There’s no room for Wittgenstein in a Post Truth world

16th November 2016

For reasons that escape me, I have a degree in philosophy. It’s all very hazy now but I recall spending a term considering what Wittgenstein meant when he asserted that ‘the world is everything that is the case’.

I can’t remember what I concluded but I do know that today the world is most emphatically not ‘everything that is the case’. Nor is a fact ‘the existence of a state of affairs’. And, sorry Ludwig, but a thought is most certainly not ‘a proposition with a sense’.

All these sacraments of 20th Century philosophy have given way to Post-Truth, which was today named International Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries.

Post-Truth is defined as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.

Or, as we epistemologists say; lying.

Telling lies is as old as politics. But in days gone by the crime was getting caught.

In the new politics, lie-telling has been legitimised. It’s no longer shaming to tell a fib. In fact it’s a badge of honour.

Will Mexico pay for the wall? Of course it won’t but, in the words of Newt Gingrich, it was a great campaign device.  Just like the £350 million a week post Brexit bonanza for the NHS.

Meanwhile Facebook is on a purge of bogus news stories (the Pope endorses Trump; the Queen supports Brexit) which have infested the site in recent years and which may or may not have influenced the outcome of the US election and EU referendum.

Something has changed. Politicians and others in public life have recognised that facts are what they deal with when the door is shut. At other times the only important variable is sentiment and they’re entitled to say anything they like to achieve the desired emotional outcome.

The moral minority wails about the injustice of it all while the rest of humanity carries on in a warm Post-Truthy fug.

PRs are routinely labelled inveterate liars but compared with the new breed of Truth-Posters we’re charmingly incompetent amateurs who cling to the quaint old notion that the truth is out there and we must pay it some heed.

We can be selective, for sure; and obstructive too. We’re good at framing communications to make the best possible case. And we’re good at presentation too, recognising that style is frequently more important than substance.

But, for the most part, we do not lie. And that’s a problem because politics, the blogosphere and even some sections of the media have moved on. The simple bifurcations of right and wrong, true and untrue, false and accurate are no longer relevant; or at least they are no longer useful.

For my part I do not intend to join the Post-Truth brigade any time soon, but I’ve already navigated 29 years of my career. What about those just starting out; will they be obliged to fashion a new type of Post-PR?

If they are, all I can say is, my old mate Wittgenstein need not apply.