It has become virtually impossible to engage in any form of political debate nowadays without the risk of sounding painfully monotonous or hopelessly unexciting. A sad new era in political history has caught us by surprise: words and arguments have lost all meaning and credibility, like a devalued currency subjected to the inclemencies of inflation. Not even facts or statistics work as convincing back-up for political persuasion. Truth is so “un-cool” and underrated today that everyone is giving in to the distorted and deceitful delights of “show biz” politics.
Welcome to the wonderful world of post-truth, where delusion and fantasy replace reality! Where world leaders keep us emotionally aroused to satisfy our insatiable thirst for controversy and continuously feed our fears and our resentments to divide us, conquer us and, ultimately, stay in power for as long as we passively allow them.
Empathy and rationality are not marketable ideals anymore. Instead, prejudice and skepticism seem to be selling pretty well.
Remember the days when leaders could tell their people, “ask not what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and still remain popular? Those days are way way gone. In post-truth politics, citizens are never responsible for their country’s woes, not even their own personal failures. Instead, it is always some form of “foreign” enemy that is to blame; some invisible invader scheming to take over, plotting to ruin the happiness that would magically lit up, in a flash, if only “they” -‘those people I don’t like’- just vanished. If there was only one possible word to describe post-truth politics, I would simply use the term “childish.” Finger pointing, bullying, tantrum-like rants, “its not my fault! – its your fault!”; all in all, plain toddler playground behaviour.
I can only speak from my own experience as Venezuelan; as witness of the record short time it has taken us to go from a promising developing nation to a complete “failed state.” Chavez rose to power with the old fashion Communist formula: blame the US and the rich for all your problems; watch out for the “enemies” outside who are conspiring to bring you down; I -the Communist State- am the only possible protection you have against “them.” Its funny how in Venezuela we never suffered embargo like the Cubans. On the contrary, we actually had unlimited resources from our State owned oil industry and perfectly viable economic independence. Despite all this, our Communist leadership managed to make us as poor and miserable as our Cuban counterparts. So, while everyone was entertained and agitated by fictitious conspiracies against our nation, corruption took over and government officials secured themselves in their positions of power by infiltrating every single independent institution in the country.
Right-wing post-truth is no different from what I have described above. Same formula, different enemy. The consequences are surely to be similar if not the same.
The other day I was navigating the internet, looking at beautiful pieces of fashion I wanted to buy for myself this Christmas as I listened to a Venezuelan news radio programme I tune into almost every day at lunchtime. News about Venezuela are invariably heart breaking these days; they are also censored by the government to the point that those of us who live abroad, sometimes know more about what’s happening than those who actually live there. As I was scrolling down the screen looking at jumpers, dresses and shoes, one political commentator started talking about an experience he had recently had at a well known street food market in Caracas. He was eating a sandwich a few days before when a little child beggar approached him to beg, not for money nor for food, but just for a little bite of his sandwich, just a little bite.
As I listened to this story, a freezing chill ran through my entire body. I felt ashamed and also angry at myself. It was not only that I was allowing myself to be carried away by consumerism in a world submerged in misery. It was also the realisation that as much as I may choose to criticise and protest against Castro, Chavez, Trump, Brexit or post-truth, at this very minute, a hungry child in Venezuela may be placing all his hopes in just one little bite from someone else’s sandwich. And reality struck me hard: Why do I have to wait for a president of my liking to take office? why do I have to wait for someone to dictate a policy for me to take action? What am I doing today to protect the environment, or support the elderly or the poor? It is time for all of us to grow up and take ownership of our lives and the world we inhabit. The risks of sounding cliche and vain are extremely high, I acknowledge it. At the end of the day, all this ranting is indeed completely useless. Yes, words have lost all their value in political rhetoric, but action will always remain the worthiest of all agents of change. Think about it, grow up and take action today.
Stephen Hawkins explains it much better than me, of course, under a more scientific light. Take a look at his recent article in The Guardian here.