Saturday, December 31, 2016

Post-truth: a post-script to 2016

1.  There are no facts that are not embedded in, and dependent upon, wider stories.  It is not that isolated facts don't communicate the whole truth; it is that they communicate literally nothing.  If they seem to communicate, it is only because they carry with them unnoticed shreds of story, or because they are already a part of a story you know and believe in.

2.  In a culture where each person is encouraged to see their life as their own personal story, to be written as they choose, an overarching narrative that goes beyond 'everyone can be who they want to be' is impossible.

3.  That each person can be whoever and whatever they want to be is the lying story which we incorporate into all our children's films, presumably because we can't think of anything better to say.  But adults who still believe this story are surely to be pitied.

4.  In fact, this story is no story at all.  A story adds meaning, but this story negates meaning.  Within it there are no characters, because there is not even a shared world.  It is in principle impossible for us to interact with each other, because we are not characters but authors, writing private stories.

5.  Two things prevent us from actually living in this absurd state: the physical world, which is a given we can't easily deny (hence natural scientists are anchored, and tend to think post-modernity is nonsense, albeit often collapsing into a naive realism); and our own sense that we are not actually in control (reinforced by things that happen within our lives).

6.  Still, given we've spent the best part of two centuries as a culture arguing that there is no truth beyond my own personal sense of what is coherent with my life story as I like to tell it, it's a little bit rich for us complain about living in a post-truth world.

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