What is Environmental Engagement in a Post-Truth World?
In ENVS 295 this week we focused on the meaning of alternative facts in a world of post-truths and rapid overload of information. In class, we discussed the definition of post-truth and alternative facts using the following articles by Thomas Edsall (2020) and Laura Chinchilla (2019) of the New York Times, and an article from the AAAS (American Academy for the Advancement of Science). Post-truth politics is defined by Wikipedia as “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion… and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” Similarly to the concept of fake news as discussed in chinchilla, 2019, and alternative facts people stick with what appeals to their existing beliefs and value system and thus a cycle is perpetuated of false information. Thinking in terms of engagement this is very important to understand that people have a different truth. The question then becomes how does someone engage across groups (or individuals) that hold different truths come to an accord to a shared truth in a world of bombarding and conflicting information? Below this is discussed in the article we prepared for class along with a discussion of post-truths with our partnership Health Democracy.
Overview & Response to Post-Truth Readings
One significant aspect of engagement focuses on truth and how we define it and how important it is in various discourses. The first article by Thomas Edsall, we read focuses on how truth is becoming increasingly less important in political conversations and in determining which politicians are successful. It focuses on this change in relation to how it benefits Trump. Edsall brings up the term ‘alternative facts’ coined by Kellyanne Conway, is a term at the center of this new understanding of truth. Issues that may have previously seemed to have obvious connections to one specific truth are now being met with variations of that reality. The idea of alternative facts is that there is not simply one way to understand a situation, even in the case of science or math. This shift in priorities of truth has been connected to support for Trump and expectations of him as a politician. This claim is not a blatant attack on Trump but simply reflects his actions during and leading up to his presidency, “the Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, has documented that Trump made 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years.” (Edsall 2020).
The following article by Laura Chinchilla, we read discusses politics, society, and truth in relation to the rise of social media. This article frames social media and its power and depictions of truth in a way that is really relevant and important to a discussion about the concept of truth. The article highlights that while there are many ways in which social media and the digital age have distorted truth and complicated politics and everyday life, it has also given people across the globe the power to make changes they otherwise may not have been able to. Additionally, it brings this conversation to an international scale, which is necessary but easy to overlook. It is easy to think about the idea of post-truth as a Trump-centered concept, but there are many other places and issues around which this idea is relevant.
The last article we read in this section was about the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The article was published by them and focused on their own prioritization of public engagement and how it benefits everyone in the process. It is easy to think of science as focused on only one particular truth, yet they highlight how much there is for scientists to learn from individuals outside of that community. They discuss the importance of moving from increasing public understanding to increasing public engagement. Which invites and appreciates more perspectives, not just those that come from a scientific understanding.
Post-Truth Conversation to Healthy Democracy
One controversy Healthy Democracy was involved in was a disagreement between themselves and another organization called Our Oregon. In 2012, Our Oregon sponsored Measure 85, which would “eliminate the so-called corporate income tax ‘kicker’- a refund to corporations when their combined state income taxes exceed the state’s projections by 2 percent or more -and direct that money towards schools” (link). Healthy Democracy was going to put on one of their Citizen’s Initiative Reviews, a small panel of 24 randomly selected Oregon citizens, to discuss the measure. However, Our Oregon backed out of the event at the last minute, claiming that the event was ineffective because the 2010 election outcome went against that year’s panel recommendation. This led to widespread criticization of the effectiveness and relevance of the CIR process.
However, various journalists were also quick to criticize Our Oregon’s description of the CIR process. The Statesman Journal wrote an article titled “Our Oregon Shirks Its Duty To Voters”, where they stated that the entire point of the citizens review was to look at both the for and against sides of the measure in an impartial manner. They also stated that criticizing the review because of the 2010 election was disingenuous because “a straw poll among 24 citizens during the summer is not a predictor of the outcome in November” (link). Similarly, The Register-Guard voiced a strong opinion about the relevance of the CIR process. They disagreed that the panels are ineffective because voters can reject the review, claiming that the point wasn’t to tell voters how to vote but to “undertake a thorough and unbiased analysis, accurately present the pros and cons to the voters and make an informed, thoughtful recommendation that the voters are free to accept or reject” (Register-Guard 2012).
Ultimately, despite some disagreement on the facts about the citizens review process, the conclusion is that these reviews simply serve to educate the public on policy rather than try to convince it to vote a certain way. This type of process may be especially helpful in today’s post-truth world, where the facts about the policy may not be explained in an impartial, or even truthful, manner. Citizens can decide for themselves whether or not a policy is worthwhile by researching the information themselves rather than receiving it from someone who twists words to make the policy seem better or worse.
Chinchilla, Laura. 2019. “Opinion | Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too.” The New York Times, October 15, 2019, 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, February 12, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/opinion/trump-campaign-2020.html.
“Keeping Voters Informed – Opinion.” 2012. The Register-Guard. https://www.registerguard.com/rg/opinion/28497427-78/voters-panels-review-citizen-oregon.html.csp.
“Post-Truth Politics.” 2020. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Post-truth_politics&oldid=941709987.