THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE
The first Gulf War in 1991 did not take place. This was the judgment of the philosopher Jean Baudrillard at the time and how people laughed at him for it.
In fairness to the Frenchman, he did not deny that the incident took place, but that there was a gap between the presentation of the conflict via the media and the event itself. The limited and stylised nature of TV coverage – the first war to feel like a video game for those watching at home – misrepresented the conflict. Thus, the ‘war’ did not take place.
This felt too clever by half at the time, but does not seem so ridiculous now the era of fake news is upon us. Truth is an endangered species. It is being picked off by poachers who can sell it on to trophy hunters who display it, mounted and dead. A private collection of truth’s bit parts that deprives the public of shared certainty.
Perhaps the postmodernists are happy with themselves, for this is the logical outcome of their founding claim that there is no objectivity in history. From this, it was only one step to agreeing that truth is not a shared public good. Constructing history becomes like a huge, small-piece jigsaw where the parts don’t fit together and don’t even make up a recognisable picture.
In Isaiah 5 it says:
Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes
This upside down world appeals to people who have something to hide.
Postmodernists would refute any suggestion their thinking leads to amorality. They make a vital case that we each bring a different, culturally-bound perspective to life which has often been missing from society – and the Church. But having opened the door to relativism, they offered no defence against a mob storming the palace. When truth is dethroned, other claimants are consecrated. In a time of chaos, it is those who shamelessly bully others until they concede who tend to succeed. If truth is divested of power, then the strongest and the selfish are best placed to assume its mantle.
This is also the milieu in which conspiracy theories grow. When people see that truth is no longer cherished in the public square, some believe that it is being manipulated behind the scenes by vested interests. The debunking of facts allows people to construct their own reality from the fragments of online assertion.
In The Power and the Story (Atlantic Books, 2017), the veteran journalist John Lloyd provides a thorough review of the health of news media in the world today, ranging across continents. The conclusions are sobering. Authoritarian rule is extending, putting intolerable pressure on media outlets that pursue unwelcome stories that shine a light on corruption. It is naïve to think the democratic world affords unrestricted speech: owners have agendas which skew the news to fit prior interests and beliefs. And between these two spheres – democratic and authoritarian – lies a growing space where there is apparent freedom to report the truth, but it is in practice severely curtailed by the surrounding culture: try reporting the facts in anarchic northern Mexico, where the drug gangs rule.
The painstaking, time-consuming, often boring accumulation of facts in order to construct the truth is what constrains the venal and the powerful. It is far less interesting than gossip and celebrity news or online fantasies of global conspiracy. But it keeps us honest.
Journalists, naturally, like to be presented in this light, knowing that there are many in their trade who peddle lies and half-truths and bully the weak. But good, professional journalists still exist – and we need more of them as global media is overhauled by the internet.
John Lloyd ends by saying:
Journalism tries to make a sketch that makes sense of the world. It tries to say, and to show, that this happened. The relocking of the journalistic doors in large tracts of the world and the tacit encouragement this has received from the American leadership is presently journalism’s worst feature, but it is not the end of the story. The story still has power.
Those who believe Jesus when he says he is the truth have special cause to defend the honest reporting of facts. The shameless defence of lies hardens people against the Gospel. The truth is out there and we must pursue it.
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