The Crisis Of Trust: When Truth Loses Legitimacy

The happy early childhood memories of this middle-aged friend comprises to a large extent experiences with a couple of Muslim neighbours in a government colony. Three kids of the families shared a rickshaw to the school and tiffin sent from each home. They played and grew up together till the friend’s father was shifted to another town. The families stayed in touch for long till more shifting made it difficult. More than three decades and deceased parents on both sides later, the boys, now grown-ups, drop at each other’s home when in town. Stories of childhood days are heartily repeated and enjoyed amid favourite dishes cooked specially for the occasion.

On the social media, the friend is a Muslim-hating fiend. He endorses and forwards all posts that demonise the community with no qualm. From four spouses per man to Muslims outnumbering Hindus in India in a few decades to love jihad to the community’s members being hand-in-glove with terrorists to spreader of diseases — you name an allegation and he is ready not only to accept it without a shred of suspicion but also to put up a spirited fight for it.

The irony is unmissable. But he would not let his personal experience to stand in contradiction to the view of the ‘majority’ on the social and other media. Throw statistics to disprove his claims, he would scoff at them. All lies, he would say nonchalantly. He feels he is right. That’s what matters.

Welcome to the post-truth world. Sentiments define the truth here, not facts. Truth, as we knew it, is no more singular and immutable; it can have many versions, and all of them can be valid. Facts are no more sacrosanct because they were possibly manufactured to support the truth of an earlier ideology and establishment. If truth had been a lie agreed upon, the lie stands exposed now. Let’s not be judgmental about the friend. If he has shifted to new thinking, there must be a reason he got distanced from the old one.

Now, a bit more about post-truth. In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared it as the international word of the year. An adjective, it refers to the trend where emotional and personal appeal overwhelm objective facts in shaping public opinion. Casper Grathwohl, president of the entity, called it the ‘one of the defining words of our times’. While it had been in use earlier, the usage spiked 2,000 times from the previous year in 2016. It coincided with the Brexit referendum and election campaign of US president Donald Trump. Both Brexiteers and Trump’s campaign, according to observers, relied heavily on lies, half-truths, mischievous interpretation of facts and exploitation of negative sentiments in people to beat their opponents.

As worldwide evidence suggests, most big countries have entered the post-truth era. In Latin America, it arrived decades ago. Reactionary ideologies — loosely and often inaccurately defined as the Right as opposed to the ideological Left — have been on the ascendant. The ecosystem of earlier truth is disintegrating. Old political establishments have taken a massive hit. Institutions are either collapsing or being reimagined to suit the new ideology and ideas of the new order. It is chaotic at present, eluding a definite contour, but isn’t that how all change is initially?

The new, comprising several strands of reaction and by no means a comprehensive whole, finds completeness in convergence of emotions. People may have separate grouses against politicians, the judiciary, the police, the bureaucracy, secularism, intellectuals, the Left, the Congress and so on, and disagreements among themselves over one matter or the other, but it’s the uniformity of sentiment that binds them together. All of them are deeply suspicious of institutions, arrangements and ideas connected to or associated, even remotely, with the earlier order. It reflects in the vehemence of their reaction to facts on all media, specifically social media. They want to construct their own truth, which is more credible.

Denouncing the prevailing sentiment as ill-informed and illogical only aggravates an already fraught situation. It closes the scope for correction and negotiation, and drives the sense of alienation among people deeper. People are already sharply divided everywhere. The pertinent questions that need answers at this point is this: was the earlier truth exclusive, serving the interest of a limited few? Can truth be legitimate if it is rejected by the majority?

Of course, such complicated questions don’t bother our friend. He sees no contradiction in having Muslim friends close to heart and lambasting their community for being a nuisance somewhere far away. He feels good about expressing himself. That is more important to him.


[This is the 9th part of our series titled Decoding Democracy]

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