By Chris Salazar
As the dust settles on the election, and the contours of America’s future crystallize, we must work to scrutinize the task at hand: to diagnose and remedy the bifurcated nature of a post-truth political landscape, which threatens both the tenets of democracy, and the blossoming of the human condition.
Perspective is the issue. Subjectivity is the fundamental barrier on trial. After the Telecommunications Act of 1996, journalism has had to adapt to the conglomeration of the industry and the dizzying frenzy of a 24-hour news cycle where short, partial sound bites impregnate the ideas and opinions of a self-segregated populace.
Technology is partly to blame. Seemingly paradoxically, the innovations of the twentieth century gave rise to the computer and the internet, and ushered in an epoch characterized by truth-permeation, as information was widely and readily available. Instead, the information age allowed lies to proliferate in what techies have dubbed "digital wildfires." Unfortunately, the digital platforms, typified by rapid information exchange, create a "disinformation cascade" that overwhelms even the most prudent fact-checkers—every falsehood corrected is subdued by a relentless deluge of deceit. So, unreality becomes irrepressible; the map is continuously mistaken for the territory.
Thanks to companies like Facebook and Google, the world is, to a large degree, algorithmic. That is, your previous search history determines what links you’re most likely to visit. So every new link has within it the seed of confirmation bias. And so social media, the dominant news source, becomes what Peter Pomeranstev, a Soviet-born British author and journalist, coined as, “echo chambers of similar- minded people, feeding us only the things that make us feel better, whether they are true or not.”
But the proverbial rabbit hole runs much deeper. The specter of the Protestant reformation and its influence on capitalism, the Enlightenment and the analytical motive to wrest the world from divine jurisdiction, along with globalization and its resultant uncertainty have culminated to lead us here. According to Pomeranstev, in the contemporary adoption of Nietzsche’s suggestion that narrative and interpretation supplant fact, it is a condition borne of a philosophic genealogy, beginning with the Cartesian maxim “I think, therefore I am,” which transported the center of knowledge into the human mind, where both Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation and the emancipatory function of postmodern thought are derivative.
The influential postmodernist thinker, Jacques Derrida, wrote that “There is no outside-text.” He thought our beliefs and ideas about the world are less a product of our originality, than a set of inferences from the authoritative patterns imposed on us. So, postmodernists aimed to liberate people from the repressive fiction that dominated their lives. To Derrida, the repressive fiction was the faulty and wholesale allegiance to one set of ideas over another. For example, to always favor reason over passion, or to believe that capitalism is either splendid or sinful, is to subscribe to a binary perspective that robs us of our humanity and our ability to appreciate complexity. To be confused and uncertain about the interrelated nature of any particular ideology and its opposite is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of maturity.
But the insistence that something is either wrong or right in the absolute sense provides security. While globalization creates a stark sense of disorientation and insecurity. And so, in an attempt to return to a more secure past, the nostalgic masses pursue restorative paths (or representatives) eschewing allegedly antiquated institutions of authority—academics, politicians, the media—because, in a globalized economy, the local and domestic conditions affect nonnative boundaries and individuals the world over.
Here, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, is particularly prescient: he recognized that disenfranchisement or the lack of political influence generates hostility. He wrote that men "cause revolutions when they are not allowed to share honors, and if they are unjustly or insolently treated.” He further elaborated that, “angry men attack out of revenge, not out of ambition.”
Democrats made promises to blue-collar workers for decades which failed to actualize. The populist, nativist and nationalist President-elect Donald Trump read the writing on the wall and utilized the festering hostility of a demographic supposedly left out to dry. To his supporters, their unyielding allegiance to the failings of their political affiliations and capitalism nurtured a corrective nostalgia. But Rousseau's state of nature, as it were, is a relic of the past we cannot restore, even as the populist, nativist or nationalist asserts otherwise, prodding that restorative sentiment toward simplicity. Disheartening as it may be, the fact is the globalized state of affairs evades simple solutions.
Genuine bewilderment is not a sign of weakness; it is the condition of being human. Hubris—not humility in the face of complexity—is the deficiency to guard against. Living in a post-truth era beckons the lesser angels of our nature: to indulge in anger and validate the delight of spouting malarkey.