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Trump Free Zone – But what of Politicians and “Truth”

by Barry

I’m not going to go on about Trump, it’s all been said already, all over social media.  But I am interested in the wider issue of Politics, Politicians and Truth.

We seem to be in a “post-truth” world where experts are not to be believed, and polls are not worth the paper they are written on.  It seems to be much more convenient to find something someone said that agrees with your world view, chuck it on a meme and there you go – that’s your truth.  It’s not necessarily new though, everyone is very quick to blame all politicians of lying and just taking the public money for their own benefit.  “You’re all the same” becomes a common refrain on the doorstep, except when your known.  But even then, it becomes more of a “you’re OK, but the rest of them are all the same”.  

Part of the problem is the media, not for who they are but for what we want them to deliver.  We live in a soundbite world, we want a message that is easily digestible in about 10 seconds and the truth is that few messages, especially political ones, are simple and without nuance.  But as soon as you hear someone being interviewed, they are posed a question and then a “simple yes or no” is demanded, we scoff because the politician wants to qualify their answer.  Who’s fault is that?  The politicians for not giving a “straight answer”, the reporters for not being understanding and asking the question so baldly, or is it the public for not wanting to understanding the background to the answer?

I think it’s all 3.  Politicians should try to make things as simple as possible, but by the same token, when it’s not simple, we have a duty to explain and push that explanation if we feel its required.  We are not helped when you get a politician on the news who is asked a question (such as “did you know Trident misfired Prime Minister?”) and they very clearly duck the question.   Another example is when you get politicians who are just pushing “dramatic questions” for a headline (and yes, guilty as charged, but only once).  I learned that research is key.  Recently a new highways fund of cash was given to Gloucestershire County Council for highways.  They were not expecting it and didn’t know the caveats.  But certain politicians were in the paper straight away spending the money and telling everyone what it could and couldn’t be used for.  Truth is that at that time no-one knew, we still don;t properly know as the details are still coming forward.  But the act of jumping before knowing the facts has sewn unnecessary distrust where it need not have existed.

Reporters should not try to force a simple answer when they know it doesn’t exist.  It’s very easy to embarrass a politician because we expect all politicians to know everything and (shocking admission) we simply don’t.  My biggest fear through the police and crime commissioner campaign was for a question on my views of Andy Burnham’s comments on a part of policing that he made a few days previous.   If I didn’t know what it was, I looked like I didn’t know my party policy (which is actually much easier at the moment ;-0 ), or if I had caught it but didn’t know the full detail, that was hard too.  In the grand scheme of things though, I have had the good fortune to not meet a “nasty” reporter and I have pretty much had fair to good representation of what I have said.

We need to, as a general public, understand and take more interest in what is going on and become better informed about the way our country works.  I feel we have developed a system where we expect someone to know the answer.  Brexit is a great example, we wanted experts to tell us what would be the best for us and we simply can’t accept that no-one really knows.  Experts who gave their opinion were better informed than us, but we took what they said as “truth” and not informed opinion, then got all upset when they were wrong.   Polls have a margin of error, but we don;t take any notice of that, we expect a poll to be right, and willfully ignore all the caveats.

What is truth?  As a scientist, I like verifiable facts, but I work in social sciences and am well used to having to deal with opinion and bringing sense out of multiple perspectives and opinion.  It teaches me that the human opinion and experience is very much influenced by perspective.  We like what we agree with and what fits with our own mental model of the world around us.  We are in a time when we can communicate more broadly than we have ever done before, thanks to technologies such as twitter and Facebook.  Whilst i refuse to blame the technologies for creating the echo chamber problem, they do facilitate it.  We tend to follow people who empathise with our world view and therefore we can rant in our custom echo chamber and get that warm feeling that everyone agrees with me because of the number of likes etc.  We easily forget that this is not a well-distributed sample of the public but a hugely biased one.  A few months ago I left the majority of my Party Political Facebook groups, this was because I was a member of groups that had polarized because of the leadership.  I found it difficult to stomach the abuse and vitriol that was being targeted to me when I offered an opinion.  Then I realised I could simply switch it off, and in the main it worked (though a few still persist regardless, that’s life)

So, in summary of this ramble, Truth should be verifiable, people need to educate themselves and each other about how our country works in order to understand it and social media is a biased bubble.

(And “Alternative Truth” is a huge pile of BS – sorry I know I said no Trump, but technically it was the Media Rep.)


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