Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19/Truth in Politics

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Introduction[edit]

Oxford Dictionaries define 'post-truth' as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion that appeals to emotion and personal belief"[[1]. The term is deeply embedded in politics as Newt Gingrich argued what people feel about the truth is more significant than actual facts in politics[2].

Most Western countries, where the term 'post-truth' was mostly used, are democratic countries and the word democracy originates from Greek words ‘demos’, meaning people, and ‘kratia’ meaning power. Thus, democracy signifies ‘rule by the people’ yet ‘demos’ also means ‘mob’ illustrating that politics can be led by the majority of ignorant people[3]. Therefore, 'post-truth' in politics is perhaps inevitable and it may interpret factual truth in other disciplines based on political belief.

Climate change: scientific and political truth[edit]

The CBS poll indicated that just 11% of strong Trump supporters believe in mainstream media while 91% of them trust him.

Scientific truth is often considered as objective and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) who assesses climate change from a purely scientific perspective, concluded that the temperature of the Earth will increase 3C° and that it is related to human interactions[4]. However, political truths are different. Trump argues that scientists are not free from confirmation bias and they have 'political agenda'[5]. He also suggested the temperature could well fall and, thus, does not want to spend trillions of dollars combating global warming. Despite he hasn't provided objective evidence to explain his belief, the validity of his claims is irrelevant. The poll suggested a few strong Trump supporters trust the mainstream media, whereas the majority of them believe Trump[6]. Therefore, what he believes becomes political truth, at least to his supporters, who as the majority determines actions in politics. Consequently, Trump could cut $2.8bn budget on the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA)[7] and reduced the influence of scientific truth. Therefore, in recent politics, scientific truth is less likely to correspond to the public view of truth, and political truths may eliminate any other truths in climate change such as human geography in order to obtain desired conclusions

Truth in law and political truth[edit]

Similarly, truth in law strictly considers objective evidence and judgments are bounded by limitations such as the Constitution. However, Brett Kavanaugh, now the Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, was accused of sexual misconduct carried out in the early 1980s. During his appointment process, the allegation was debated hastily, nonetheless, more so in relation to whether he should be confirmed as the Supreme Court Justice regardless of truth in law[8]. People who opposed the appointment argued that even if the nominee denied the allegation, the appointment should not continue until FBI investigation while Republican advocates of Kavanaugh said he is entitled and well qualified for the role anyway[9]. Ultimately, he has been appointed for the Supreme Court Justice without the investigation.

The US Constitution, the most fundamental principles in law, insist the law must be implied the same regardless of whom[10] and, thereafter, the truth should not vary. Yet, it is uncertain the rule of law is applied when it is defining a political truth. Consequently, truth in law can alter when the case is loaded with political questions in order to favour certain political belief.

Ways of Knowing in Politics[edit]

Essential WOKs in politics are reason, language, and emotion. Locke argues: "The freedom of man and liberty of acting according to his own will, is grounded on his having reason "[11], hence reason enable citizens to establish a just political regime through democracy - without it, the electoral process is flawed. Contrarily, emotion has been portrayed as a detrimental force undermining our capacity to reason[12] and therefore must be controlled, if not extirpated. This conception has dominated the classic Greek period and remains influential in modern psychology. Despite classical economists assuming human rationality, psychologists - like John M. Grohol, who believes emotion dragged America into Vietnam - and Iraque war[13] - argue emotions can undermine a person’s capacity for rational decision-making. Hence emotion in political decision existed before post-truth era, illustrating the natural impossibility of truth without emotion in politics. Accepting the classical approach which denounces emotion, democracy with a perfectly informed electorate is indeed also impossible. However, there are arguably examples where emotion benefits political truth. Emotion reaches a more profound truth in relation to the refugee crisis. Truth is obscured by emotion, however, when demagogues manipulate national emotions such as anger or fear. History shows this pattern in Western democracies - the rise of extremist views and autocratic leaders[14]. When emotion prevents truth, this has ramifications beyond politics - most notably the level of democracy, but also economic theory predicts news market failures in response to the rise of fake news[15].


