Hitler was a socialist and the Earth is flat. The moon landing was faked. 2+2=6.
You can prove anything with facts, so let’s invent some new ones.
We now live in a post truth, alt-fact, fake news environment, where nothing we see or hear is real. The quest for truth, more than ever, is like digging for fire. Reality, or our perception of reality, is becoming more subjective day by day.
I’m a big science fiction fan, and one of the most popular and enduring tropes in science fiction is the subjective perception of reality. It’s a topic I think about regularly when I’m watching or reading the news. That our perception, subjectivity, can be steered, controlled, abused by some, to make some of our most important political decisions, I find to be absurd. Take Brexit as a prime example:
For many Leave voters, their vision of a post Brexit Britain was one of a proud island nation, reclaiming it’s heritage and forging ahead bravely, independently, fearlessly, unshackled by years of heavy European red tape. What Brexiters actually got was 2 or more years of chaos, confusion and uncertainty, to the point where it now seems doubtful that the UK will ever really leave the EU.
The problem was this: Each individual vision of Brexit was different. Unlike Remain, there wasn’t a single unifying, determining ideal that everyone could get behind. Every persons version of Brexit was vastly different to the others. The voting on both sides was emotive, and based on the perception of a number of realities that didn’t, and never will, exist. Somewhere, during both the Leave and Remain campaigns, the actual facts of the matter got lost
Our subjectivity has blinded us to the truth. Facts emerge as if they were fiction, and fiction is peddled as solid gold fact.
Perception guides our expectations too. When Leave cited “parliamentary sovereignty” as a major factor in their campaign, to their disbelief, parliament then asserted that sovereignty to overturn a decision to invoke article 50. It was as if they said “we want a sovereign parliament, but not like that.”
Similarly, the new Independent Group of breakaway politicians headed by Chukka Umunna, must seem another universe away from the new kind of political centrism that people have been screaming for. “We want a new kind of political centrism..” they say, “but not like this.”
It isn’t reserved solely for Brexit though. Nobody it seems is safe from the chaotic miasma whirling around. The conservatives are labelled as either the nasty party or the party of free choice. To return to the Sci-fi motif, most left wingers view the Tories as the evil Empire from Star Wars. Labour has it just as bad though, with Corbyn supporters declaring him to be some kind of socialist messiah, and his detractors claiming him to be a Stalinist gulagagogue (I made that word up, and I’m sticking with it). None of this is real, and the polarisation which is occurring in modern politics is harmful and counter productive. There’s no reasonable discourse to be had when people genuinely think you’re either a Communist or a Nazi.
The perception of what’s real has moved so far from actual events that it has enabled a man like Donald Trump, one of America’s most elitist and privileged, to call out elitism and wage war on privilege, and be elected as president of the United States by the very people who would otherwise denounce him as a privileged elitist. You couldn’t make it up.
So what’s real in all of this? Is reality an objective universe which we can interact with, or is it a subjective coalescence of visions dreamt up by fantasists and people who simply “believe”.
There are now organisations which dissect news reports and political statements, and fact check them. We shouldn’t need to require that our politicians tell the truth. We shouldn’t need to have Question Time fact-checked.
It seems that reality, these days, is something that needs to be teased out of the cracks and fissures in the canyons and mountains of spin and alternative facts. We shouldn’t need a hammer and chisel to find the truth.
Some truths, however, are sadly sinking into the mire of mythology, so I’m bringing them back for the record of future posterity:
Hitler was not a socialist.
The Earth is not flat.
And the moon landing might well have been faked, but ever the perfectionist, Kubrick insisted they shoot on location.