Trump Tower

Post-truth, the age of indifference


Wondering about the "post-truth", or what we call it, I opened the Wikipedia page very well documented and unusually long (detailed and exciting) for such a recent concept. No doubt the length of the articles on the net is in proportion to the contemporaneity, not to say topicality, although the two notions tend to merge, of the concept. A concept that is still rather poorly defined, and which was forged in reaction to a series of political and geopolitical events of which Bush Junior's lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is the prerequisite, but whose multiplication, from the propaganda of Brexit to the great unpacking of Trump's "Bullshit" are the consecration.

This is why the Oxford dictionary defines the term "post-truth" as "the word of the year 2016":

"This refers to circumstances in which objective facts have less influence in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal opinions. »

The word of the year 2016

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Post-truth era, era of indifference

And if I use the term "bullshit", it's because Wikipedia reminds me of the very title of the article of the American philosopher Harry Frankfurt, published in 1986: "The Art of Bullshit Telling", in which he distinguishes between a lie that is based on an acknowledgement of the truth and bullshit that doesn't care about the simple distinction between truth and lie.

Interview with Harry Frankfurt at Princeton.

Now this indifference to truth has been very precisely analyzed by Hannah Arendt in "Truth and Politics" where she returns as a philosopher to the world that Orwell had described as a novelist. This is even her central point, and I cannot resist the temptation to quote her,

"... the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that lies will now be accepted as truth, nor that truth will be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we orient ourselves in the real world - and the category of truth in relation to falsehood is among the mental means to this end - is destroyed. "("Truth and Politics" in The culture crisisPocket folio p. 327-328).

In other words, the danger of the post-truth is not the lie, which in itself may even constitute a form of freedom from the factual, but rather indifference to the distinction between lie and truth. We speak here of "factual truth", and if the claim to truth can also be a danger for politics in that reality is subject to diverse and contradictory interpretations, it must remain a regulatory idea unless it sinks into perfect cynicism.

Hannah Arendt

Traces of totalitarianism

If Hannah Arendt seems to me to be a stimulating source for understanding the post-truth era, it is not only because she wrote this text in 1964, (and already, in the Origins of totalitarianism published in 1951 she mentioned it) and that as such, one can admit either that she was a visionary or that the concept of post-truth unfortunately goes back much further than the whims of a Donald Trump backed by the exponential proliferation of rumour and opinion independently of everything else. fact checking The post-truth is the truth of all totalitarianism, in other words, of all politics where ideology tends to replace reality in its entirety.

Totalitarianism whoseFrankfurt schooland Hannah Arendt herself show that some of these tendencies persist in democracy, because of the structure of the mass: the mass is the condition of possibility of totalitarian rule, it is also the condition of liberal capitalism - advertising, for example, substitutes a simple image for the real value of a thing, and it doesn't matter if this image is false.

Private man - public man

Hannah Arendt (Oct. 14, 1906 - 1975). Ryohei Noda

Let us return then to the second reason why I appeal to Hannah Arendt, and her conception of private life in its opposition to public life, which she borrows from Greek philosophy - which she sets out in the Condition of modern manThis opposition seems to me to be particularly relevant to understanding the victory of the post-truth era.

The Greeks distinguished between private and public life in a very different way from our own, which saw the emergence of the phenomenon of the social, overcoming or even abolishing this distinction: private life is that of the economic man, independently of his inscription in the human world, that is to say, the world in which one produces recognized and manifest meaning, objects, and works, and all that, being public, transcends the private man alienated to nature alone.

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"To live an entirely private life is above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life: to be deprived of the reality that comes from what one is seen and heard by others, to be deprived of an "objective" relationship with others that comes from being connected to common objects, to be deprived of the possibility of accomplishing something more permanent than life. Deprivation is due to the absence of others; as far as they are concerned, the private man does not appear, it is as if he does not exist. "writes Hannah Arendt (Pocket ed., p. 99).

And now... the private man has become all-powerful. Almighty, but still deprived, deprived of that transcendence that characterizes the human world. The rise of the economic man went hand in hand with the destruction of the common world and of politics at the same time. Yet "reality" is closely linked to the idea of the common world as the only place of true human existence. It is in this space that the notion of de facto truth, in its relation to human (and not scientific) reality, can still make sense:

"Our sense of reality depends entirely on appearance, and therefore on the existence of a public domain where things can appear by escaping the darkness of the hidden life.

And in "appearance", we should not understand it as appearing in opposition to being, but on the contrary as its revelation.

"For us appearance - what is seen and heard by others as well as ourselves - is reality. Compared to the reality conferred by sight and hearing, the greatest forces of intimate life - passions, thoughts, the pleasures of the senses - lead to a vague existence of shadows until they are transformed (torn from the private, de-individualized, so to speak) into objects worthy of appearing in public. (…). It is the presence of others seeing what we see, hearing what we hear, that assures us of the reality of the world and of ourselves (...)".

