My keynote on ‘Public Relations in the Post Truth Era’ was well received at the Institute for Culture and Society’s workshop at the University of Navarra last weekend. A very interesting combination of philosophers and communication scholars came together to explore truth, lies and expectations.
I argued a) that nothing has changed and b) that everything has changed.
As evidence of (a) I cited the work of Christopher Lasch(1979) and Daniel Boorstin (1961) who were concerned about the power of image and narcissistic culture decades ago.
Lasch wrote about post-truth in 1979:
The role of the mass media in the manipulation of public opinion has received a great deal of anguished but misguided attention. Much of this commentary assumes that the problem is to prevent the circulation of obvious untruths, whereas it is evident …. that the rise of mass media makes the categories of truth and falsehood irrelevant to an evaluation of their influence. Truth has given way to credibility.
(Lasch, 1979: 74)
As evidence for b) I looked to more recent writing like Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion (2009) who brings observations from Boorstin and Lasch into the present century:
Pseudo events, dramatic productions orchestrated by publicists, political machines, television, Hollywood or advertisers… have the capacity to appear real, even though we know they are staged. They are capable because they can evoke a powerful emotional response of overwhelming reality and replacing it with a fictional narrative that often becomes accepted as truth. Hedges, 2009: 50
A public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction is left to interpret reality through illusion…. When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship or in reporting the events of the day, when the most important skills is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe. Ibid:51