“While ‘truthiness’ suggests
at least a semblance of
truth, ‘post-truth’ declares
its utter obsolescence.”
À mon avis
In my opinion
Reality is so passé
The end of truth and the
resurgence of propoganda
by Mitch Diamantopoulos
Mitch Diamantopoulos is an
associate professor at the
University of Regina school of
journalism and the editor of
Thirty years of journalism and
democracy: The Minifie
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ou no longer need 1984’s Newspeak
Dictionary to know we live in Orwellian
times. The Oxford English Dictionary
recently declared “post-truth” the word
of the year. It defines post-truth as a time
when “objective facts are less influential in shap-
ing public opinion than appeals to emotion and
One can only assume this word’s leading con-
temporary currency reflects a larger social fact:
emotionalism is overtaking our intelligence in
public affairs. This has clearly foreboding impli-
cations for society, and for the fate and role of
the academy in particular.
Certainly, the rise of shock jocks, the allure of
self-affirming online algorithms, the trade in fake
news and the crisis of journalism have all contributed to truth’s tarnish. The commercialization
of the university, the academic absorption of public intellectuals and the speed-up of the academic
assembly line haven’t much helped either.
However, emotional appeals that bypass our
rational faculties are principally the province of
propaganda. Is this what lies beyond the horizon
of truth, a shadowy world of distraction, deceit
and unchecked corruption? If so, the OED declaration should be a bright red flag for democrats,
particularly in the truth-seeking professions.
How, after all, can citizens make intelligent
choices about public affairs if evidence is
systematically discounted in favour of personal
whims and passions? Does a society with such
a casual relationship with reality not risk
tipping into the authoritarian grip of charismatic
demagogues or the narcotic fantasyland of
Hollywood and Madison Avenue? Is the make-
believe hyper-reality of a post-truth era a way
station on the road to a post-democratic future?
Semantics these may be but the implications
are chilling. And they get worse.
The OED announcement follows hot on the
historical heels of the Merriam-Webster Diction-
ary’s 2006 choice of “truthiness” for the same
annual honour. This neologism, popularized by
late-night comic Stephen Colbert, refers to “the
quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even
if not necessarily true.”
This is eerily reminiscent of Orwell’s new-
speak term “bellyfeel” – the blind, enthusiastic
acceptance of an idea out of gut instinct. While
Orwell’s satiric targets were the 20th Century
propagandists of Stalinism and capitalism,
Colbert used his term to mock the preference of
right-wing talk radio and Fox News celebrities
for an adrenaline-pumping, “feels right” realism
over evidence and logic.
Again, it’s hard not to conclude that Colbert’s
term also owes its popular salience to a social
fact: we increasingly rely on gut feeling at truth’s
expense. Chronically spun by impulse-driven
consumer culture, Hollywood’s dream machine,
the machinations of PR and the propaganda
campaigns of state and corporate power, it’s
hardly surprising that critical thought now
struggles for air.
Yet with truthiness and a post-truth world
both registering as important new words, it
becomes harder to dismiss either as a freak, one-
off occurrence. Instead, with the social meaning
of truth in apparent transition, the status of real-
ity itself seems to be coming under progressive
siege. After all, while truthiness suggests at least
a semblance of truth, post-truth declares its utter
With mere novelty instances of truthiness
now generalized to engulf our age, the linguistic
and social standing of truth appears to be dete-
riorating fast. Alarmingly, we’ve made this
rhetorical transition from truthiness to the tri-
umph of a post-truth age in one short decade.
No wonder the ice caps are melting and a
reality TV personality is the U.S. president.
Colbert’s routine was a funny gag a decade ago
– before the flood of fake news capsized our
faculties, submerging us in this post-truth world.
Now we know our preference for feels-right emotionalism over facts and reason can influence
election results and history’s course.
Worse, that great Enlightenment project of
discovering the truth appears – like melting
glaciers – to be receding before our very eyes.
Could we be regressing, after humanity’s long
struggle to free itself from ignorance and superstition? Could we be slowly slouching backward
to a high-technology, entertainment-intensive
version of the social idiocy of the Dark Ages?
Could the one challenge greater than carbon
pollution be the pollution of our information
environment with an increasingly overwhelming
barrage of hype, lies and trivia?
In a post-truth world, who can say for sure?
It sure feels that way.