Roles of Post-Truth in America
We live in a post-truth world. It’s impossible to know who and what to trust, especially as perpetuation of twisted and inaccurate narratives in both the media and in politics is becoming normalized. Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has employed tactics such as double-talk and transgressive advocacy, and frequently uses social media as a platform to misconstrue information and gather a following of individuals who believe in the perpetuated lies. These individuals flock to him because he validates their own, largely false and narrow-minded beliefs, thus exemplifying the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias. It is important to note that double-talk and transgressive advocacy are by no means exclusive to one political party, and this post serves to comment on how one particular politician employs said tactics.
What is Double-Talk & Transgressive Advocacy?
Double-talk is deliberately vague speech that appears to be insightful, meaningful, and intelligent, yet is ultimately just a bunch of hooplah designed to mislead. Trump often uses this tactic so what he says can have multiple different meanings, and thus be interpreted multiple different ways, therefore appealing to a larger audience (who don’t put much thought into what he says) with varying concerns, whether they are right-wing extremists or more moderate. Moreover, this double-talk is often used to lessen the blow of much harsher realities. For example, let’s say you are a houseless person, someone asks you where you live, and you answer that you are not quite settled yet. Technically speaking, this is not an outright lie, despite the language being ambiguous and euphemistic enough to be interpreted in multiple different ways.
“Transgressive advocacy” is defined by Edsall as “norm-violating means, i.e., lying, to achieve a preferred end.” has become a critical aspect of contemporary political competition. In this abandonment of integrity, primarily through technology and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Trump is accruing a loyal following of populist right-leaning, predominately white male supporters that interpret his political incorrectness and willingness to lie as him being an authentic truth teller. His refusal to comply with social and political norms of at least pretending to be “woke,” politically correct, or honest is thus compelling to these groups.
What Is The Media’s Role?
Living in the hot mess that is currently the United States, it is easy to forget that we are living in a global community and we are not isolated in the issues we face. As Chinchilla reminds us, numerous other nations are similarly struggling with massive spreads of misinformation. Throughout the globe, social media is being used to manipulate elections and public debates and encourage the surge of extremist groups. Despite its positive attributes, social media, especially Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, has thus only furthered the ability of politicians and people with agendas to alter the truth. Moreover, the U.S. is not alone in having lying politicians in power and having a public that seems more tolerant of this corruption than ever. As social media continues to dominate our world and as enormous amounts of information (whether true or false) bombard us all, it becomes far more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Yet, the most difficult challenge of all in this new age of mass production and over-stimuli is encouraging independent thought beyond what we see on the screen. And, this is where public engagement comes into play.
Can Conversation Provide a Solution?
In times like these, when it is impossible to know if information and facts are worthy of our trust, public engagement becomes all the more necessary, especially between the public and scientific community. The science-society relationship is complex, but through engaging with the public, a constructive platform can be created where scientists and the general public can work together. This type of engagement helps facilitate public understanding of scientific concepts, thus making scientific information all the more relevant and accessible. For example, professional science societies, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are making public engagement a matter of importance in talking about climate change, shattering the divide between scientists and the rest of us.
Through alternative methods, the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project similarly encourages public engagement through discussion, employing participants to think critically about various issues impacting local communities and the world at large. The issues discussed are chosen based on which topics communities feel are most important and highly neglected. According to the philosophy behind effective altruism, factors such as these should be prioritized, as attempts to solve issues that meet this criteria will receive greater support from highly-motivated community members and other concerned parties. Yet even with these benefits that the project withholds, it does not include side of facts being administered into these conversation. When community members passionate about a topic meet, it is their views and beliefs that are explained not actual facts or statistics. This could cause misleading information on the topic to spread since it is bias and not actually founded on scientific grounds.
Even though the Conversation Project provides a unique opportunity for participants to collaborate towards finding collective truths, it leaves out the importance of facts when finding a collective truth. Since the project is based in Oregon and even in Portland, a mainly inhabited left-leaning society, it can misconstrue ideas and beliefs that aren’t fully correct. It is also notable that having people with the similar viewpoints, could increase the amount of post-truth by the lack of perspective diversity. Thus, as the Heterodox Academy warns, a group of people that lacks viewpoint diversity is at risk of confirmation bias, which is essentially surrounding yourself with viewpoints you agree with for validation, thus creating an echo chamber rather than a constructive, well-rounded discourse. The Conversation Project has well intentions in building a space where people’s values are respected and heard, but with the lack of set facts, will instead create an environment where people begin to believe in things that aren’t true. It is essential for this program to include a set of factual evidence to their dialogues as they direct the conversation and also prevent from false information to spread further in the community.