Post-truth encompasses fake news on the Internet and in corporate media, numerous stories and issues ignored, politics, packaged as a game, and elections, as a half-time show.
by Bruce Mason
We should be truly grateful for the freebie gift of “post-truth,” handed to us by Oxford Dictionaries as their choice for Word of the Year in summing up 2016.
As in ‘post-truth politics,’ the adjective relates to “when objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion.” Pretty much wraps up contemporary reality, perfectly. Nine letters and a hyphen to help us address and understand our common global Frequently Asked Question (FAQ): “What’s happening?” Post-truth provides a handle on what’s ahead – a ready-made resolution for 2017.
Humanity, divided and falling, is being conquered by post-truth. The dark-art master is president-elect of the self-destructing super-power south of our border. For example, there is widespread belief in the US that millions of voters cast ballots illegally. However it has been determined in post-election studies there were four such documented incidents, or 0.000002 percent of the tally. When confronted with the facts of voter fraud, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway responded that Trump was “messaging to his supporters and to the rest of the country the way he feels.” But it’s also practised and perfected by our prime minister and premier, the ‘princess’ of post-truth. They fiddle around the edges of existential crises while preaching nonsensical rubbish about fossil fuels, oil spill recovery, Reconciliation, ‘Real Change’ and the like, as if they are actually doing something constructive in our collective downward spiral.
Jon Stewart popularized p-t, and Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” has the same quality: seeming, or being felt to be true, but not necessarily so. Casper Grathwohl, head of Oxford Dictionaries, won’t be surprised if post-truth becomes the “defining word of our time.”
Justin Trudeau vows to price carbon emissions – by 2018 – to “show leadership that, quite frankly, the entire world is looking for.” Undeterred by an assertion that climate change is a “hoax,” he congratulated Donald J. Trump: “Our shared values are strong. Our common purpose, to build countries where everyone has a fair chance to succeed, and where government works first, foremost and always, for the people it serves. The Canadian government will continue its hard work toward these ends, and we offer our hand in partnership with our neighbours as friends and allies.” A post-truth mural, and masterpiece.
Truth is we can’t expand tar sands AND keep our promised climate targets, clean oil spills, honour First Nations, or find the will to get on with what is urgently required. Trudeau, initially perceived as an ‘anti-Trump,” now provides fuel and pipes for a climate bomb that The Donald is fusing with mega-tons of infantile denial and ignorance of reality.
From 2013 to 2015, Canada’s government granted $3.3billion in subsidies for fossil fuel extraction incentives and research and development (R&D), essentially paying polluters $19 for each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted. Critics liken it to taxing cigarettes with one hand while giving breaks to tobacco companies on the other. Three+billion could jump-start renewables to catch up with the rest of the world (ROTW). However, in fairness, the rest of the world also supports fossil fuel, to the tune of $5.3trillion a year, equivalent to $10m a minute, every day, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). That’s more than the world spends on health, including subsidies and support, as well as on pollution and the costs associated with extreme weather.
But, as the Guardian asked on October 29, “Think Canada is a progressive paradise? That’s Mooseshit! We broker deals for an obscene number of weapons, and we frequently run roughshod over the rights of indigenous people. And don’t even get us started on your favourite wonderboy, Justin Trudeau.”
The byline is Jesse Brown, co-author of Canadaland (Touchstone), who adds, “Despite Trudeau’s progressive branding, Canada is right where Stephen Harper left us. A year since the election, we’re still selling arms to Saudi Arabia, still cutting $36bn from healthcare and still basing our economy on fossil fuel extraction, running roughshod over indigenous rights… while backtracking on a campaign promise for electoral reform.”
“Decision-based evidence-making, to maintain the status quo, not ‘evidence-based decision making’ promised in the election,” says NDP MP Nathan Cullen, a member of the electoral reform committee, charged with finding an alternative to (“the last”) first-past-the-post.
Meanwhile, too few Canadians are aware of our shiny, new privatization bank. “Unprecedented,” enthuses Canada’s top business lobbyist, John Manley (a former deputy prime minister and frequent corporate elite mouthpiece), “a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” The Liberal plan: sell off public assets to raise money for a wave of private investors to build and operate infrastructure. One planner, Adam Vaughan, insists that “to be afraid of the private sector when fixing Canada’s infrastructure is shortsighted, stupid, irresponsible.”
Really? A November Ipsos Reid/Ontario poll found 75 percent of those surveyed oppose privatization. In London, Paris and Hamburg, governments are bringing work back in-house from private contracts. Ditto for water management in Sooke, Port Hardy and White Rock, garbage collection in Port Moody and recreation in Cranbrook, etc.
Few Canadians deny the need to fix congested roads and crumbling bridges; overcrowded, underfunded public transportation; and emission-reductions to avert climate catastrophe, floods and fires. But privatizations aren’t what we voted for.
