Post-truth society

I really worry about living in the recently-monikered ‘post-truth world’.

Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘word of the year’ 2016 is “post-truth” They define it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

I reckon this makes it a really bad era for autists. Not only do we have the challenges of living in an NT world. Now we have to add in living in a PT world (attempt at word-humour).

Facts are our currency, no? We deal in facts; well I know I do:

  • The black and white
  • The literal
  • The absolute
  • The right or wrong, with nothing in between
  • The honest not the dishonest
  • The truth not the lie, nothing in between
  • The precise, and precisely bounded. No blurry edges anywhere
  • The objective not the subjective

It’s already hard enough trying to figure out what people are saying and doing when they’re being vaguely honest and truthful. Yet, for the past several years I’ve noticed that absolutely truthful facts (and I know that’s tautological, but it seems to be necessary now) appear to be becoming less important.  Not that facts no longer exist. But the focus of communication, media, is increasingly on stories, and the moods of stories, and the personalities of both the stories being told and the person telling the stories. Facts are fading. Well, and sometimes facts don’t exist at all. I can’t do that.

I don’t really know how to do the colour-, mood-, emotion-, imagination-creating story-telling. As a communicator/writer, I feel as though I’m being de-skilled because (a) I’m no personality, I’ve always said I let the quality of my work speak for me (this takes on a new resonance post-dx) and (b) I work with (truthful) facts. I can’t lie. Which I like to think of as a strength, though it too, comes with personal costs.  I can only write (truthful) factual stuff. The very fact (ha, ha) that I need to put the ‘truthful’ adjective in front of fact, shows how far removed the word ‘fact’ has come from its correct meaning.

Fact, fidelity, falsity, fantasy, fiction: Journalists used to be reporters, reporting the facts. Yes, okay, the reputable ones. Now journalists are personalities too, and they opine, sometimes endlessly (I feel). How are we supposed to know precisely the point at which they switch from reporting (facts) to opining (not facts), and back and forth in one piece/package?

How do we know what we’re reading, hearing, watching is reportage, PR-gumph, marketing-spin, political-shenanigans? I really struggle with the “docu-drama” genre. How are you supposed to know which bits are truth? You know it’s “based on some facts”, but that’s all. At least some books give you a clue near the bar code: “non-fiction”, “fiction”, or some other category.

I valued reading Tim Harford’s article “The problem with facts”. He writes “The link between cigarettes and cancer was supported by the world’s leading medical scientists and, in 1964, the US surgeon general himself. The story was covered by well-trained journalists committed to the values of objectivity. Yet the tobacco lobbyists ran rings round them.” Science deals in facts (hmm, usually, let’s not go there today). Yet lobbyists and spin doctors do wicked things to the truth and make it really hard for anyone needing truth and honesty. Not just autists.

Facts are not just facts any more. Alongside post-truth we have “fake news”, “alternative facts” and the like.  But facts are true. Oxford Dictionaries define fact as “A thing that is known or proved to be true”. So I am right … it shouldn’t need a qualifying adjective. The very word ‘fact’ is being tortured into false confessions.

Anyway, I’m just saying really. Life was already confusing enough. I find the post-truth world is significantly more challenging.  I try not to decrease the size of my world, shrink it to a place I know is true. It’s not easy though.

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