Our dizzying descent into a post-truth world
written May 12, 2017
© Futurescapes 21C, 2018 All rights reserved
Posted January 7, 2018, rev. January 10, 11, 2018
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” (often attributed to George Orwell)
Untruth in US politics
There have been many signs over the years that our society’s grip on the truth was weakening. The Mitt Romney- Barack Obama election campaign of 2011-12 represented a new low water mark in terms of our collective embrace of objective truth. The truth-deficient negative campaign ads elevated half-truths, backhand smears, and innuendos to an art form. Their truth twisting distortions were sufficient to make the matter a subject of discussion in the media.
I recall randomly stumbling across a radio interview circa 2012 with a leading edge PR specialist. The interviewer invited his perspective regarding his profession's handling of truth. The truth, in his view, was something that could be approached creatively as one ingredient in shaping the desired product. While that was pretty consistent with the post-modern view that truth is a social construct versus objective reality, it was no less troubling. Nor was I alone in my assessment that truth-twisting had reached a new extreme.
Robert Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College, said the level of truth-stretching and distortion in that campaign was "the worst” he had ever seen. At the same time, he doubted the fact-checkers would have much influence on undecided voters. Nor did it seem to me that there was any attempt by voters to punish abusers of the truth. Perhaps they simply concluded that there was a moral equivalency wherein the sins of one were balanced by the sins of the other political party.
Loevy was right in that campaign officials for both Romney and Obama were undeterred by the fact checkers. Romney’s pollster told ABC news that his campaign “won't be swayed by outside complaints of inaccuracy. Fact-checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and you know what? We're not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," he said.” He almost sounded heroic, as if he were resisting some kind of facts-mad tyranny.
Obama’s campaign manger was a bit subtler, introducing the audience to a concept that would reappear years later in the Trump era, the concept of “alternative facts”. As he put it: "We look at the facts. We vet what we say. We really do try hard to get it right… So there are some times when there are different sets of facts out there. The campaign highlights a set of facts. You may find a different set of facts and make that point."1
Truth-twisting in Canadian politics
US politics isn't unique in its disregard for truth. Federal politics in Canada also had its practitioners of truth- management. A Canadian journalist recalled his own experience with the aversion toward inconvenient facts; the kind that don’t fit the political narrative. He happened to be standing off stage where a government communication specialist was briefing a cabinet minister about to give a public statement in his campaign for re-election. Overhearing the minister seizing on a statement to the effect that the opposition party was proposing to introduce an abhorrent new tax, the journalist spoke up. He told the two that he could confirm that the opposition had flatly stated that no such tax was being considered. Alas, It didn’t matter, the show must go on and no opportunity to smear the opposition could be wasted.
The incident reminded me of a speech given by Canadian pollster Allen Gregg who also witnessed the decline of political authenticity. Gregg observed an accompanying lack of self-awareness on the part of those engaging in performance politics.
“For most of my adult life, I have worked with political and business leaders and have never ceased to be amazed at how different they can be in private compared to their public personae. Time and time again, I have witnessed otherwise funny, thoughtful, caring men and women walk from the wings of the auditorium to the podium, only to be transformed into nothing less than a big, blustering (well, there isn’t a polite way of saying it) bullshitter – in effect, offering up a “performance” and a caricature they think they should be playing.
Typically, these performances range from pillorying opponents with hyperventilated allegations of failings; feigned outrage at what others would consider modest grievances; taking exaggerated credit for accomplishments that are better shared; and avoiding any direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.
What made these performances unbearably grimace-making however, was not the content of the remarks so much as the speaker’s complete lack of self-awareness or appreciation that they were the only person in the room who found their narrative believable.”2
While there were lots of rationalizations for the phenomenon of truth manipulation, I hear little discussion regarding the longer-term implications for society. Aren't politicians engaging in gratuitous fabrications aware of what they were doing? Don't they realize that their indulgences in spin and untruth amount to poisoning the public well of confidence in politics and government? Don't they realize that their peeing in the pool of public trust has now come back to haunt them, and ultimately all of us far into the future?
The corrupting influence of post-truth thinking
Over the course of a forty years plus career of in various public and private sector settings, I have had multiple perspectives on the decline of truth and authenticity in professional and organizational circles. For a part of my career, I held communication, marketing and PR roles. In other instances, I worked in close proximity with marketing, communication and PR professionals. Neither of these perspectives revealed a trend toward more responsible stewardship of objective truth or accountability in this regard. It's certainly not in fashion today. Communications and PR professionals remain remarkably inured to the habits of an industry which treats truth as an ingredient in communications messaging, one to be employed when it suits the purpose.
In time I began to wonder if the public relations profession had a hole in its soul. It was the "fake Kuwaiti nurse” war-making incident that led me to this analysis. When it comes to war-making, it’s understood that securing the consent of the citizenry requires a powerful emotional hook. The case of the Persian Gulf War was no exception. Some kind of atrocity was needed to arouse sufficient public outrage that American citizens would consent to military intervention.
The daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, coached by a major US-based PR firm, and masquerading as a nurse offered the perfect atrocity. She testified that she had witnessed invading Iraqi soldiers tossing babies from their incubators to die on the cold floor of her hospital.3 The naive among us expect communication professionals to hold to an enduring standard of objective truth. But somehow this hired gun PR agency could justify manufacturing a deception that would directly lead to the authorization of warfare and the untold death and destruction that inevitably followed. It seems that selling out on your profession for war profits is a completely survivable crime. The firm continues to do a thriving business. I wonder how providing this kind of “service” aligns with the agency’s stated core values and presumed commitment to making the world a better place. Or does its mission statement read: Deceiving millions to bring death and destruction to humanity.
The see-no-evil syndrome
The Persian Gulf War sell out is far from an isolated case. You don’t have to look very hard to see the not-so-invisible hand of the corporate mass media and PR agencies in selling other wars in the 20th century. And, as illustrated, this partnership continues to profitably manufacture public consent for war-making in the 21st century. As I write, there are hired gun PR agencies cashing in on lucrative contracts to paint lipstick on war criminals, demonize foreign governments targeted for regime change by the West and manufacture pro war propaganda.4 5 I may have missed it, but I haven’t yet heard of any high profile PR agencies being blacklisted, ostracized or excommunicated from professional PR associations for their abhorrent crimes against humanity.
The PR profession itself may be the last to express outrage or call to account the war-makers within its ranks. A “see no evil” mindset seems to prevail. When, on occasion, I so much as called attention to the pervasiveness of PR spin and marketing excesses, I encountered three types of responses. They ranged from silence to resignation as in that’s just the way it is and the third, self-righteous denial to the effect that no communication professional worth his or her salt would ever engage in such a thing.
The see-no-evil syndrome also prevails among my agriculture industry peers. They appear to be even less aware of or concerned with the manipulative use of corporate propaganda by members of the “Big Ag” and the “Big Food” sectors. They certainly appear oblivious to its negative consequences among conscious consumers who see corporate PR whitewash for what it is. Rather than call out the corporate abusers of consumer trust, professional "aggies" tend to run to their defense. As a result, the more conscientious members of the agriculture and agrifood sectors (and ag producers themselves) are left to absorb any reputational damage resulting from consumer blowback.
Monsanto has distinguished itself as “the world’s most hated corporation” and in some respects, among the least trusted when it comes to its product claims and conduct.6 In the past, even as its PR-coated machinations were being exposed, agricultural professionals dutifully defended it. It seems that this kind of enabling relationship demands “solidarity forever,” or in this case unblinking ag industry advocacy for ever. Is it not disingenuous to relentlessly advocate on behalf of the industry and its members and then go silent or play dumb when obvious abuses of public or consumer trust occur? Surely, something more than the reflex: "We take this matter very seriously..." line is required.
The best explanation that I can find for the predictable “see no evil” syndrome afflicting professionals and their industry allies comes from Upton Sinclair who explained: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”7 Unfortunately, willful ignorance has become an inherent part of the unspoken code defining the relationship between business professionals in the service sector and their industry customers and often described as value chain "partners."
Robert Parry would agree with Sinclair as he attributes the failure to speak truth to power within the professional class to careerism. And careerism dangerously begets groupthink.
“In other words, many professionals who are counted on for digging out the facts and speaking truth to power have sold themselves to those same powerful interests in order to keep high-paying jobs and to not get tossed out onto the street. Many of these self-aggrandizing professionals – caught up in the many accoutrements of success – don’t even seem to recognize how far they’ve drifted from principled professionalism.”8
There is a price to pay for self-imposed blindness. One is the cost to the reputation of your profession. I recall an incident during the E. coli outbreak at XL Foods in Brooks, Alberta in 2012. The agriculture minister was in the process of answering questions from reporters about the situation. The exchange was abruptly cut short by one of his communications advisors intent preventing him from going further off script. The intervention wasn’t appreciated by at least one observer who in a subsequent story referred to the minister’s communication handler as a ‘”junior fart catcher”. On the scale of reputational rankings, I’m guessing that one falls significantly below that of used car salesman.
More recently, during the Trump campaign, a war broke out between mainstream corporate media and independent media. It centres on the issue of their respective trustworthiness and competing claims to truthful reporting of the news. The lengthy history of mainstream media (MSM) infiltration by and collaboration with the CIA and the controlled nature of news reporting had now became a central issue of the day.9 In the wake of its exposure as CIA infiltrated, the MSM attempted a kind of figurative jui jitsu declaring itself the guardian of the truth on behalf of a public assaulted by "fake news." Even if fakes news was a real problem, such nanny state paternalism has no place in a democracy. Foxes so love guarding chicken houses.
