The 2016 word of the year is…

…two words. Post-truth. Honestly. It says so on the Oxford website.

…the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Post-truth has gone from being a peripheral term to being a mainstay in political commentary, now often being used by major publications without the need for clarification or definition in their headlines.

The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of a year – demonstrating its impact on the national and international consciousness.

Widely understood? I’m still vague about what it actually means. Truth and politics have long been long been regarded as highly suspect.

I think that ‘political bullshit’ may mean much the same and is more to the point.

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’.

There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.

I suspect that the plebs have long suspected that truth is irrelevant when it comes to politics and politicians – and to an an extent, media.

Post-truth and posting lies

‘Post-truth’ is contradicted on blogs which which often seem to post distortions and lies.

This is sometimes as the agents of political parties, or as volunteer lie posters who think they are helping a cause.

This can  be through deliberate attempts to mislead, but sometimes may be through ignorance, and some could be through an inability to interpret without prejudice.

Post-truth politics has been mentioned recently in the UK with the Brexit campaign and also in the current US presidential campaign where blatant lying has reached new lows.

lies

RNZ Toby

Wikipedia:

Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance.

It has also come up in in a New Zealand context over the last few months.

  • Andrea Vance at 1 News: Opinion: A post-truth era in politics
    The campaigns of Donald Trump and the Brexiteers have been a triumph of emotional populism over cold, hard facts. In this distorted reality there are imaginary MSD squads flying in to help the homeless, and new emergency beds that already existed.
  • RNZ: Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?
    The government has shrugged off events and evidence contradicting claims made by ministers recently, frustrating many journalists. Are we really in a “post-truth” period where the facts don’t matter any more? If so, do the media share the blame?
  • RNZ: Toby & Toby on… post-truth politics
    The condition has also been observed in lands as distant as the Pacific paradise of Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • Stuff: Are NZ politicians joining the international tide of post-truth politics?
    But are we any different down here on the edge of the world? Is the New Zealand body politic keeping itself trim on a stern diet of facts and evidence, or are we, too, choosing the sugar-rush of anecdata, the greasy mouthfeel of a racist porky, the finger-licking goodness of unsupported rumour?

Is it getting worse in New Zealand? Politicians have probably lied since politicians. The Stuff article looks back:

As long as there’s been politics there have been lies. In Ancient Greece the Athenians talked about “demagogues” – rabble-rousers who appealed to emotion and prejudice rather than fact and reason.

In his deranged autobiography Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler spoke of the propaganda value of the “big lie”: saying blatantly untrue things so loudly and often that the populace can’t believe you’d have dared make it up.

In the past decade though commentators have been picking a new trend – not so much that lies are being told, but that the old counterbalances, research, empirical evidence – were losing their corrective power.

The immediacy of Internet reporting plus it’s reach and lack of checks and balances and commenting has contributed to lie spreading.

Jonathan Swift (1710): “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…”

Thomas Francklin (1787): “Falsehood will fly, as it were, on the wings of the wind, and carry its tales to every corner of the earth; whilst truth lags behind; her steps, though sure, are slow and solemn, and she has neither vigour nor activity enough to pursue and overtake her enemy…”

‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’ and variants were used through the 1800s, and since.

Lying in New Zealand politics is more than suspected, with Winston Peters’ ‘NO’ sign from 2008 still being mocked. Surprisingly this isn’t mentioned on his Wikipedia page but the Parliamentary censure is: The Privileges Committee returned a report on 22 September recommending that Peters be censured for “knowingly providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests.

Posting lies on political blogs is a common accusation. A high profile case between Colin Craig and Cameron Slater is due in court next year to test claims of lies.

Whale Oil is well known for making claims that will never be substantiated, like:

And so it begins…

By Cameron Slater

Make no mistake, this is a deliberate undermining of Andrew Little by Twyford.

Post-truth in relation to blogging came to mind over the last few days with a string of questionable posts at The Standard.

Racist Nats Attack Chinese Grannies Shock!

