Is Post-Truth the new normal?
Issues of Post Truth
In his article, “Trump is Waiting and He Is Ready“, Thomas Edsall writes in the New York Times about an increasingly polarized political and rhetorical world plagued by the notion of post-truth. Using Donald Trump as a situated example, he details how, ‘Alternative facts’ are becoming a reality, which works to the president’s advantage.” (Edsall 2020) Edsall explains how “Republicans and Democrats…view the same reality through a different lens.” He argues that not only do voters not see eye to eye with regards to policy, but that voters have a fundamentally different view of reality. This makes coming to meaningful policy decisions incredibly difficult, as we have become polarized about the basic truth of the world. In turn, this divergence has led to an upswell in “fake news”, something that Trump has weaponized to great success throughout his elections. Truth now seems to be of secondary importance, and politicians can get away with lying with little or no repercussions. To make matters worse, the advent of social media has allowed for fake news to be transmitted further and harder to detect.
In her opinion piece, “Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too” in the New York Times, Laura Chinchilla describes the double-sided effects of social media; expanding the proliferation of misinformation while simultaneously giving people access to government documents and encouraging individuals to get more actively involved in decision making. She makes clear, “Fake news is as old as news, and hate speech is as old as speech. But the digital age has provided a ripe environment for the virulent reproduction and visibility of both.” (Chinchilla 2019) Chinchilla describes not only a United States plagued by post-truth, rather a world at large. She also mentions the rapidly growing influence of social media and apps like Facebook and WhatsApp that can quickly be used to spread misinformation and influence the truth. It suggests that perhaps shifting away from the default method of conversation across borders and opinions, to a more active approach may be a more compelling form of engagement to those on the other side.
The “American Association for the Advancement of Science” (AAAS) is an organization which, “seeks to advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” (AAAS 2020) This organization seeks to provide a bridge of connection and engagement for scientists and the general public. They too are plagued by this notion of post-truth and their organization works against the continued spread of this by providing only the facts in their holistic importance. As a way to try and address some issues with the movement away from “facts” and spreading of misinformation, the AAAS has developed a framework to address the need for engagement between scientists and the public. They see this form of engagement as a way to find common ground between different stakeholders and a way to develop a more holistic approach to the scientific process. While we do think that the AAAS is not doing enough to directly address issues of truth in a “post-fact” nation, we would argue that by engaging with different stakeholders one is able to create more thoughtful and informed individuals who are more likely to acknowledge lies when they see them.
Post-truth World and the Stew Crew
It can be really hard for everyone to agree on the facts of the forest. Not only are management plans contested, there is controversy over whether the USFS is doing their job properly. Like the old adage says, “it isn’t government work if you don’t do it twice.” This is especially true in the USFS. Techniques for managing the vast forests are complicated and controversial. Often thinning is suggested by the Hood River Forest Collaborative as a way to improve forest health, which is controversial because many people are upset at the idea of trees being cut down in Mount Hood National Forest.
An example of such conflict can be seen with the recent drive by the Forest Service to reopen the Zigzag, Sandy, and Salmon watershed timber sales. While they claim that such thinning is necessary to “improve the health and increase the diversity of forested stands,”, stakeholders such as the Bark argue that the thinning is instead aimed at meeting logging quotas and as such is in direct conflict with the Forest Service’s intended goals of promoting health and diversity. This conflict over the supposed “truth” of the reason for thinning has led to a lot of tension within the Stew Crew. Because every stakeholder feels strongly about their own “truth”, working out these issues seems incredibly difficult as the mere reason for the thinning is so hotly debated.
The Stew Crew invites many stakeholders to their meetings. This in turn helps people to be engaged in the process, and it also invites people to question beliefs they had about forest management and learn from experts. Through this examination of truths and the engagement of diverse stakeholders, issues of post-truth can hopefully be addressed during meetings. However, as the above issue of post-truth facts has pointed out, this is not a cure all. Debates are still held within the group about the facts surrounding the reason for thinning, though hopefully these debates can be solved with further engagement with the necessary stakeholders.
Chinchilla, Laura. 2019. “Opinion | Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too.” The New York Times,, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/opinion/politics-global-south.html.
Edsall, Thomas B. 2020. “Opinion | Trump Is Waiting and He Is Ready.” The New York Times, , sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/opinion/trump-campaign-2020.html.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2020 “Mission and History.” AAAS. https://www.aaas.org/mission.