Hans Rosling, famous statistician, wholeheartedly denies Mark Twain’s quote: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics”[16], and instead argues, statistics highlight widely held misconceptions and “tell us if the things we think are actually truth”.[17]

Statistics justifying political truth[edit]

Statistics as evidence produces knowledge by justifying a belief to make sure that it is true as according to Plato’s definition of knowledge[18]. Nevertheless, statistics in health, particularly diet, consistently denotes the opposite, namely ambiguity and conflicting conclusions which can lead to confusion and even mistrust[19]. In a study, 37% of Americans agree that “research about the health effects cannot be trusted because so many studies conflict.”[19] Perhaps in practice, due to casual claims[20], collective statistical illiteracy[21], and economic aims of food – pharmaceutical industries, the use of statistics in politics as well as other disciplines, is flawed in justifying a truth. Statistical data doesn't allow for lies so much as semantic manipulation: numbers drive the misuse of words.[22]

An Inconvenient Truth[edit]

The title, HyperNormalisation, describes life, when people understood the insanity of propaganda from the government but had difficulty foreseeing an alternative. Curtis narrates in a voiceover how Trump realized that "in the face of that, you could play with reality" and in the process "further undermine and weaken the old forms of power." [23]

Political truth transformed factual truth into a controversial topic by making it changeable or interpretable. Hence, factual truth changed not only in politics but also in other disciplines. Politicians capitalised on people’s psychologies. As technology improved it became easier for leaders to operate with their own facts by triggering their emotions, which undermine their capacity to reason. It made them believe unreasonable 'truths'. The issue of truth in politics is displayed in various disciplines. An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary by Al Gore[24], emphasizes the severe issues of climate change. It raises awareness on the issue and demonstrates that, even when scientific facts are provided the determination is nonexistent due to the "truth" in politics. For instance in filmmaking, HyperNormalisation,[25] documentary by Adam Curtis, is a contemplation on life in the post-truth era. According to conspiracy theorist, Renee DiResta, the internet no more reflects the exclusive truth it shapes the entire reality that operates with its own facts.[26] Politicians use language to manipulate people's thoughts and decisions. George Orwell wrote, "political chaos is connected with the decay of language."[27] which states that language creates a gap between leader's real goals and declared aims. President Trump spreads his own truths and creates a disoriented public.[26] Therefore he adapts everyday language to control how people communicate. As a result, politicians distort the truth in law and truth in science, such as climate change.

Emotion in politics is inevitable according to psychology and history, however, this combined with Greek philosopher’s view on emotion, hasn't prevented democracies thriving. There can never be one political truth – individual truth depends on perception, and collective truth changes constantly. However, citizens have a basic right to information in a democracy[14] and the level of factual truth affects the political structure, the economy, and the knowledge produced across multiple disciplines.

