In one of the previous articles I wrote and published on this blog, I discussed the different criteria of truths – how the truth operates in the minds of the people. Therefore, to have a better understanding of what this “post truth” all about, reading my article entitled “Unraveling truth and its Many Faces” remains a highly recommended pre-requisite. However, as years, even an era, goes by, there is a sudden emergence of a different (another) interpretation or criterion of truth. This is more alarming that even natural or social scientists such as philosophers and sociologists alike must delve into to provide a thorough criticism and evaluation. Why? This criterion, which they called “post truth” goes against objective truth that was promoted and invested (intellectually) by these thinkers - inherited from the Greek civilization circa 800 BC or even earlier - to enrich the very foundation of knowledge through a systematic approach, guided by reason and valid arguments either inductively or deductively. Oxford dictionary defined post truth as “an era or culture wherein objective facts become less influential in forming public opinion through scholarly or public discourses, the power of persuading [public opinions] becomes strongly dependent on personal belief and appeal to emotion.” In other words, people nowadays can be easily convinced to take side of an issue if the speaker (a politician for an instance) knows how to play with public sentiments; if he/she has the ability to stir the pulse of the majority, even if his/her arguments are not highly based on objective truth or factual data. This is what contemporary philosophers labelled as the “erosion of reason and rationality.” A British philosopher and scholar, AC Grayling, even categorized “post truth” as a phenomenon. He said, “[post truth] is about an era of giving more weight [matter] on my personal opinion more than any factual basis – it is about how I feel.” It even promotes strong inclination to relativism.
To further explain the era of post truth, I will present it by discussing [about] human weaknesses in the lens of the philosophers Aristotle, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse (they might not belong to the same generation, but they, in a way, speak of the same, concerning their analysis of humanity). This is in conjunction to what has been happening now in the world of politics in the recent months or even years (you may associate it to whatever political turmoil you have in mind whether international or local – the controversial immigration policy espoused by President Donald Trump; the increase of tariff to imported goods, which in particular, targeted China; eventually leads to rift and war trade between the two nations. The controversial war on drugs of the Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, the continuous emergence of unconventional – populists – politicians such as the two persona aforementioned, which resulted to the development of Trumpism and Dutertism cultures, etc). Those are only some of the examples attesting that, indeed, we have really entered the era of post truth.
There is an old Filipino aphorism that says, “It is [rather] difficult to awaken a person/s pretending to be asleep, than those who are truly asleep” If any individuals decided to abandon the use of reason (in this context, it has something to do with the person’s ability and capacity to listen; to open-up his/herself, to consider and re-consider other perspectives), no amount of explanation can ever suffice to change their minds – or convince otherwise. Irrationality takes place when someone begins shunning away the idea of possibilities through listening (not just passive listeners, but active, willing to reconsider and act), this is at least, fundamental, to the Critical theorists of the Frankfurt School where Adorno and Marcuse belong. Now, let’s have Aristotle first. In his book “Nichomachean Ethics,” particularly in book VII, he discussed about different types of human persons, one is what he called “the incontinent,” the other is “intemperate.” The aforementioned characteristics are considered to be both weaknesses (but, I think, at this point, most people, are best suited to the said negative characteristics, we are still far to reach the “temperament” or self-controlled individual; the continent, how much more, the virtuous).
Nonetheless, incontinent person is defined by Aristotle (not verbatimly) as “someone who has the knowledge of what is good and not; however, chooses not to act the good, because he/she is affected by internal factors” – anything that gives him/her comfort; he/she might be protecting personal interests. And by choosing to act [the good], the said personal interest that gives him/her comfort and joy might just lose in a blink of an eye - so better remained indifferent. Consequently, in doing so, the incontinent person, in a way, allows the proliferation of the excesses (vices in the word of Aristotle). However, the good thing about this state of being (incontinent) – despite a weakness, they are still doing things in appeal [respect] to spirit (reason). Though, their reason is perceived to be distorted. Therefore, though perceived as a negative character, Aristotle pointed out in his conclusion that there is still hope for this type of being. In other words, to those people who are in this condition, there is still a place for understanding. They still speak the same language – reason.
On the other hand, the “intemperate” person is defined [by Aristotle] as “someone who acts to what he/she thinks is rational for him/herself, for them, to be rational is, to satisfy the “appetite” (the word appetite means anything that gives pleasure – or relative to it - to the human body at the present state. For example, the wealth that someone is enjoying now, you only think of today, not of tomorrow, because the present satisfies your imagination and comfort, your influence satisfies your thirst for power. etc). This character [intemperance] state of being according to Aristotle directly appeal to appetite (body) rather than the spirit (reason). Hence, there is more to be worried about on intemperate people rather than the incontinent. Intemperate people have fixed mind-sets; they are no longer listening. It is precisely because their notion of rationality is grounded on the “appetite” (the body).
I think, at least, for now, in the emergence of maverick [populists] political leaders, their respective supporters develop cultures leaning toward intemperance than incontinent (though both perceived as negative characters, I would rather see more people on the incontinent, then once there, they can work gradually to reach the state of temperament and eventually virtuousness – those who already mastered the self-control by living a balance life).
This is what Theodor Adorno means by a “pseudo-culture” (intemperance for Aristotle), it is a kind of culture that is separated from a virtuous community - a community of harmony. This pseudo-culture, according to Adorno, speaks their own languages that the culture [virtuous] community cannot understand, because they appeal to the singularity of thought (close mindedness) rather than dialectical thinking (rational potentialities).
Lastly, to remind us of the poignant analysis of Herbert Marcuse (a critical theorist of the Frankfurt school) concerning advanced capitalism. The notion of capitalism here is no longer just confined on economy (commodity production, manipulation of the product of labor, etc) and anything relative to it. Marcuse, in his analysis, pointed out, that the greatest threat of advanced capitalism is “the muted social opposition.” Meaning, this is what he called “the new form of capitalism – the paralysis of criticism: a society without opposition.” Therefore, Marcuse, at the end, would say, “despite the advancement achieved of the society (technology, social media, etc), irrationality is glaring.” Again, the key is conviction to dialectical thinking (openness to possibilities), we can only do that by exercising “refusal” to the urges of singularity of thought (paralysis of reason). This is difficult to teach in this present age (there are many people who think and claimed themselves as intelligent, or worst, learned, especially these so called netizens, wherein, most often than not, the level of thoughts they have is just limited to fallacious arguments such as Ad hominem, hasty generalization, red herring (evading the issue), in defending their idea of political stand – that is what well-informed means for them. The constructive and systematic way of presenting a discourse is losing along the way), but still, I am hopeful to the young ones – I used to emphasize this to my students.
One more, Adorno himself would say, “it does not mean that you have access to information, you are already [truly] informed.” After all, advanced capitalism can distort the truth.