The post-truth era

The word of the year                                                                                  

The editors of Oxford Dictionaries at the middle of this month (November, 2016) declared “post-truth” as the international word of the year. This word, which has witnessed about 2,000% increase in use this year, owes its “success” mainly to the nomination and subsequent victory of the American President-elect, Mr Donald Trump. The “runners-up” to the position are “alt-right” (i.e. alternative right) and “Brexiteer”, the latter meaning someone in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union.

Post-truth is defined as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. It was first used in 1992 in this sense by the late Serbian-American playwright, Steve Tesich, in an article he wrote on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War where he noted that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.”

Living with post-truth

I find “post-truth” interesting because of the sheer force of its compelling reality. The world has gone completely full circle that we are today living in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984″, where truth (whatever it is) does not matter and newspeak is the order of the day. How do you explain the election of a man acclaimed to be outright unpresidential?  That is the evidence of post-truth and the ramifications of the concept apply to virtually every stratum of our society.

For the University of Ilorin, though it is reputed, with objective facts, as one of the best universities in Nigeria leading to an enviable status of being the best in ranking or the most subscribed citadel of learning in the country in recent years, the “post-truth” era would make some people believe otherwise. If the University were to walk on water, its detractors would say it is a fluke; it is because it cannot swim. They would rather come up with counter-truths.

The counter-truth concept

Counter-truth, a word that keeps up stirring my thinking of late, to me, is an adjective or a noun that describes a situation where alternative ideas camouflaged as facts are used to challenge or denounce the established viewpoint acclaimed as truth. It is a dubious truth. For instance, the son and scion of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Femi, recently revealed that his father denied him education because Fela wanted to prove to his educated brothers and all of us that education is not the key to success, contrary to the established truth. At a point, Femi challenged his father but he was told to “keep shut” because he had become successful as a musician. That’s counter-truth.

Counter-truth is related to alt-right, “an ideological grouping that is associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of the mainstream politics and by the use of the online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content.” The purpose of the two is to turn the  order down and alter the course of thinking and events. Those who do not believe in God are bound to regale you with outright lies, half-truths and counter-truths.

Observing Observation

For some years now, specifically since 2008, I have closely followed the politics of the Students’ Union of the University of Ilorin and in my reckoning, the immediate past President, Alao Idris Ibrahim (aka Observation), belongs to the rank of the most phenomenal student leaders anywhere.  That he was a University scholar is not the point but using the semester he spent as an exchange student at Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya, to later forge a partnership that ended up in exchange visits of the managements and Student Union leaders of the two universities was striking.

That was apart from working on the reduction of school fees, addressing students’ transportation challenges with an intervention bus, coming up with new programmes, producing an e-resource information dissemination tool, organising such activities in the interest of the students as  Leadership Training Programme, Breast and Cervical Cancer Campaign, Road Accident Prevention Programme, Human Capacity Development Lecture, Unilorin Cultural Day, Final Year Career Programme, Women of the Twenty first Century Conference, among many others that space cannot allow me to mention, including producing a newspaper, he would still acknowledge he was “the most criticised President”. Post-truth is at work everywhere as truth appears irrelevant.

Self-control and forgiveness

Living in the post-truth era is quite challenging and demoralising especially as people would not appreciate whatever you do. As a matter of fact, the easiest thing to do today both online and offline is to criticise others and come up with counter-truths. Elbert Hubbard tells us that “to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing and be nothing”. But as that is not acceptable, solace lies in the words of Dale Carnegie, who memorably wrote that “any fool can criticize, complain and condemn – and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

As the world braces for Donald Trump’s America and post-truth becomes the word of the year, indeed signals a new era, it is time we aligned ourselves with self-control and forgiveness in a world where falsehood is truth, war is peace, nudity is fashion, play is work and money is god.

At the risk of sounding American, in this era, nothing shocks me no more!  And like the President of Oxford Dictionaries, Casper Grathwohl, “I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time” because everything points towards that direction.