The title “Truthiness” is borrowed from the comedian Steven Colbart and pretty much sums up the Brexit argument for leaving the EU. Truthiness is based on lots of little fibs with a fine a layering of deception all dressed up prettily with a cherry on the top passing-off as “the truth”. Theresa May declares that the results of the referendum are “clear”. No they are not. She is the cherry sitting on the top of the layer posing as “the truth”. The problem of “truthiness” has been addressed recently in two articles in the conventional media. The first by Katharine Viner, The Guardian’s editor entitled “How Technology disrupted the truth”. The second in last week’s edition of The Economist on “Post-truth politics: The Art of the Lie” Both articles feature the image of a man with a very, very long nose – a nod to Pinocchio. Every time the wooden puppet told a lie, much to his embarrassment and discomfort, his nose would grow. Wouldn’t it be charming if the same were to happen to every politician or journalist every time they told a blatant lie?
How we the public would laugh and point. “Ha! Ha! – there goes Mr Johnson famous for his Johnsonian lie. Look how his nose is threatening to unbalance him! It’s got so long his wife has ordered him to pick the dirty laundry up with it. It’s his latest party-trick!”
…but how to establish the truth? Where to start? With Socrates or Aristotle? With Genesis or St Paul? With the Gospel or the Torah? With St Thomas Aquinas or Descartes and that’s even before we begin to assess whether scientific peer reviewed literature should be the source of all authority? Should we rely on the courts to establish truth, should we read truth in the runes, in the Mayan calander, the oracles, The Lancet, The Times of London or The New Statesman?
Fact or Fiction?
OK, perhaps not the oracles. What about facts and the evidence. Shouldn’t we all be following the facts and evidence to arrive at the holy grail of the truth? It’s what the law courts spend a huge amount of time on and it sort of works. Modern populations believe facts and evidence are essential to establishing a truth. So many politicians cum journalist commentators, to strengthen their argument, decorate their prose with… “the fact is….” Or “… the truth of the matter is”…Or “… in view of the facts set out…”.
“The truth is,” …stated Gove at the height of the referendum campaign “that if you look at the quality of the analysis, if you look at the facts on the ground, you can come to an appropriate conclusion.”
…which is a statement sounding meaningful but tells us absolutely nothing about the facts on the ground or the quality of the analysis.
The fact is for the facts to be meaningful sometimes we need those in the know to interpret and explain them to us. Yet, Michael Gove, a journo-cum-politico knowing he could never win his argument on the facts alone opted to sully the reputation of facts instead. “People have had enough of experts” he announced breezily live on television confirming every non-experts prejudice that the EU is run by devious experts. Gove later went on to clarify that Nazi experts denied the truth of another expert proving his point that experts are not so expert after all.
In a post–truth, conspiratorial society experts have been given a sudden make-over. They are no longer viewed as impartial, independent and objective commentators with no political axe to grind either way. In truthiness, Brexit Britain “the expert” is a caffé latté drinking trickster and shyster using sleight of hands to confuse the good man of England. In the end facts can mean what ever your prejudice would like them to mean not where the trail of evidence leads to.
There is an old saying. One which one can well imagine Col. Mustard barking at Professor Plumb when they bump into each other for a chin-wag in the Library.
My mind is made up Professor Plumb! Don’t confuse me with the facts.
With Brexit and a Trump victory on the horizon this should be the slogan of our modern era. Facts are not important. Prejudice is. Anyone trying to establish a fact over a lie is just an arrogant, condescending, sneering know-it-all determined to belittle the uninformed not correct a misunderstanding.
Logic or Emotion?
That all said, some experts have indeed lowered the reputation of their esteemed position in society by being paid fancy sums to say whatever the highest bidder asks of them. To the uninformed some experts have proven themselves to be less than honest in their statements and perhaps it is good to question the evidence as presented by an expert. Has not euperspectives written a worthy piece on “Relying on Gut Instinct to protect our Guts”? See also this fascinating scene in The Big Short on Moody’s manipulation of credit ratings prior to the 2008 financial collapse.
So if the facts fail what about logic? Cool, calm, reasoning in which a person can ascertain the truth through calculated analysis. Judging by the polls in the US and the emotional, as opposed to rational, response of the British voter to leaving the European Union in June 2016 this kind of logic doesn’t cut much ice when trying to ascertain who is telling the truth. Where is the emotion, the passion or the fervour in such argumentation? Passion, emotion and fervour is far more entertaining than reason. Modern populations prefer a narrative to logic and the media is happy to deliver what the customer wants. In “Brexit the Movie” the script-writers borrowed heavily from the language of eighteenth century America to make their narrative that bit more truthy.
“We the people are being cajoled, frightened and bullied into surrendering our democracy and freedom.
This film is a rallying cry.
We must fight for our independence…”
Logic can not compete with such exicting stuff. Analysis is the preserve of the intellectual, university educated, despised hipsters living in trendy, gentrified suburbs. Such types are no longer to be trusted. They are in on the act.
Assertion: The EU is undemocratic.
Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union states, in black and white, the EU is founded on the values of democracy. The European Parliament is democratically elected. Every member state is a democracy. The European Council is made up of democratically elected heads of state.
Therefore, the EU supports democracy in all its differing forms and can not be described as undemocratic.
Is not the conclusion reader’s prejudice wants to hear. Logic, in our technology disruptive, post-truth world is a conspiracy that does not confirm the prejudice of the uninformed. Anyone trying to point to the Treaties which show that the EU has many democratic elements is simply trying to hood-wink the innocent public with technical jargon. The “Logician” has morphed into the “Magician” using trick of wand to confuse and cloud the judgement of the good voter whose mind is made up.
Oratory or Twitter?
Facts and logic are out but we can still rely on oratory. A good argument for or against a particular motion. Let us hear both sides of the argument and then let us make our mind up. When Mr Johnson a brilliant orator (but also a proven and well known liar) stood up in Wembley Arena and urged voters, to huge applause, to turn 23 June into “Independence Day” some of us thought of brown shirts and black boots, Nuremburg Rallies and crowd-pleasing populism …..
….oh but hold on that was the argument Vote Leave used in favour of leaving the EU? Isn’t it the Remain supporters who are nothing better than the very same Nazi experts who questioned Einstein’s theories? Are Remainers not the ones favouring EU tyranny over English freedom? Didn’t Johnson compare the EU to Nazi ambitions?
“In a dramatic interview with the Telegraph, Boris Johnson, warns that while bureaucrats in Brussels are using “different methods” from the Nazi dictator, they share the aim of unifying Europe under one “authority”.
Vote Leave claimed the right to liken those who disagree with their world view as “Nazis” early on in the campaign. Those who believe in openess, harmony and prosperity are the ones “bowing down” to Brussels. Comparing Johnson’s rhetoric to Hitler’s Nuremberg speeches is not allowed. Confused? No wonder. In post-truth Brexit Britain both sides borrow from the same sources to send a completely different message. So, who is right? Who is telling the truth and who is being deceptive?
Let’s face it mankind has been searching for the truth since time immemorial. Who is euperspectives to answer such weighty questions. Truth, ethics, morality, logic, oratory all swilling together in one confounded stream of mud with no clarity of thinking. There is no comfort blanket we can use to wrap around ourselves to answer the simple question of what is truth? What is noteworthy is that where once mankind turned to their elders, their priest, their wise-guy, their centres of learning or the courts to establish the truth they now turn to the worst possible source for finding any truth before making a big political decision – “the news”.
To be continued …