Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Our post-truth world makes a mockery of politics

There is not much to be done about politicians (and whole national governments) that indulge in - there's no nice way to say this - constant bare-faced lying. Some say we are living in a post-truth world.

Take China, for example, which recently berated Canada for the "false accusation of Chinese interference in Canada's internal affairs" (not false), and blistered that Canada must "stop its provocations at once" ("provocations"? Who started this?)

Or take Vladimir Putin, who blathers at his Victory Day parade, "A real war has been unleashed against our motherland again", when he is clearly the one unleashing wars against other people's motherlands.

Or Donald Trump: "I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO THIS WOMAN IS" (sorry about the all-caps, that's just how Trump writes). Or Boris Johnson: " If anybody thinks I was partying during lockdown, they are completely wrong".

All of this has been underscored recently by the Russia-Ukraine war. Here, as in most wars, to be fair, truth rarely makes a dent in the barrage of propaganda that, maybe inevitably, accompanies war. One side says X town has been re-taken; the other side says "Rubbish!", the town is ours. And so it goes on. Our tendency is to believe Ukraine, because they are the good guys in this, but in reality both sides are probably lying, at least to some extent, and everybody knows and apparently accepts that.

But returning to the populists and autocrats, these people must know that what they are saying is patently untrue, but feel secure enough in their position, or in their own little psychological bubble, that no-one will take them to task over their untruths. I refuse to believe that they are stupid enough to actually believe what they are saying. I'm not even sure that it can be put down to some mental health aberration. It appears to be a conscious decision to lie in order to justify their actions because they think they can get away with it (and, depressingly, on the face of it, they are probably right).

But it makes a mockery of normal political debate. Imagine having to respond to that level of deceitfulness and mendacity, day after day. What would even be the point in engaging with it? No-one believes a word that these countries and individuals say, so how can we carry on any effective political discourse?

I think this kind of insincerity has probably been a political challenge for many decades, maybe forever (think Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, the Trojan horse). But am I wrong in thinking that it has become significantly worse in this current age of populist demagoguery? Most of the perpetrators are either mad autocrats or cynical populists, although I am starting to worry about some of the other politicians who are being corrupted by these role models. Will we reach the stage where lying becomes the default mode, and the art of politics as we know it is all but dead?

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