Thursday, 8 June 2017

"Seeking truth in public life is the citizen’s responsibility"

There's a lot of fakery going on:
Futures Forum: Fake news, the UK general election and local news

And we certainly feel we're being taken for a ride:
Futures Forum: Big data and big lies...
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the use of data analytics

But don't shoot the messenger:
Politicians are turning the media into the opposition - Top Stories - The New European

Rather, we are facing a total break-down of trust - and we need to fix it by asking a few questions:

Welcome to the Post-Truth age

PUBLISHED: 14:58 25 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:58 25 May 2017

Matthew D’Ancona

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

How lost trust in once-mighty institutions created opportunities for populism

‘People in this country have had enough of experts’: the assertion was striking not only because of its audacity, but because of the person making it. Michael Gove, the then Justice Secretary, was one of the most intellectual members of David Cameron’s Cabinet, formidably articulate, cultured and erudite. Of all the senior champions of Brexit, he was the last one would have expected to attack ‘experts’. But this was precisely what he did in a question and answer session on the EU referendum broadcast by Sky News on 3 June 2016.

Months after the vote was won, Gove would tell the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the reports of his remark had been ‘unfair’, that it was ‘manifestly nonsense’ to suggest that all experts were wrong, and that he had been referring to ‘a sub-class of experts, particularly economists, pollsters, social scientists, who really do need to reflect on some of the mistakes that they’ve made in the same way as a politician I’ve reflected on some of the mistakes that I’ve made.’

Entitled as he was to offer this ex post facto clarification, Gove’s original attack had been – as he surely knew – politically canny. It tapped into a seam of distrust that was essential to Leave’s victory; a growing suspicion that traditional sources of authority and information were unreliable, self-interested or even downright fraudulent. The Brussels elite was not the only hierarchy or institution against which Britons rose up in anger in the referendum.

This collapse of trust is the social basis of the Post-Truth era: all else flows from this single, poisonous source. To put it another way, all successful societies rely upon a relatively high degree of honesty to preserve order, uphold the law, hold the powerful to account and generate prosperity. As Francis Fukuyama observes in his book Trust, the social capital that accrues when citizens cooperate sincerely and scrupulously translates into economic success and lowers the cost of litigation, regulation and contractual enforcement.

Beyond the commercial sphere, trust is an essential human survival mechanism, the basis of co-existence that permits any human relationship, from marriage to a complex society, to work with any degree of success. A community without trust ultimately becomes no more than an atomised collection of individuals, trembling in their stockades.

Yet that is precisely the trajectory upon which the world has been embarked in recent decades, as an unrelenting series of storms have conspired to deplete what reserves of trust remain. The financial crisis of 2008 took the global economy to the brink of meltdown, averted only by eye-wateringly huge state bailouts for the very banks that were responsible for the disastrous collapse. Occupy Wall Street was only the most visible manifestation of a much broader disgust that some institutions were evidently ‘too big too fail’, while ordinary people paid the price in the subsequent recession and cuts to public services imposed by deficit-conscious governments.

Hostility to the globalised economy shifted from the fringes to the centre of political discourse.

In Britain, the financial crisis was followed by the humiliation of the political class in the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal. In a series of remarkable articles, the Daily Telegraph exposed the sharp practices that enabled MPs to supplement their official salary by charging the taxpayer for everything from moat-clearing and a £1,600 duckhouse to a bath plug and pornographic films.

Politicians had long been objects of suspicion. But the allegations of ‘sleaze’ against the Conservatives in the nineties and the charge that the Labour government of 1997–2010 was all ‘spin’ and no substance were but a dry run for this extraordinary national spectacle – part-comedy, part-tragedy.

In 1986, only 38% said that they trusted governments ‘to place the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party’. By 2014 that figure had fallen to about 18%. The rot was now threatening the whole democratic process...

Welcome to the Post-Truth age - Top Stories - The New European

D'Ancona's book is one of three just out looking at the whole issue of 'post truth' - and what to do about it:
Post-Truth by Evan Davis; Post-Truth by Matthew d’Ancona; Post-Truth by James Ball | Saturday Review | The Times & The Sunday Times

As summarised in the Guardian:

'Bullshit is a greater enemy than lies' –​ lessons from three new books on the post-truth era

Stuart Jeffries Monday 22 May 2017 17.15 BST

From Trump’s phoney claims to the Brexit ‘£350m a week for the NHS’ promise, we have become mired in a sea of bogus truths. But what can we do about it?

Not long before his death, writes d’Ancona, George Orwell tried to clarify the meaning of his dystopian novel 1984, which imagined a society in thrall to a diabolical overseer called Big Brother wherein even the truths of mathematics can be replaced by “alternative facts” such as 2 + 2 = 5. “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: don’t let it happen,” said Orwell. “It depends on you.”

What this means for d’Ancona is that to keep the good things about our civilisation, we must fight. “This is not a battle,” writes d’Ancona, “between liberals and conservatives. This is a battle between two ways of perceiving the world, two fundamentally different approaches to reality. Are you content for the central value of the Enlightenment, of free societies and of democratic discourse, to be trashed by charlatans – or not?”

​'Bullshit is a greater enemy than lies' –​ lessons from three new books on the post-truth era | US news | The Guardian
Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back: Amazon.co.uk: Matthew d'Ancona: 9781785036873: Books

But whereas Davis and  Ball consider how truth has turned into bullshit, D'Ancona is interested in how we as citizens should be challenging the charlatans:

Each author proposes antidotes: most of these add up to a call for respect for the truth. D’Ancona is good on this, reminding us that seeking truth in public life is the citizen’s responsibility, not something to be sloughed off on to politicians.

The truth about the post-truth age - Financial Times

No comments: