Unsanity

This is going to be horribly self indulgent and rambling, but I literally don’t understand how the world works anymore.

Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” as 2016’s word of the year, and defined it as follows:

“Post-truth: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

To me this seems an almost clinical and distant take on things. But given Oxford University Press’s view of itself as the self-proclaimed curators of the English language, it comes as no surprise that they would engage in measured and possibly overly precise verbiage in defining the term that seems to have come to define the era in which we now find ourselves living. It’s the implications and real-world application of this definition that I find alarming, as it seems that at a certain scale of society it’s not that objective facts are less influential, it’s that they’ve ceased to matter entirely.

And it’s not as though this has come out of nowhere. It’s been incubating for decades, exacerbated by the onset of widespread access to the internet and the advent of social media. People insulating themselves with only the information that they want to hear and associating with only those who share their views is not at all a new phenomenon. Even going back so far as 2004, we had an unnamed aide in the Bush administration (later purported to be Karl Rove) admonish New York Times Magazine writer Ron Suskind for belonging to the “reality-based community.”

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Hell, go back as far as 1710 and we have Johnathan Swift proclaiming that, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.” Again, the virulence of falsehoods and the difficulty in stamping them out is not a product of the modern age, but is rather something that has likely hounded humanity as long as we have been able to communicate with one another. I’ve known this so long I don’t recall a time where I didn’t know it.

So what’s changed?

Well, to paraphrase Theodore Parker, until very recently I’ve operated under the maxim that the arc of the universe is long, but bends towards truth. In my own personal life experiences, that which is true has generally outweighed that which is not. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. Hell, that might even still be the case. But with the way things sit right now, I’m not sure there’s any getting the genie back in the bottle again.

The floodgates have broken, the result of a constellation of different factors so vast that it seems impossible to enumerate them all. Mainstream media is driven by promoting sensationalism and presenting both sides of any argument as equally valid. We have a huge swath of the population that doesn’t believe anything the media says anyway, having been conditioned within their own circles to view anything that comes from without as immediately suspect. Fake news stories are hugely epidemic on social media sites, and the platform owners are reticent to take any steps to intervene. Attempts at fact checking have only introduced another layer of accused bias. What was once solely the purview of chain e-mails has metastasized and now defines society’s discourse.

The paradigm has shifted, and I no longer know how to navigate it. I don’t know how I am supposed to function in a world where objective observations and facts no longer have currency. And it’s not even a matter of twisting interpretations and disingenuous presentation of selected facts as it has been in the past. We have reached the point where parties can make an assertion to the contrary of all readily available, indisputable evidence, and it stands as well as being unchallenged.

Maybe I was right the first time and eventually things that are true and factual will win out in the end over the long run, but I greatly fear just how long that run is going to be.

–Mike