"Me reflected". Brian Snelson

Staging of the "private self"

But if the private individual, not in its singularity but in its conformism, substitutes itself, through its duplication, and the way of relation that the network constitutes, to the common world, if the structure of "mass", replaces the correlative notion of "common" of plurality, then reality in fact no longer has any reason to exist, except to be scattered in multiple points of view, whose view does not relate to a common reality, as Leibniz' monadological model would propose, but to the point of view itself, in an infinite reflection of the eye: the point of view that no longer reflects the world, but the private self.

And in fact, it is still the private self that television today brings to the stage, not only that of anonymous people who by this means become what we call "people" or "half-population", exposing their intimacy and displacing what was previously unworthy of belonging to the public sphere, towards this new space, where things appear, but freed from any possibility of transcendence.

This space to appear has become the field of the public, and thus the death of the public. The private has prevailed, giving way to the politician's intimacy to the detriment of his speech - to emotions and psychology to the detriment of thought.

As such, I would gladly quote the sentence by Guy Carcassonne, constitutionalist, and found on Wikipedia, taken from Eric Aeschimann's paper in Libération July 14, 2004:

"Rightly or wrongly, politicians have the impression that the appreciation that the French will have of them will not be linked to the quality of what they say, but to the speed and intensity of their emotion. »

or Claude Poissenot in The Conversation of November 22, 2016:

"Individuals are now defined by an "emotional self". Becoming oneself has become a norm. (...) The populism of the "after-truth" (is) a perverse effect of modernity that invites individuals to build themselves" (ibid.).

Bankruptcy of the common, bankruptcy of language

The private man was once the slave. He still is today. It is slavery that has become public, and therefore a virtue. Alienation to "values" that have nothing to share as common values, since they enshrine individualism - what is "mine" and not others', from wealth to childhood, from wife or children to hairdressing. In short, everything that was excluded from the field of politics and the human world by the Greeks.

The common reality that defined the human world, the field of action and speech, has gone bankrupt: everyone has their own, communities have their own, algorithms take care of never making them meet. Failure of the very idea of truth, and of any claim to establish something common from reality.

For to establish something in common, it is still necessary to speak the same language: a failure, therefore, of language that has become disconnected from its vocation to say, in favour of a simple accompaniment of emotions, and which could in fact be reduced to interjections or onomatopoeias, but to which story tellings have been added. The pleasure of storytelling has not totally disappeared.

Because if we are in a post-truth era, then we are in a post-language era. It is true that the sophists already used language as a simple tool of power, which is highly remunerative (cf. the Zemmours who make a profession of it and earn a very good living from it, in proportion to their excess - excess is now economically profitable) - which would tend to relativize the prefix "post".

However, the phenomenon seems to have become more pronounced. And if it is true that Reason is subject to a perpetual dialectical movement, let us say that we are confronted with its saddest figure, its most morbid fixity, before it reinvents itself to free itself from what it has become: autonomous technique on the one hand, credulity in human speech and its value on the other.

Plato had set himself up against the sophists to establish the idea of the true that would save both logos and thought; Descartes had set himself up against the sceptics to save philosophy and science; it was during major crises of truth that philosophy was re-founded. We can hope to see the new herald of the "criterion" emerge.

The recognition of truth versus opinion

A little guide to "post-truth". Phil Venditti

However, the mass society seems to be a new phenomenon with regard to the past millennia, and to make the dispute all the more irreducible: for when the common is no longer, when the self is erected as a norm and duplicated over and over again, when the networks and the web offer the impulses the possibility to express themselves immediately, when there is no longer any sanction in the face of a lie since it presents itself as an opinion and opinion has become all-powerful (the emotional self being its unassailable foundation), since emotion itself does not enter the field of truth nor that of lie, and thus emerges from any debate to replace it, under these conditions, what does indeed matter the truth?

Or the attempt to adjust his words to a commonly accepted reality? How can we resist the pure autonomy of discourse that is detached from its conditions of validation or verification? The very act of verification is rendered null and void by indifference to the true.

This indifference is not universally shared, of course, and there are still soldiers of the recognition of the True (sometimes even fanatics), who constantly check, take risks, cross-check their sources, but the consequence of their action will be of interest only to those who hold the truth as a common value.

The negationists do not do anything else: the principle of contradiction has no hold on them; scientific demonstration, human testimony, nothing can make them change their minds since their opinion is based on a belief, the key to intelligibility of which is not to be sought in scientific passion, but in a passion of another order. Reality has no hold on them. Just as it has no hold on the voters of Trump or Marine Le Pen.

Democracy versus "complete lie"

The real question then becomes: what is the future of a democracy if what Arendt calls the "de facto truth" is no longer relevant? For "the possibility of complete and definitive falsehood, which was unknown in earlier times, is the danger that arises from the manipulation of facts".

What will it also be for historians, if

"The chances of the de facto truth surviving the onslaught of power are very slim indeed: it is always in danger of being manoeuvred out of the world, not just for a time, but virtually forever. "(p. 294); and indeed, "what prevents these stories, images, and non-new facts from becoming an adequate substitute for reality and factuality? »
(Arendt, "Truth and Politics" p. 323)

The original text of this article was published on The Conversation.



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