Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Forum - post-truth, alt-right and whatever occurs to you

Russia has formally withdrawn from the International Criminal Court following the Court's Ukraine ruling.I think that the gesture is more symbolic than real in that (I stand to be corrected here) Russia had not formally ratified the Rome Statute setting up the ICC. South Africa had, so its formal withdrawal is more substantive.

Leaving aside the somewhat heated rhetoric you will find in this Forbes opinion piece, International Criminal Court: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine Is A 'Crime,' Not A Civil War, the thing that struck me about the pattern of withdrawals was the way it mirrored the growing dividing lines in the architecture of the global community. By architecture, I mean simply the pattern of global multilateral arrangements, treaties and arrangements that have provided the institutional structure for multilateral and bilateral arrangements.

 At the APEC meeting in Peru, countries attempted to affirm the importance of global freer trade, but it was also clear that relationships were shifting as countries reacted to the void created by present uncertainties over the future direction of US policy. What do you think it all means in general and for Australia and New Zealand in particular.  

A story on the ABC reports that "Post-truth" has been proclaimed international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries after beating off "alt-right" and "Brexiteer", a choice the publisher said reflected a year defined by emotive political discourse.  The Dictionary defines post-truth as:
"relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".
I  would have thought that this was a pretty fair description of politics in general. To my mind, the coining of and then popularity of the term is more a reflection of challenges to prevailing orthodoxies that had themselves achieved the status of dogmas than anything else. I am not convinced that "post-truth" as defined is actually worse today. You may care to correct me.

The term "alt-right" is defined as "an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content".

Whereas post-truth comes especially from the centre-left, alt-right appears to come from the extreme right as a way of making respectable certain extreme positions. I may be wrong here re the etymology, I have only just come across the term. I still remember my chagrin at discovering that the term culture wars appears to have been invented by the left as a way of describing certain challenges to prevailing views.

 A challenge. What words might you coin to describe views that you particularly object to?

As always, go in whatever direction you want.


Michael O'Rourke said...

Jim I wd have thought alt-right was as much libertarian as conservative. Its philosophical home is supposed to be breitbart. Do you know them?
As for post truth, at age 65 I think it is much worse today. Ppl speak: I even do this myself sometimes :) - before reading what their "opponent" has said, or written, but when you do engage with their actual statement, and cite empirical evidence that challenges their thesis, they get angry. No effort to cite back facts that help their case. And today ppl Seem weaker on what is logical in discourse.
Examples of "post truth" non-debates: debate on sugary drinks tax, Adler shotgun, success/failure of multiculturalism.
And just watch the response today and tomorrow to Pearson's speech. Facts will not feature. .

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the clarification on alt-right. I don't know breitbart well. One of the cross-overs that I have never been sure about is the dividing line between libertarianism and other parts of the right. More later.

Anonymous said...,alt-right

- who gets to decide what is the "word of the year"? afics neither is more than a mere blip on discourse, and as for "What words might you coin to describe views that you particularly object to?":

"stupid" springs immediately to mind:,alt-right,stupid

- which beats either of the first two by a country mile :)


2 tanners said...


Evidence is irrelevant unless it supports the view, data is only for skewed mining or cherry-picking and therefore there can be no reasoned argument to support the original view. Usually there is a vast conspiracy to suppress the truth accompanied by a feeling of enlightenment and superiorityover the benighted or evil souls who can't/won't see.

It doesn't matter if the position is factually wrong or right, if that is possible. e.g assertions about climate change are probably factual matters whereas Shorten vs Turnbull will remain matters of unprovable opinion.

Jim Belshaw said...

Mmm, Michael, I just spent an hour touring breitbart. It's like a down market version of the Daily Telegraph.

Which Noel Perason speech are we talking about? The one at the launch of the Keating bio?

