Post-Truth Conversation: Do You Recognize It?

Emotion has a way of muddying the waters of an otherwise clear set of facts. It clouds the judgement and makes objectivity more difficult. This has always been the case, yet in recent years our society has made a significant shift in the delicate balance between emotional appeals and raw facts. Unfortunately, that shift has given rise to self-righteous demands and emotional blackmail at the cost of facts. If you say it louder and with more emotion, then you must be right – facts be darned.

Are we now living in a Post-Truth era? Are we at the point where facts have little value and truth is what the media people tell us it is? Have feelings taken the place of facts? Post-truth reigns when objective facts have little power to influence public opinion, while emotion and personal beliefs do. Facts are looked at as little more than inconveniences in the way of convincing others to go along with an emotionally charged or personal rendition of truth.

Listen in on a typical post-truth conversation:

Person #1 (P1):  “I hate that lady”

Person #2 (P2):  “Why? What did she do?

P1:  “She thinks she can do whatever she wants. She’s a racist!”

P2:  “Really? What did she do?”

P1:  “She thinks she’s better than everybody. She’s such a racist! I can’t stand her!”

P2:  “Wow, that’s crazy. What’d she do?”

P1:  “She got my neighbor’s brother fired because he’s black.

P2:  “Really? What happened?”

P1:  “She said he was always late, but we know it’s because she’s a racist.”

P2:  “That stinks. But, was he always late?”

P1:  “I mean, yah he was late sometimes. But everyone is late sometimes. Haven’t you ever been late? I have. But she’s just a racist! I can’t stand her. I wish she would get fired!”

P2:  “Don’t your other neighbors work there? They’re black, too. Actually, isn’t her assistant a black lady?”

P1:  “Yah, but they don’t count. Just believe me, she’s a racist if I ever saw one.”

Feelings, feelings and more feelings. Facts: not so much. The possibility that the guy who got fired earned it by being irresponsible and unreliable is swept aside in favor of outrage, anger, and judgement. Besides providing no evidence to validate the speaker’s opinion, it is slanderous to trash someone’s name and reputation without proper facts to back it up.

If Person #2 in the above conversation had asked for an example of something said or done that was racist, he undoubtedly would have hit another set of brick walls. Listen further:

P2:  “What are some things she says or does that makes you say she’s racist?”

P1:  “She just treats black people badly.”

P2:   “Wow, really? Like what?”

P1:   “Like I said with my neighbor’s brother. She fired him!”

P2:    “OK, you said he was late a lot. So, what else makes you think she’s racist?”

P1:    “She just is, believe me.”

P2:    “Yah, but give me an example.”

P1:    “Everybody knows it. She’s a racist. Just trust me on this.”

P2:    “Ok, but just give me one example, so I can understand.”

P1:    “It’s not really like that. She keeps it hidden and puts on an act to hide it.”

P2:    “Then how do you know she’s a racist … if she doesn’t do racist things?”

P1:    “Believe me she is.”

Once again, no facts, just feelings. You might be wondering how the first person is able to convince people that the woman in question is a racist. Who would pass on the racist rumor without any facts to back it up? Unfortunately, too many people would listen to the assertion of racism and eagerly spread it as truth, without a shred of evidence to validate it.

Not only that, but many of these post-truth spreaders become more invested in the rumor the more they are challenged by it. They begin to get offended by others asking for examples or sharing proof that the claim is false. This only causes them to defend it all the more; still without any basis for the claim. Before long, that woman’s character and reputation would be in question and people would consider it “common knowledge” that she is a racist. And that is how post-truth lies are quickly spread on the wave of emotion and feelings.

Since the two people in the conversation knew each other pretty well, Person 2 was able to persevere in the quest for proof. Had they been only mere acquaintances or strangers, when the first request for proof was dodged, the second request would most likely have been met with an attitude of irritation, indignation, or outrage. The chat would have ended with a smug, “you don’t get it” type of response and Person 1 would have abruptly cut off further communication on the subject. After all, if you’re not going to unquestioningly take what you’re being fed, post-truth talkers have no use for you: you only get in the way of their fact avoidance.

My challenge for you is this: The next time you have a conversation with someone who makes a blanket statement about someone or something, ask them to explain to you why they think that. If you get a cohesive, evidentiary response, then enjoy the chat. But, if you get the baseless, emotional runaround, you know you’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by a smooth Post-truther.

#notafraidtothink                  #fakenews #truthmatters

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