  1. McComiskey, Bruce. "Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition." In Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition, Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 2017, p1-50
  2. Forbes, Ethan Sigel, 'Newt Gingrich Exemplifies Just How Unscientific America Is', 5/08/16. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/08/05/newt-gingrich-exemplifies-just-how-unscientific-america-is/#3376ba425e47[Accesed 30th November 2018]
  3. Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2006, p67
  4. Zedillo Ponce de León, & Zedillo Ponce de León. Global warming : Looking beyond Kyoto / Ernesto Zedillo, editor. (UPCC book collections on Project MUSE). New Haven, Conn. : Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University ; Brookings Institution Press.(2008), p15-17
  5. BBC, 'Trump: Climate change scientists have 'political agenda'', 2018/10/15, Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-45859325[Accessed 27th November 2018]
  6. CBS News, Anthony Salvanto, Jennifer De Pinto, Kabir Khanna and Fred Backus, Trump backers stand by president in face of Russia criticism — CBS poll, 29/07/2018, Available from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-backers-stand-by-president-in-face-of-russia-criticism-cbs-poll/ [Accessed 23th November 2018]
  7. Independent, Mythili Sampathkumar, 'Donald Trump's budget proposal includes major cuts to environmental programmes', 2018/02/12. Available from:https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-congress-federal-skinny-budget-environmental-protection-agency-cuts-a8207556.html [Accessed 30th November 2018]
  8. The Washington Post, Sally Kohn, 'Kavanaugh isn’t entitled to a Supreme Court seat, just as men aren’t entitled to sex', 2018/09/24, Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/24/kavanaugh-isnt-entitled-supreme-court-seat-just-like-men-arent-entitled-sex/?utm_term=.d9d9b0388327 [Accessed 23rd November 2018]
  9. ABC news, Meridith McGraw, 'At Las Vegas rally for Republican candidate, Trump says Kavanaugh 'is going to be just fine', 2018/09/21, Available from: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/las-vegas-rally-heller-trump-kavanaugh-fine/story?id=57979527 [Accessed 27th November 2018]
  10. Tamanaha BZ. Classical origins. On the Rule of Law: History, Politics, Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2004. p. 7–14.
  11. Grant, Ruth W. John Locke's Liberalism. University of Chicago Pr, Chicago and London, 1987.
  12. George Marcus, Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, Edition: 1, Chapter: The Psychology of Emotion and Politics, Publisher: Oxford University Press, Editors: David O. Sears, Leonie Huddy, Robert Jervis, pp.182-221
  13. Grohol, J. (2016). Humans are governed by emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 7, 2018, from: https://psychcentral.com/blog/humans-are-governed-by-emotions/ [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  14. a b Levitsky, S. & Ziblatt, D.Levitsky, How Democracies Die. Crown, 2018.
  15. Martens, Bertin, et al. “The Digital Transformation of News Media and the Rise of Disinformation and Fake News.” European Commission, JRC Technical Reports, Apr. 2018.
  16. “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018, from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_damned_lies,_and_statistics[Accessed 7th December 2018]
  17. Smith, Edwin. “Hans Rosling: the Man Who Makes Statistics Sing.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 7 Nov. 2013, from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10431350/Hans-Rosling-the-man-who-makes-statistics-sing.html [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  18. "Propositional Knowledge Definition. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, from: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/propositional-knowledge-definition [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  19. a b Anderson, Monica. “Most Americans Take Conflicting Food Studies in Stride.” Pew Research Center, 2 Dec. 2016, from: www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/02/most-americans-take-conflicting-food-studies-in-stride/. [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  20. Butterworth, Trevor. “Is Soda A Smoking Gun For Teen Violence - Or Just Statistical Illiteracy?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 Nov. 2011, from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevorbutterworth/2011/11/02/is-soda-a-smoking-gun-for-teen-violence-or-just-statistical-illiteracy/#ea6d50c1f1bd [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  21. Gigerenzer, Gerd, et al. “Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 1 Nov. 2007, from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1539-6053.2008.00033.x [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  22. Goodman, Jonathan R. “How Statistics Are Twisted to Obscure Public Understanding – Jonathan R Goodman | Aeon Ideas.” Aeon, 7 Dec. 2018, from: https://aeon.co/ideas/how-statistics-are-twisted-to-obscure-public-understanding [Accessed 7th December 2018]
  23. HyperNormalisation. [Film] Directed by: Adam Curtis. UK: BBC; 2016.
  24. An Inconvenient Truth. [Film] Directed by: Davis Guggenheim. USA: Lawrence Bender Productions; 2006.
  25. HyperNormalisation. [Film] Directed by: Adam Curtis. UK: BBC; 2016.
  26. a b Kakutani, Michiko. The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/14/the-death-of-truth-how-we-gave-up-on-facts-and-ended-up-with-trump [Accessed 7th December 2018].
  27. Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. 1946. Available from: http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit [Accessed 7th December 2018].