I'm still not sure that non-debates are worse today than in the past or just more obvious.I should qualify that, I think, by saying say the last ten years and I don't think that there is anything "post modern" about them. They tend to words or phrases that trigger instinctive emotional reactions. A long standing example is "road deaths". Who could argue against action to reduce deaths on the roads? Other examples include Muslims, refugees or whales, halal, terrorists or terrorism.

kvd, I played around with those searches using different time spans and search criteria. With both alt-right and post-truth the spike in numbers is very recent, quite literally the last few months, alt-right outscores but is almost exclusively US. So your point about selection is well taken.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in thinking about those two terms, it seems to me they make as much sense if swapped - i.e. we could as easily be talking about 'post-right' and 'alt-truth' without losing much of the sense they are trying to convey.


Winton Bates said...

I wonder what proportion of those who claim that objective facts are now less influential than emotion in shaping public opinion actually believe in the existence of objective facts.

Jim Belshaw said...

I had to laugh at both your comments,kvd and Winton.

Objective facts bears a striking reality to an earlier left term, objective reality which really meant reality as defined by dogma and perceived by you. Post-truth bears a distressing resemblance to the concept of post modern.

I especially like kvd's idea of merging terms and creating alt-truth. However, I would alter the definition: "relating to or denoting circumstances in which appeals to emotions, values or personal beliefs hold regardless of facts."

Winton Bates said...

Jim, I think you might have left and right around the wrong way, But perhaps not. Marx may have believed in reality. Or, was that socialist reality? Ayn Rand certainly believed in objective reality.
I suspect that many of the people talking most about the post-truth concept are also strong believers in the somewhat less fashionable concept of false consciousness.

2 tanners said...

Implicit in a lot of this discussion is a presumption that at any stage, objective facts were a powerful or dominating source for directing governments. I seem to recall raising the concept of evidence-based policy here without astounding levels of agreement, but isn't alt-truth (left or right) supported by cherry picked factoids and anecdata the only alternative?

Anonymous said...

Implicit in a lot of this discussion is a presumption that at any stage, objective facts were a powerful or dominating source for directing governments

What an amusing belief to hold.

isn't alt-truth (left or right) supported by cherry picked factoids and anecdata the only alternative?

Absolutely! That's why it is most important to go to those hard-headed statisticians at fivethirtyeight - "if it involves numbers, we'll crunch it!" - for articles such as "We Asked Three Voters How They’re Feeling After Trump Won".

Stop it tanners - laughed so much my sides are hurting :)


Anonymous said...

'facts' are only of importance insofar as they lend support to one's beliefs and preconceptions - 'alt-facts' is the basket from which one can pick and choose those supportive of one's stance, while ignoring those not.

fivethirtyeight is very good at this process. The latest article I read from Nate seeks to 'explain/establish' just how DT won by reference to the educational and economic profile of all voting counties. But nowhere in the article is any reference made to the underlying 'fact' that any such analysis stops at the door to the voting booth - or to the 'fact' that it is impossible to accurately account for the effect of a 58% voter turnout on his underlying numbers.

But it reads well, and fills up an unused space on the internet, so what the hey!


Jim Belshaw said...

Winton, I think that you are right on objective reality - that was Rand, but there is a term on the left. I hadn't properly picked up the philosophical debate around "The objective reality is the collection of things that we are sure exist independently of us. Every person is able, in principle, to verify every aspect of the objective reality. Anything that cannot be verified in this way is not part of the objective reality." That's actually a very slippery definition

Jim Belshaw said...

"'facts' are only of importance insofar as they lend support to one's beliefs and preconceptions - 'alt-facts' is the basket from which one can pick and choose those supportive of one's stance, while ignoring those not" sayeth kvd.

So we are extending the use of "alt"! I did grin. In this discussion, I keep thinking of Popper and Kuhn. Ultimately, we can't finally "prove" anything, we only have the refutable. If something is not refutable, then it's an item of faith that exists independent of evidence. The existence of God is an example. We cannot prove that God does not exist. Our explanations, our mental constructs that we use to interpret the world, survive until they cease to explain what is happening to our satisfaction.

Jim Belshaw said...

Award for invective of the week: "The ugly lava of the American political culture is now spewing out of its inner guts for the whole world to see."

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