Closer to home, the Woodfibre fracked gas plant in Howe Sound cleared a hurdle when, at last month’s BC Liberal convention, kicked off with “Free Enterprise Friday,” a sustained standing ovation greeted the news. “Jobs and the Cleanest LNG in the world,” they cheered, “BC is #1” But it’s one of five projects promised, by 2020, which might be delivered (maybe) – a $1.6bn fossil fuel investment, 650 construction jobs and a mere 100 ongoing, when/if it becomes operational.
At the same time, a new poll found 73% in BC want to pause Site C Dam construction. BC Hydro admits we won’t need new power until 2028, at the earliest. The *poll was conducted by Insights West for DeSmog Canada. In it, 92% support efficiency measures and wind, solar and geothermal power added to the grid, as needed. A small minority favour what Christy vows to get past the “point of no return,” before the May election.
A final few words about Word of the Year (WOTY), a labour of love from folks who pore over millions of words to find the ones that pop up most often. The idea: track change in language and choose those that capture “the ethos, mood or preoccupations” over the last 12 months.
The WOTY is the most impactful, the one wee word at the top of minds and tips of tongues as information transmogrified into commodity, truth into a brand and disinformation, a product universally marketed, 24/7. Post-truth encompasses fake news, awash on the Internet and in corporate media, the numerous stories and issues ignored, politics, packaged as a game, and elections, as a half-time show.
Post-truth is created and normalized by elites that fear our collective will, above all else. So it also provides a catch-all awareness, to connect myriad dots and disparate progressive causes together – those that really matter –where they belong. We have much more in common than not, including the desire for health, happiness and connection with others. There’s money enough hidden in tax havens, obscene loopholes and subsidies, and dark money, dirty beyond laundering. Our common future is too important to be left to the greedy and their puppets and corporate media stenographers. Only we the people make real change. No one else should, or ever will.
Too revolutionary and far-fetched? Harry Truman said, “I don’t give anybody Hell, I just speak the truth and it sounds like Hell to some folks.” The unvarnished skinny is, and always has been, so-called “ordinary people.” The 90+ percent can find and stand on common ground in collective strength that resides in empathy, compassion and respect for human values, skills, decency and dignity. Justice, equity, the best possible environment and government to serve people not corporations, seem like lost myths. The truth is we have no real choice and little to lose by envisioning a world beyond post-truth. We must stand for and create a better world, and word, in 2017.
* See www.insightswest.com/
Post-truth in pictures
In our highly digitized, post-truth world, the ancient sage Confucius would undoubtedly revise the maxim, “One picture is worth a thousand words” to “millions of words.”
Picture this: The Donald screaming at photographers to turn around and click on crowds at rallies. Or selfie-king Justin Trudeau, sometimes shirtless, sometimes dressed to the hilt (Vogue magazine), inside Buckingham Palace, or backstage hugging the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, or in other venues where press photojournalists have limited or no access. Justin, it appears, won’t step foot outside 24 Sussex Drive without cameras or audio on-hand. And then there’s the flood of old-fashioned press releases, massaged and spun to near-death in today’s Newspeak.
Not to be outdone, Christy Clark, coined “Premier photo-op” by the NDP opposition, has adjusted the focus for the upcoming election (May 7, 2017). Since cancelling the fall session of the legislature, she has mimicked the endless US-style election cycle in highly flattering and proliferating “government” ads. Now she’s hired three-time photojournalist winner of the year, John Lehmann, away from the Globe and Mail. He will document her black-top electioneering, with his fee picked up by the Party. Good job the BC Liberals have a multi-million-dollar war chest.
That investment is already paying off in spades in a crop of new pics. Access and angle are everything in picture storytelling and, in the past, Christie has been justifiably ridiculed for photos of herself in hard-hats and saris, draped in Aboriginal art, or scarily propped up behind podiums and in front of larger-than-life slogans. She already has three video camera persons at her disposal, but in Lehmann’s camera-and-consumer-ready work, it looks as if our Prem has had a world-class makeover, no longer appearing so divisive, strident and clichéd.
Not to worry about words, though. Her government communications army now numbers more than 200, 10 times the number of reporters in BC’s press gallery. Post-journo candidates for BC Libs include former BCTV morning man, Steve Darling and LNG front-man, Jas Johal.
The duo may or may not earn their stripes to lurk in Victoria hallways. But Lehmann will still have lots of company in leg cafeterias and watering holes. Stephen Smart (CBC, CTV and CKNW) is Clark’s press secretary. Ben Chin, (CBC, CTV and City TV) is communications director. Sean Leslie (‘NW legislature bureau chief) landed a senior communications gig in Social Development. Scott Sutherland (Canadian Press), Graham Currie (CKNW), Jeff Rud (Times-Colonist) and Brennan Clarke (Black Press) are all on the government/taxpayer payroll. And, of course, Clark’s pal Pamela Martin (BCTV) is BC Liberals’ director of engagement.
BC is indeed #1, including its #1 spin doctoring for the best government we can buy (on sale), yet again.
scary clown illustration by Thomas Voidh