Post-truth politics?

first_imgThe death of “truth” has been long in coming, and in fact is said to typify the post-modern age in which we presently live. The “truths” that came out of the Enlightenment tradition and the scientific method have all been undermined. A good percentage, if not most, of humanity have been cast adrift in the search for some form of certainty. In America, the ascent of Donald Trump to the presidency has presented us with a new term to describe this post-truth condition which attempts to make it not too dystopian –“alternative facts”.But this, in itself, presents a new set of problems as we know to our cost in Guyana. Here our leaders have asserted so many “facts” that they swore were the “truth”, only to have them retracted without even the slightest apology, suggests that the new “alternative facts” preclude the need for any. It would seem in this brave new world, one can assert anything that comes to one’s lips and hold it to be “truth”. The problem for the citizens is that especially politics, being essentially a matter of rhetoric seeking to persuade, would have them engage in actions based on the claims. And therein lies the rub.For instance, will we be raking in over US million per day starting in 2020 and continuing for the next 30 years, as one Minister asserted as a matter of “truth”? Some citizens might just believe him and start easing up on eking out a grubby living on their farms, since it was also promised that those monies would be invested to deliver the good life to Guyanese. If, in fact, the Minister was not speaking the “truth” that farmer’s life could possibly be ruined.The philosopher Julian Baggini has just published a new book, “A short history of truth” and offers some advice for the perplexed post-truth, post-modern (but not post-racial) Guyanese in the following excerpts. He suggests a “triage of truth” that posits three questions: “Are there any experts in this field? Which kind of expert in this area should I choose?  Which particular expert is worth listening to here?If there is genuine expertise to be had, the second stage is to ask what kind of expert is trustworthy in that domain, to the degree that the domain allows for expertise at all. Once we have decided that there are groups of experts in a domain, the third stage of triage is to ask which particular ones to trust. The trickiest situations are where the domain admits significant differences of opinion.Perhaps the most important principle to apply throughout the triage is the 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume’s maxim: “A wise man … proportions his belief to the evidence.” Trust in experts always has to be proportionate. Any economic forecast, for instance, should be seen as indicating a probability at best, an educated guest at worst.Proportionality also means granting only as much authority as is within an expert’s field. When an eminent scientist opines on ethics, for example, she is exceeding her professional scope. We should not confuse thinking for ourselves with thinking by ourselves. Taking expert opinion seriously is not passing the buck. No one can make up your mind for you, unless you make up your mind to let them.What Baggini says, to belabour the point, is particularly true in politics which is not known for its attention to truth to begin with. To most Guyanese who have been locked in ethnic politics for over half a century, there is a great reluctance to question the pronouncements of “the leader”. But the suggestion on proportionality should temper our urge to abandon the “triage of truth”. While we suspect there might not be any single “TRUTH”, we know for sure it is not in the possession of any single person or group.Baggini suggests a methodology, as we say in the vernacular, to “pick sense from nonsense”.last_img

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