Thursday, December 1, 2016

Beyond disgust and shame in a post-truth world

I watched a video posted on Facebook this morning from CNN about an interview with a few ardent Trump supporters. As the text accompanying the video stated, "Donald Trump supporters made several debunked claims about election fraud in a post-election interview with CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota."

One comment made during this interview was regarding 3 million illegal voters in California. When pressed, the women making the comment didn't speak specifics about the issue. She walked back the earlier comment she made about the number. She also referred to President Obama saying illegal immigrants could vote by referring to an interview which has been proven to be edited to be deceptive by Fox Business Network (here is the video in question).

The import question here is raised by the reporter: where do you get your information? The response: "from the media...all across the media." Later multiple people stated you could simply "Google it."

While my immediate response is what idiots these people are, my slightly more reflective response is that this is exactly why we need civic education, discussion, and deliberation about important issues with one another, especially those with whom we disagree. We can quite easily dismiss this woman as someone who is uninformed and lacking basic knowledge. But what steps, practically, might we take to engage someone like this who is relying on outlets of information for confirmation of her presumed positions? This is one of the great challenges we face now in a "post-truth" environment.

While "post-truth" was the 2016 word of the year for Oxford Dictionary, we have long wrestled with the uncomfortable truths as a society. Here is quite an episode of The Diane Rehm Show on this issue in our society. I would encourage you to listen to this in its entirety.

It is important to have settings where ideas--including absurd ideas--are able to be expressed. Allow them then to be stand up to some scrutiny. Have a claim about 3 million illegal voters in California face the light of day. But we can't simply express our disgust from afar. This is where civic work has come to in. We don't win people over by simply supplying facts to back our claims. In fact, they can further divide us into our ideological campus. If you want a more academic take on this, take a look at this paper recently posted on the SSRN. The authors of this paper also wrote a piece in the New York Times about this research. While now dated (Sept. 2), their point is instructive to us, particularly the last line:
Voters are now receiving a steady stream of both positive and negative information about Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Which kind of news will have a large impact will depend partly on people’s motivations and initial convictions. 
But there’s an important qualification. In our experiment, a strong majority showed movement; few people were impervious to new information. Most people were willing to change their views, at least to some extent. 
For those who believe in learning, and the possibility of democratic self-government, that’s very good news.

UPDATED - December 3, 2016

Dan Rather, in a post on Facebook, has offered another way to think about the challenge (and impossibility) of living in a "post-truth world." That commentary can be found here.

UPDATED December 11, 2016

Steve Inskeep, of NPR fame, offers a rephrasing that might be more helpful. Rather than "post-truth," he offers "post-trust" as a more useful, accurate, and appropriate term. Read his approach to making sure you're reading and being appropriately critical and skeptical here

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