IASbhai Daily Editorial Hunt | 28th Nov 2020
Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.” – Booker T. Washington
EDITORIAL HUNT #265 :“Truth vs Polity in Social Media Machine Age | UPSC”
Truth vs Polity in Social Media Machine Age | UPSC
Sukumar Muralidharan teaches at the school of journalism, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat
The global epidemic of alternative truths
Untroubled by factuality and diversity, privilege and power are fashioning public opinion in troubled democracies
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 4 : Ethics in Public life : Magnanimity : Perseverance
At a time where culture wars have reached the zenith in COVID-19 era ; Is truth then culturally determined ? Discuss – (GS 4)
- Definition of Truth
- The U.S. and social fracture
- Truth and Politics
- War and Deception
- Neutralising truth
- PHILOSOPHICAL DOCTRINE : The latter understanding is serviceable in a practical sense, but opens the door to a certain troubling relativism.
- NOTIONS OF TRUTH : Perceptions are moulded by culture, and observation statements are conditioned by language.
THE U.S. AND SOCIAL FRACTURES
- A PRESIDENTIAL DEFEAT : In the United States, a defeated President sulks in his lair insisting that he really won.
- AUTHORITARIAN REGIME : The novel coronavirus pandemic began its lethal spread across the United States, the political leadership sought salvation in denial and then in division.
- VULNERABLE SECT : The worst hit were people of the minorities and lower income groups, unable by their very identity to impose a serious punishment on political delinquency.
- RUPTURED POLITY : Fractures of race and class in the U.S. are now overlaid with profound differences in culture.
- COVID-19 LESSONS : At just the time the death toll in America crossed a grim milestone- The “culture wars” had reached a stage at which 100,000 dead was “a matter of political opinion”.
TRUTH AND POLITICS
- FACTUAL TRUTH : “Factual truths” , bore reference to observations by living subjects of constantly changing reality.
- FORMAL TRUTH : “Formal truths” on the contrary, were part of the received wisdom.
- TRUTH VS POLITY : It had always been “on rather bad terms with each other” and “truthfulness” was never counted “among the political virtues”.
- PRACTISING POLITICO : This was a reality with a profound bearing on the practice of politics, since “facts and events”, the outcome of the collective life of humanity, were the “very texture of the political realm”.
- NUMBERS SPEAK : Yet, an individual’s opinion tended to be “timid and cautious” in its expression, and only acquired “firmness and confidence in proportion to the number with which it is associated”.
- WE BELIEVE NUMBERS : Indeed, the whole procedure thoroughly is unsatisfactory, since there was nothing that prevented a majority “from being false witnesses”.
- MEAN SCORES VS FALSE TESTIMONY : Usually “the feeling of belonging to a majority may even encourage false testimony”.
- WISDOM OF CROWD : There is no wisdom in crowds — like all forms of power, majoritarianism could threaten the truth.
WAR AND DECEPTION
- In 1971, soon after the Pentagon Papers (U.S. war in Vietnam) were published in The New York Times.
- It exposed a long trail of official deception on the U.S. war in Vietnam.
- Ultimately, The lie in normal circumstances, is “defeated by reality”.
- DIGITAL FALLACY : However large the tissue of falsehood, even when spun with the help of computers, it would be inadequate to “cover the immensity of factuality”.
- RESULT : This would require a process of “radical destruction”, an experiment that totalitarian regimes had undertaken with frightening consequences, though without the intended result of “lasting deception”.
- LESSONS LEARNT : The lessons from the Pentagon Papers, was that a government intent on intimidation to secure its ends, was unlikely to succeed.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
- COMPUTATIONS VS REALISM : Since the sheer ubiquity of the computer, even with all its prowess, could not quite conceal factuality.
- ATTENTION AND NETWORKING : Earlier modes of harvesting attention and securing assent for a particular perception of reality, have been transformed in this intensely networked milieu.
FAKE NEWS ILLUSTRATION | CREDIT : SHUTTERSTOCK
- FAKE NEWS : The United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as the U.S. President — social media has come in for intense scrutiny for its ability to create bubbles of political misinformation.
- CULTURE WARS IN OLDEST DEMOCRACY : The U.S. in this regard, is fertile soil, segregated by class and credentials into ghettos of privilege and deprivation by four decades of neoliberal economics.
- CHANGING GOALPOST : The U.S. today are increasingly about sameness, less about exposure to diversities of culture and social perception.
- SOCIAL MEDIA DEN : India, a social milieu with its own modes of sorting by class, caste and community, affords new means of campaigning and exercising political power through connectivity.
- DELIBERATION PROCESS : Customary deliberative processes have been dispensed with: Parliament sessions conclude without the Question Hour and consultative meetings across party lines over significant legislative initiatives have been scrapped.
STILL TO BE NEUTRALISED
- MAGNETIC POWERS : Print media and TV may seem a good way to project ideas onto the public stage, he said, but there is a risk of falling victim to their “magnetic power”.
- ACCEPTING DIVERSITIES : Public opinion in democracies is now fashioned within cocoons of privilege and power, untroubled by factuality or diversities in perception.
- NEUTRALISING TRUTH : If the U.S. seems, at least for now, to have tapped the sources of countervailing power to neutralise this drift towards a world of alternative truths, the challenge remains unmet in India.
In the age of Social Media we find very few parliamentary discussion and more tweets in ones account.Truth is lived and never taught.
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL HUNT | Truth vs Polity in Social Media Machine Age | UPSC