In 2016, the use of that term spiked—so much so that the Oxford Dictionaries declared it a 2016 word of the year—and it was most commonly seen when describing current politics. “Post-truth” implies that truth is no longer relevant in politics, so our elected leaders no longer need to be held to a standard of truth.
This cynicism about politics is far from new, and hardly surprising in an unprecedented election cycle. Yet it’s disturbing to think that our government officials no longer feel compelled or expected to speak the truth—or worse, that their opinions and beliefs, however baseless, carry more weight and merit than fact.
We must hold government to a standard of truth.
Language is powerful. It matters that we have organizations monitoring current trends in language. By bringing “post-truth” conversations to light, “fake news” was exposed.
These days, we pick and choose our news from countless sources. This isn’t inherently bad. Being open to and learning about different perspectives can broaden our worldview and deepen empathy. However, those sources must be credible or we lose all potential benefit.
The temptation of “fake news” is real: It’s far more comfortable to validate and reinforce our current thinking than to read news that challenges what we assume to be real. We don’t have to go very far on the internet to find someone supporting any point of view, regardless of whether or not it’s true. The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirming one’s existing beliefs or theories is called “confirmation bias,” and it feeds on itself.
We must seek truth to overcome our confirmation bias.
The truth can be uncomfortable. Many people have reported having a physical reaction to current politics. In robotics, the idea of the “uncanny valley” refers to the negative emotional response that some observers experience when interacting with humanoid robots. If a robot looks like a machine, we don’t have a strong empathic response. The more human it looks, the stronger our interactions become. However, as it approaches true human likeness, there’s a point where it’s unsettling and we disconnect emotionally.
That is, the uncanny valley is that point at which things look incredibly real to us, but our instincts tell us otherwise. This can leave us feeling disoriented and even physically ill. The cure is simple: just look away. If today’s political scene is making us nauseated, then we need to turn it off—and find something better to look at. Try looking at how you can take local action for starters!
We must take action locally, where things are real.