The culminating session at the famed Jaipur Literature fest was dedicated to this deceptive word which made its appearance in the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year and has since been doing the rounds. What is Post-Truth to be precise? And why does it bug the eminent so much that we had to sit through an hour of grueling high-spirited cacophony that was the ‘debate’?
Apologies for the monotony but Post-Truth refers to ‘Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Makes sense. But its sudden encroachment of the entire spotlight in the modern political debate is rather baffling. While in India, political debate has always been framed around appeals to emotions, the original area of Post-Truth cultural debate was discussed around Capitalism. But now, since the latest events have turned all the predictions of political pundits upside down, the word has made a come-back in the dominant narrative, fueled primarily by the anti-establishment wave that brought Brexit supporters and Trump to power.
The eminent panelists at the JLF debate titled ‘We are living in a post-truth world’, included names of Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor, Suhel Seth, Anne Waldman, Prasoon Joshi, Swapan Das Gupta, Luke Harding, Ashutosh Varshney and David McWilliam.
With the onslaught of fake news on Social Media, and a platform to voice their opinions, people have turned opinion-makers in the online culture, with little discretion between right and wrong, fact and fiction. This was the peg of the debate which took different roads with no conclusive decision. All the panelists, saving Luke Harding, talked about the multiplicity of truth, it being a subjective unquantifiable idea, and differed on the exactness of the phenomenon. While Barkha Dutt set the tone of the debate by arguing in the favour of the motion, she was countered by Prasoon Joshi. Joshi talked about how all the concepts have emanated from an emotional anchor. However it is the situation of lies being paraded as facts that was a bothering notion to him, instead of the glamorous idea of Post-truth. Anne Waldman, who reiterated that we have always lived in a post-truth world, went a notch higher, criticizing the word to be patriarchal.
Suhel Seth was at his witty best; while blaming Barkha Dutt of audience-manipulation, he claimed the idea of Post-Truth to be a media cook-up. Public discourse is manipulated around the world to suit individual agendas. Seth spoke on how, ‘we know how to distinguish facts from lies, even if lies get perpetuated. Thus we do not live in a post-truth world, ‘he declared, adding ‘the idea that we only live in a world of truisms and not lies, or only lies and not truisms in itself is facetious.’
Luke Harding made a very accurate point of the world witnessing a ‘new breed of authoritarian leaders’ like Putin and Trump who have monopolized knowledge of certain events and hence are in the position to disseminate ideas, strutted as Truth through media. Ashutosh Varshney was sombre compared to the animated debaters Swapan Das Gupta and Suhel Seth. Quoting Nietzsche, Gramsci and Foucault, he argued how this concept is not a sudden idea, and has been talked about by scholars in the past. The ruling elite in any economy will always have the power to mould social consciousness.
Tharoor on the other hand, started with an anecdote and concluded with the supremacy of Truth and also the truth of one’s entitlement to an opinion but not the facts. It is not a Post Truth world; only a world where it is easier to spread lies, and counter them.
The malleability of facts, which has eroded the credibility of journalism, is worth contemplating. Relativism has crept its way to Post-truth, with multiple narratives giving way to factual inaccuracy. India has almost always lived in a Post-Truth world, with a diabolical existence that speaks volumes about the contradictions of the country. One of the key debate discussions included that of the Demonetisation drive, which was promulgated with the intention of helping the poor but has in fact aggravated their dire condition.
While Barkha Dutt, who claimed that ‘Lies and propaganda have always been the bedrock of politics’, tried to reign in the diametrically divided opinions of the vociferous speakers, the debate concluded just like it had started- loud and ambiguous.
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