Alternative facts, alternative truths, post-truth, fake news; never before has it been so difficult to be certain about the truth. And never before, many of us argue, has it been so easy to obtain, analyse and interpret data. A paradox! Either way, the enlightened establishment, more than ever, feel an obligation to be careful and rigorous about the truth. Rigor, the idea that statements and accounts are true according to scientific criteria, is probably at a popularity peak in society in general, as there is such an abundance of falsehoods and tales and fables out there. And politicians do not necessarily care either. Nowadays we can talk about “postmodern leaders”, i.e. politicians and others who makes reference to lies to make whatever point they want. And it is not even postmodern in the good old sense, where the underprivileged and subordinate were supposed to be dealing with the truth presented by upper echelons. This is lying and lunacy, top-down style.
But. Given that we’re crystal clear on true/false, and accept that it is infinitely dichotomous, no grey area, we must of course maintain the need to contextualise that truth – by understanding differences in preference and likings and so on. We prefer different and certain things, that’s part of the human. So perhaps it does make sense to talk about alternative impressions of the truth.
“If we pursue THE TRUTH in such a way that we only focus on data, then we’ve won the battle but lost the war”
Jimmy Breslin recently pas sed away. He was an old-school journalist based in New York City. He is famous for having invented “gravedigger journalism”. As a young reporter he was sent to cover John F. Kennedy’s funeral in DC, but realised all media from all over the world were focusing on the obvious: the procession, the participants, the things you could see on telly anyway. Instead he went and got hold of the guy who had actually dug the grave JFK was to be buried in. He wrote a lovely little piece on the context in which the gravedigger had done his job. Clifton Pollard was proud and honoured to get this assignment. The column partly shifted focus away from tragedy and helped generate a sense of optimism – and was swiftly mimicked. A new form of journalism was born. Breslin himself wasn’t too impressed and claimed he had only added a bit of Dickensian storytelling to the reporting. Later on in the 1980s, Breslin wrote about, among other things, patients with AIDS and managed, by the same methods, to help humanise that disease at a time when it was highly stigmatised. So Breslin clearly had found a way to tell the truth but from such angles that readers could develop a new understanding and, even more importantly perhaps, develop sympathy for others.
So, if we pursue THE TRUTH in such a way that we only focus on data, then we’ve won the battle but lost the war. We should be able to identify the truth AND accept different narratives on the meanings of that truth. To balance dataism with meaning. The obvious backlash to our pursuit is relevance lost and the demise of intellectual public debate – the antidote to idiot governance and stupidity. The task of the reporter has never been more complicated.