Written By:

National have slammed the door shut on the parents of already settled migrants who wish to move to NZ to complete the family unit. Minister Michael Woodhouse accuses elderly Asians of bludging off the NZ taxpayer. You won’t believe the howls of outrage from the right!

The crime spike

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Who would have thought that a surge in homelessness would result in a spike in crime, and that a dramatic increase in the number of people with no or compromised housing situations would cause an increase in burglaries, robberies and assaults.

I see a poverty of ideas and a poverty of Government responsibility

Written By:

Judith Collins yesterday said that child poverty is the fault of parents and not the fault of her Government.

Housing Corp is running out of money

WrittenBy:

It seems that the strip mining of Housing Corporation so that the Government could declare a surplus is reaching its logical conclusion.  Treasury is forecasting Housing Corp to be out of money by next February.

There is no surplus

Written By:

In Year Eight of this National government, the idea of a budget surplus is a joke. They’ve promised it for nearly a decade. They’ve fiddled the books. The truth is, there is no surplus.

The truth is that Rodgers is is wrong, either deliberately or out of ignorance. And most of the comments on her post continue the misconceptions and misinformation.

It’s difficult to know when the lies are deliberate, and when they are repeated so often amongst their political peers they come to believe they are true.

Regardless, there may never have been an era of truth in politics but in the Internet age the perpetuation of lies has become far more obvious.

New Zealand surely can’t slide to the lying lows of the US presidential campaign but the signs of untruthfulness look ominous for the political future.

Is there any chance that democracy can avoid self destruction?

Post-truth, or the diss-information age

‘Post-truth’ is a term that has come to some prominence. It’s a lie – or more accurately, a lot of deliberate lies told by politicians.

The heralded age of information seems to have morphed into the disinformation age, or alternately the diss-information age.

From Art of the lie at The Economist – “Politicians have always lied. Does it matter if they leave the truth behind entirely?”

CONSIDER how far Donald Trump is estranged from fact.

Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power. And he is not alone.

Winston Peters stands out as a long time maker of assertions that “feel true”but have scant basis in fact, or that he has no evidence for, or that he doesn’t provide any evidence of.

Most of the time Peters gets away with it, aided and abetted by an often willing media and sufficient gullible voters to keep him in Parliament. Sometimes it backlashes on Peters, for example when Tauranga voters rejected him in 2005 – although NZ First was still in a position to decide that Labour and not National or the Greens would be in Government with them.

And in 2008 when Peters tried to take the Tauranga electorate back and lost to Simon Bridges by 11,742 votes, and NZ First failed to make the threshold getting just 4.07% of the votes.

But Peters came back in 2011 and is now widely expected to again dictate which parties will govern after next year’s election. His bull continues, with a brazenness that is not punished, but is taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.

Stacey Kirk shows that Peters is far from alone in New Zealand with brazen bullshit in Personal prejudices the fuel of a political post-truth era

There’s dealing in grey, and then there’s dealing in unashamed drivel. 

The latter is becoming the norm, though thankfully not on a Trumpian scale – just yet. 

Dipping their toes into the post-truth waters however, New Zealand’s politicians are trying the mantle on for size, seeing how flows and gaining surety in it as they walk. They’re dissembling through their teeth and embarrassingly, a significant group of New Zealanders are lapping it up. 

Kirk lists some examples:

  • Government politicians claim income inequality had not worsened, contrary to official reports from both MSD and Statistics NZ.
  • Finance Minister Bill English was forced to admit he used incorrect figures to veto an extension to paid parental leave, despite the correct figures being written in the veto certificate he himself tabled.
  • Education Minister Hekia Parata was caught out making up an official body, to support changes around special needs education when she claimed she had the support of the “Special Education Association”. What association was that?  “All those who are involved in the delivery of special education with whom I have had these discussions”.
  • NZ First MP and anti-1080 campaigner Richard Prosser claimed cats, rats, and native birds had “coexisted” for more than 200 years, yet accused the Government’s “Predator Free by 2050” of being based on “unsubstantiated” science.
  • Trade Minister Todd McClay was publicly rebuked by his own Prime Minister for being economical with the truth, over what was known about fears of Chinese trade retaliation.
  • Auckland Mayoral candidate John Palino has claimed iwi leaders were holding building consent-seekers to ransom for $50k a pop.

