Lying as the norm has been with us for a while. Is the idea of post-truth another example of liberals understanding people wrongly?
In practice, Evan Davis writes, we evidently are quite happy to believe untruths. Davis is stating what is, perhaps, the most indisputable fact regarding what has been trumpeted as the rise of a new kind of post-truth politics. Shrewdly, he describes the belief that we a living in a post-truth era as an expression of frustration and anguish from a liberal class discombobulated by the political disruptions of 2016. A catch-all term used by todays liberals to describe upheavals that confounded their most basic beliefs, post-truth politics is like populism in implying that these unexpected shifts occurred because reason had been subverted. Duped by demagogues deploying new information technologies, voters disregarded argument and evidence in favour of manipulated emotion and fake news. The idea of truth was lost in a morass of relativism, and the politicians who controlled government for decades were abruptly dislodged from power.
Its an appealingly simple tale, which many liberals are more than happy to believe. But if we have entered a post-truth era, whendid this epoch begin? Matthew dAncona is highly specific as to the date: 2016 was the year that definitively launched the era of Post-Truth. We have inhabited this new world for not much more than a year, but its dominant characteristic is all too clear. There has been a crash in the value of truth, comparable to the collapse of a currency or a stock. Its not that politicians lie more than they did in the past. Political lies, spin and falsehood are emphatically not the same as Post-Truth. What is new is not the mendacity of politicians but the publics response to it. Lying is regarded as the norm, even in democracies. But if there is such a thing as the post-truth era, it didnt start last year with Brexit and Trump. It began with the Iraq war, which DAncona barely mentions. More than any other single event, it was this stupendous exercise in disinformation and denial that convinced the public that indifference to truth had become the norm in politics.
In Britain, it wasnt only the dodgy dossier and the misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the war that produced toxic mistrust of government. It was the refusal of the chief architect of the war to acknowledge the disaster that followed. The consequences the break up of the state of Iraq and a quantum leap in the power of Islamism are irreducible facts. Yet Tony Blair remains adamant that the war was essentially benign in its effects. This may seem strange, but for Blair facts are irrelevant. As he put it in his speech to the Labour party conference in September 2004: I only know what I believe. This statement was a manifesto for post-truth politics. If each of us knows only what he or she believes, only the subjective certainty that Blair describes in the speech as instinct has any importance. When he insisted that Iraq was the ground on which the war against terrorism was being won, he was not lying. Judging by his behaviour, he lacks the ability to tell the difference between truth and falsehood to be capable of old-fashioned mendacity. Instead he was creating a form of hyper-reality an imaginary world that, he could not help believing, was coming into being as a result of the war.