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The Politics of Truth in the Modern World

Source: ITV
Source: ITV
Source: ITV

Our lives are so often defined and lived through by truths. Now more than ever, we are bombarded daily with new facts and figures on all ranges of platforms. It has become hard not to escape the realm of fact versus fiction in a world so media orientated. Facts are here and everywhere and so is the realm of truth. But how often do we think about the implications of truth in the modern political world? Probably not much. But the reality is, truth drives our modern political sphere and its manipulation has largely served us the outcomes of the election of Trump and the Brexit vote.

Julian Baggini, an international acclaimed philosopher and writer delivered a thought provoking analysis of the impact of truth in relation to our lives and the modern world, in a talk ran by University of York events. In focusing on the political implications of the manipulation of truth, Baggini served to demonstrate the links between Aristotelian notions of philosophical truth with examples of the modern political reality. The manipulation of truth is how we have come to understand the modern world- through media, journalism, politicians and social media. We are a generation exposed to a pure abundance of fact- facts now change so much and it is hard to separate truth from fiction. In recent years this has led to developing public distrust of information and increasing cynicism. Baggini argues that public scepticism is good as it forces us to question the information we are exposed to. But cynicism is bad as it can have significant political implications and a diversion from being active in mainstream political issues that effect our lives.

Baggini focused on the political implications of truth in his talk – in a way that brought ancient philosophical ideas of truth into the modern day sphere. So often, Philosophy as a discipline is disregarded in the modern world as perhaps not very relevant anymore,  in bringing modern day ramifications and relevance, Baggini promotes the importance of philosophy as a questioning discipline. We should question everything we are exposed to if we really are to search for modern truth.

‘Post-truth’ was word of the year in 2016 which corresponded with a turbulent year for politics. A coincidence? I think not. Indeed, the rise of the post-truth era harboured by certain media outlets and political parties had significant influence on public opinion and the rise of personality politics. The danger of manipulating the truth and using fake news insinuates a climate of denial when used in political means. Just think of the Brexit bus used by Boris Johnston. The Brexit result has been criticised in recent months as a false representation of democracy, journalists and political commentators have claimed that the public received false information and voted accordingly. Here is where we really see the implications of false news and a lack of sincerity. Although perhaps we do not think about the importance of truth in our day to day lives, when thinking about the past year, it had a dramatic effect on mainstream politics and political outcomes. Whatever your view on Brexit, it cannot be denied that there was a manipulation of truth and that its implications serve as a reminder for why the search for truth remains such an important responsibility for journalists and us all.

Baggini argues that there needs to be a re-evaluation of democracy in the modern political sphere. He believes, that democracy has come to have a singular meaning in the respects of the outcome of Brexit. The government continuously claim that they are delivering the vote of the will of the people – but the will of the people in this example only makes up 51.9% of the population. In going ahead with Brexit, the government claim they are delivering democracy to the people but fail to realise they are not doing this to the other 48.1% who voted for Remain. Democracy needs to be expanded from its one singular cause; it needs to adopt compromise and consider the bigger picture. We are all citizens and should be given consideration equally, regardless of our political persuasion.

This post-truth phenomenon can also be used to explain the rise of personality politics. Both Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn remain popular politicians because of their authenticity. Although at opposite ends of the sphere, they are valued because of their authenticity. The media paints a picture of politicians with what they want us to see; politicians on the whole, are not allowed to appear as ‘normal’ they have to be civilised and largely, are not allowed to display their true selves. Therefore, the public has swarmed to figures like Trump and Corbyn, they may appeal to a sense of realness, honestly and authenticity (arguably one does this more than the other) which demonstrates a public leniency towards the truth. The public really do favour imperfect politics as they appear to symbolise the truth, just that bit more.

From expecting this talk to be about the history of Philosophical truth I came away unexpectedly enlightened. The importance of truth and its ramifications on the modern day world and modern day politics can never be insignificant when we think about political outcomes in recent years. For as long as we are to have true democracy and a genuine modern political culture, the search for truth must remain and it is all of our responsibilities to continue this pursuit.

Julian Baggini’s latest book, A Short History of Truth: Consolations for a Post-Truth World is available to buy online and in all good book stores.