qualms about it. The title of one of his books is A Farwell to Truth. Vattimo is but one in a long list of intellectuals who believe the quest for truth is pointless. Richard Rorty, Paul Feyerabend, Jacques Derrida, and many, many more held similar views. The Left—not the Right—loves these thinkers. A bow-tied young Republican is highly unlikely to quote Derrida; it is, in reality, the dreadlocks-wearing activist, who is far more likely to bid farewell to truth.
The fake news of right-wing media may be the leaves, but the intellectual Left is the trunk and the roots of that monstrous tree.
These aforementioned intellectual figures have had a more unnoticed (yet, at the same time) more profound influence on the disregard for truth in our times. They are the professors who keep telling us that objectivity does not exist because claims about the world are always mediated by power. They are the ones who advise students not to refute a particular claim but, rather, to say that because the person who makes that claim has a particular identity, then that claim cannot be taken seriously.
With such disregard for truth, we must come to admit that fake reports on Breitbart are actually the chickens coming home to roost. The fake news of right-wing media may be the leaves, but the intellectual Left is the trunk and the roots of that monstrous tree.
Now, of course, not all on the Left are guilty of this sin. I cannot even begin to count the names of estimable leftists who abhor the cynicism of these post-truth advocates. And, I think Matt McManus does have a point when he argues that there is something such as “postmodern conservatism.” In fact, as any historian of ideas would remind us, the relativist affront against truth in modern times began with the counter-Enlightenment in the 19th Century, the same movement that—to a large degree—hoped for a return to the Ancien Régime days.
But, in our times, few pay attention to Joseph de Maistre—or any of the other 19th century reactionaries that were very suspicious of the Enlightenment. In contrast, Derrida, Foucault, and their postmodern legion continue to be all the rage on campus. And, I am afraid that their philosophies do have significant effects outside of the university as well. Once you accept the premise that objectivity is a “bourgeois concept” and that truth is a “colonialist assumption,” then you might as well just lie, all in the service of the revolution.
Socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende allegedly said that, “objectivity must not exist in journalism, because the supreme duty of the leftist journalist is not to serve the truth, but rather, the revolution.” Regardless of the alleged source of that particular claim, many leftist in Latin America do seem to take the spirit of it seriously. One particularly influential news agency, Telesur, continuously lies and tells half-truth, all with the sole purpose of maintaining leftist dictatorships in power (Venezuela, Cuba). At the same time, Telesur hopes to topple liberal, conservative democracies (Chile, Ecuador, Colombia). Sadly, good-intentioned people like Bernie Sanders are duped by these fake news agencies coming from Latin America, thus extending the influence of the post-truth Left into the United States.
The Left typically exhorts us to look for the root causes of phenomena. That is not bad advice. Well, when it comes to post-truth politics, we must come to understand that the root cause of Kellyanne Conway talking about “alternate facts” is the Left’s long-held suspicion of truth. So, I must say that post-truth is not a particularly salient feature of right-wing politics. But if it is, then it is less so than in left-wing politics.
Dr. Gabriel Andrade is a university professor. He has previously contributed to Areo Magazine and DePauw University’s The Prindle Post. His twitter is @gandrade80