Even the ‘clean’ Greens indulge in blatant bull.

  • More children will suffer under a re-elected National government because it’s “in denial” over the reality of child poverty in New Zealand, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says.
  • “The New Zealand Government makes all sorts of promises on the international stage in relation to children’s rights, but when it comes to policy at every stage they fail our kids,” also from Turei.

And these sorts of assertions are taken as evidence by many of the willingness of the Greens to stand up for the poor kids.

There is a problem with bald faced bull, in New Zealand at least – the US has major problems, not just potentially with Trump, but also with Clinton (both Bill and Hillary) and it’s politics in general.

Greens have solid and loyal followers who think John Key doesn’t care about or hates kids, but they seem to have hit a ceiling of support.

Labour’s assertions that they finally have a leader who can look Prime Ministerial seem to have a limited gullible audience too.

But Peters seems to be on a roll, with NZ First polling far better at this stage of a term than they have for yonks.

Yet the masses fall into line based on what “feels” like it might be true. 

And I get it, voting is an emotional experience as much as it is logical. Even the most well-researched voters can’t block out that gut-feeling when they’re faced with a ballot paper – the option that they feel is the right one.

Many Americans (and some Kiwis) are convinced that Trump is ‘the right one’. And it seems a growing number of New Zealand voters are buying Winston’s bull and bluster.

That politicians deal in lies is not new. What is, is the way the truth has become secondary to reaffirming people’s latent prejudices. 

Pandering to prejudices and entrenched misconceptions is not new either (Peters has done it for decades) but it seems to be growing.

Politicians lie, media do call them out on it, but they double down and repeat. Why? Because they’re not trying to convince anyone that requires it of anything. They’re consolidating a mob – Us vs Them.

Yes, they are pandering to mob mentality. But do the media call them out on it? Sometimes, but they are also guilty of feeding it. That’s how Trump got within a whisker of the White House.

And here Key and his Ministers and their PR teams play the media. Peters is an expert at extracting maximum bang for his bull from the media. The Greens are hardly held to account by the media.

The only party that is failing with the media and the gullible voters is Labour. Are they the worst liars – or the worst at lying?

This is a two-sided game, and this kind of politics only works if people are buying it.

New Zealanders have a right to expect evidence and be given information that can and should be used at the ballot box, next year. 

For that to happen, we all need to check our own biases first.

A lie is only effective if you fall for it.

This could be as true for media as it is for voters.

PR churn is a major problem. Giving bullshit from politicians the headline, not always holding them to account, giving counter claims secondary exposure, giving politicians the opportunity to keep repeating their misleading and false assertions – this is a problem accentuated by the Internet, where clicks are the revenue makers.

Social media, with many more ways of lying and a myriad of competitors for eyeballs and eardrums, has just made an old problem worse.

Forums for debate are largely ineffective. Try arguing about socialism or climate change or Islam or any of a wide range of topics, and you will find that most participants start with entrenched views regardless of the facts and are more likely to end up with their views reinforced rather than challenged.

We must stop using fossil fuels or the planet is doomed. When Muslims get to 5% of the population a country is doomed. If people with different languages or customs or religions emigrate our country is doomed.

If these sorts of assertions are repeated often enough – and there are parties and lobby groups and activists who go to great lengths to keep repeating assertions to try and make them stick – then there are significant numbers of people who will believe them, regardless of the facts.

Post-truth, lies, unsubstantiated assertions, smearing hit jobs, none of these a re new but  they seem to be becoming more prominent and powerful.

Post-truth is a lie. A lot of what politicians and media perpetuate are lies, or untruthful claims, and assertions, or smears. Or a mixture of bullshit.

The only thing I’m not sure about is how much is deliberate lying, and how much is ignorance of people who actually believe their own lies.

The age of the Internet, the information age, seems to amplify the worst and seems to have become the disinformation age.

And where negative attack politics seems to rule, or at least try and rule, the diss-information age, where false information is deliberately used to attack, smear and discredit.

Are we doomed?