How Does Society Survive in a Post-Truth World?

AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

It's no secret that the world has continued to change since the advent of the internet, particularly when it comes to politics. Sorting facts from fiction or intentional deception is probably more difficult than it's ever been. The more pessimistic among us might begin to feel if it's not even worth the effort at this point. This is not a positive development, since bad things can happen when people simply start adopting their own version of the truth despite evidence to the contrary. What we're lacking even more than accurate data is trust. Martin Gum makes this point in an op-ed this week at the New York Post titled, "How society survives the world after the truth is set on fire." Most of our trust in politicians has evaporated, even among the politicians we may personally like or support. There is little reason to take anything we read in the news at face value without investing a lot of time in fact checking. But is this really a healthy way to live?

We are supposed to live in a post-truth world — I have said so myself, and more than once. What does that mean?

Basically, that trust in our interpreters of truth — the elites, the mediating class, whatever one chooses to call them — has evaporated.

We haven’t believed our presidents for at least a generation.

We haven’t believed the news media and other organs of information since the advent of the web.

Martin makes some very good points. There was a time when you could place at least a reasonable amount of trust in science. But that was before it evolved into "The Science." How much damage did the entire COVID era do to our faith in those institutions? The author argues that sports news coverage may be the exception to the rule. If you ask how your team fared the previous night, you can confidently determine whether they won or lost. But even then there are gray areas. In baseball, there are human beings on the field literally calling balls and strikes and they don't always get it right.

The world of science used to at least seem reliable and perhaps it was at some point. But pure science was consumed by organisms like Big Pharma. The definition of the word "vaccine" apparently changed overnight at some point and nobody bothered to tell us for years. Miracle drugs came and went with varying degrees of success. Then there came a day (and I'm still not entirely sure when or how this happened) when doctors began claiming that our understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman was antiquated and biased, so we would need to leave those ideas behind. Would you put more faith in something you heard from the American Medical Association today or an Indigenous shaman? Sign me up for some time in a sweat lodge, please.

Politics and government are probably the areas most badly impacted by this journey into a Post-Truth World. Many of the more jaded among us had already long believed that a politician telling a lie was a dog-bites-man story, but it's really gotten out of hand now. The media outlets covering the politicians and our elected officials are rarely much better. Was Joe Biden's uncle really eaten by cannibals? Who can say? Was inflation really at 9% when he took office? The records indicate that it was actually at 1.5%, but maybe these people are using some new form of math that has changed dramatically since I went to grade school. 

If you thought the situation was already getting bad, buckle up your safety belts because Artificial Intelligence has already broken out of its cage and is on the prowl. The better it gets, the less sure we will be if anything we are shown is truly real. This particular lack of confidence is especially insidious because it works in both directions. You've probably seen the latest bit of misdirection coming out of the White House claiming that none of the videos out there showing Biden freezing up, wandering off, or stumbling and falling are real. It's all in your imagination. You are being deceived by "cheap fakes." (They are hoping that at least some of you aren't paying attention and will think that they mean AI deep fakes.) The videos are real, of course. Or are they? Some of the best AI algorithms could probably replicate Biden's face and voice well enough to get by.

Unfortunately, this is our new reality. We are living in the Post-Truth World and there probably isn't a functioning exit from here except for the one that inevitably awaits us all. We'll simply need to keep plugging along, doing the best we can, and be prepared to be fooled once in a while. Best of luck to all of us.

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