Friday, November 18, 2016

Post-truth Politics?

Apparently the word of the year is "post-truth", which refers to the tendency of people to only seek out political news from sources they agree with, meaning they never see the other side, never have to deal with fact checking, and as such aren't interested in 'truth'. Which is, indeed, an issue.

Except... post-truth implies that there was a time when there was that interest in truth in politics. But I distinctly remember being advised at high school that newspapers had their agendas: some supported Labour, some the Tories, with the 'impartial' BBC using the newspapers to set the overall agenda.

And people would buy and vote accordingly: if you were on the Left, you probably bought the Guardian and voted Labour; if you were on the Right, you probably bought the Telegraph and voted Tory.

(There are several ways that the newspapers supported their agendas, often without lying. It's done by cherry-picking only those statistics that support your argument, by giving greater emphasis to some facts over others, giving more air-time/word-count to your preferred experts, and even by simply not reporting inconvenient facts. Actually lying is for amateurs.)

So how is that any different from now? People were still only seeking out the voices that agreed with what they thought anyway, they were having their opinions reinforced, and they weren't actually interested in 'truth'.

What has changed is that people are increasingly declaring "a plague on both your houses" and walking away from both Labour and the Tories. At which point they're also walking away from their previous newspapers... and finding there is no alternative. On the Right, there is no serious newspaper that supports UKIP. In Scotland, until about eighteen years ago, there was no serious newspaper that supported independence. In America, the same applied to Bernie Sanders, and indeed to Donald Trump until he secured the Republican nomination.

What's new is not that people have started looking only at the sources they agree with; what's new is that they've rejected the newspapers' versions of what is 'true'.

#63: "Spelljammer: The Broken Sphere", by Nigel Findlay

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