Oxford Dictionaries has confirmed what many have suspected in declaring “post-truth” its international word of the year.
The word has shown up in books, articles and speeches that describe why people are depending less on experts, the media, teachers and preachers trained at exposing and promoting truth.
“With only themselves and their appetites as a guide, they bypass any information that doesn’t suit their predisposition and worldview,” writes Jonathan Mahler in a column for New York Times Magazine. “The self-investigator’s media diet is like an endless breakfast buffet, only without the guilt: Take what you want, leave what you don’t.”
Jonathan Gold, contributor with Huffington Post, believes today’s students lack skills to detect bias and identify fake news.
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“They prefer to seek out evidence that aligns with their preexisting views, to work to dismiss or find counter-arguments for perspectives that contradict their beliefs, and to evaluate arguments that align with their views as stronger and more accurate than opposing arguments,”
“Post-truth” helps us understand the brokenness exposed in the aftermath of the election. It addresses the divergence between the people who promote the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the people who contend “All Lives Matter.”
“Post-truth” rebuffs the other side’s legitimacy.
White people don’t consider black history. Men don’t contemplate historical and structural sexism. Among many, it no longer matters that America once took pride in being a nation of immigrants.
“Post-truth” cultivates white nationalism, xenophobia, heterosexism, the renunciation of global warming and an assortment of assertions uncorroborated by experts who offer an unprejudiced evaluation.
The facts don’t matter. That’s what the experts say, but is there more involved in understanding the word of the year?
If truth no longer matters in cultivating consensus, what will inspire us to bond amid the numerous versions of truth?
In Durham, it may help to define what it means to be a community transcendent of differences.
What are the common interests that make Durham a happy home? What are the obstacles that require massive cooperation after years of fighting to determine the groups in control?
In a “post-truth” era, moving forward will demand a willingness to forfeit control of versions of truth. It will mean surrendering ideological warfare to promote the advancement of a more vibrant community.
Who leads the way? Will it be leaders in public office or members of the faith community? Will the inspiration come from business owners, educators or private citizens?
Gold challenges us to resist the temptation of laying the responsibility of saving American democracy at the feet of teachers.
“And yet, the dawn of this post-truth era is for me a clarion call to reevaluate and reassert the values of progressive, liberal arts teaching,” Gold writes. “In the post-truth era, defending truth — and teaching students to seek it — will not be easy, but it’s a worthy fight. We may never be able to recover what we’ve lost.”
Gold seeks strategies that preserve truth. Missing in his argument is an examination regarding the assumptions Americans make involving truth.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” writes Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. “That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”
It’s a truth long questioned by minorities and women. Who are the men regarded as equal? Why no mention of women?
Teaching and preaching the truth doesn’t mean the same among those who question how truth is taught in school, church, the media and in places that advance the agendas of the wealthy. More than a movement that promotes anti-intellectualism, “post-truth” addresses the hostility among people who seek to modernize interpretations of truth.
In the “post-truth” era, the facts are shaped by context. The truth doesn’t mean the same because it can no longer be trusted.
In Durham, it would help to have community conversations involving the differences related to how the truth is understood.
Until then, the truth will fail to set us free.
Carl Kenney, co-executive producer of “God of the Oppressed,” an upcoming documentary that explores black liberation theology, lives in Durham. You can reach him at Revcwkii@hotmail.com