Around the same time, a secret group, PropOrNot and some academic institutions generated lists of alleged publishers of “fake news”.10 This was followed by smearing and censoring targeted members of the independent media on their list. The outrage within the ranks of the independent media still boils. As a result of their role in propagandizing, the members of the MSM have been collectively labeled “presstitutes” and media “whores.”11 In a similar vein, CNN was derisively named the “Clinton News Network” for the obvious political bias it demonstrated throughout the presidential campaign.
Dangers in propaganda excesses
The oft named “father” of public relations, Edward Bernays was more forthright about the manipulative nature of public relations and its excesses than his modern day disciples. Bernays observed in his book, Propaganda (1928):
“In World War One it was the propaganda of our side that first made “propaganda” so opprobrious a term. Fouled by close association with “the Hun,” the word did not regain its innocence—not even when the Allied propaganda used to tar “the Hun” had been belatedly exposed to the American and British people. Indeed, as they learned more and more about the outright lies, exaggerations and half-truths used on them by their own governments, both populations came, understandably, to see “propaganda” as a weapon even more perfidious than they had thought when they had not perceived themselves as its real target. Thus did the word’s demonic implications only harden through the Twenties, in spite of certain random efforts to redeem it.”
It seems that Bernays suspected that continued exploitive use of “lies, exaggerations and half truths” on the citizenry would backfire at some point as the population became better informed. He once remarked: “The only propaganda which will ever tend to weaken itself as the world becomes more sophisticated and intelligent, is propaganda that is untrue or unsocial.”12 Modern day practitioners and their business customers, however remain largely indifferent to the reality of growing public cynicism.
Unsurprisingly, recent survey numbers tell us that the trust of Americans in government and trust in themselves has reached a new low. According to a September 2016 survey:
A September 2016 survey found that Americans’ trust and confidence in mass media to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly” had dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history. Thirty-two percent said they have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media (down eight points from last year).14
The making of a trust crisis
The numbers fail to tell the larger story of a trust crisis of global proportions. Leaders can’t endlessly mine the reserves of public trust. Nor can they callously engineer public deceptions like false flag psy ops in support of policy objectives without consequences. They can’t lie forever with impunity. And they can’t forever paper over their deceits and fabrications with ever more generous applications of “PR solutions.” But they haven’t stopped trying.
It’s all coming to a head, and the real world implications are sobering. In article entitled, “The existential question of who to trust”, Robert Parry describes the life or death implications of the trust crisis.
“The looming threat of World War III, a potential extermination event for the human species, is made more likely because the world’s public can’t count on supposedly objective experts to ascertain and evaluate facts. Instead, careerism is the order of the day among journalists, intelligence analysts and international monitors – meaning that almost no one who might normally be relied on to tell the truth can be trusted.”15
In 2016, the characterization of our times became official. That year, Oxford Dictionaries selected post-truth as the word of the year. It was also the year that the Trump-Clinton campaigns and their media allies took lying and deception to new heights. The post truth diagnosis came from author, Ralph Keyes who in 2004, asked, “Have we now reached a stage of social evolution that is “beyond honesty?” (Keyes credits Steve Tesich with coining the term.) Keyes flatly states, “Honesty is on the ropes.” One of the signs of the truth malaise described by Keyes is our dishonesty about our dishonesty. People don’t say they lied, they say that they “exaggerated,” or “misspoke” – something Keyes calls “Euphemasia.”16 It seems that prevarication and equivocation are equally significant features of the Post-Truth era.
There’s a tangible sense of relief that comes with receiving a long awaited diagnosis. Perhaps it’s the assurance that the pain you have been experiencing is real, not a figment of your imagination. But at the same time, the identification of a health condition also raises new concerns. What additional symptoms are likely to develop? What’s the prognosis? Is there a cure or recommended treatment? These are all legitimate questions regarding the post truth-trust crisis.
To get to the larger implications, I start from the premise that truthfulness and trust are fundamental requirements of a healthy society. The acknowledgement that we have entered a post truth era suggests that there will be growing tensions straining our social fabric. Our once shared common ground is shrinking. The ties that bind us together in common cause are fraying. In the wake of the November 2016 US presidential election, I confided to my family that it wasn’t at all clear to me that the divides in America would heal in the foreseeable future. The trust divide may be too wide.
My sense is that differing segments of our society have begun a spiralling descent into truth-deficient parallel universes. Declining truth and trust is likely to give way to further degradation.
Keyes sees similar dynamics at play weakening community connections and eroding the fabric of society.
“Keyes acknowledges a link between post-truthfulness and the loss of community. “When it comes to post-truthfulness, the fraying of human connections is both cause and effect. Not feeling connected to others makes it easier to lie, which in turn makes it harder to reconnect. Eroded communities foster dishonesty. Dishonesty contributes to the further erosion of communities. As communal bonds wither, unfettered self-interest is unleashed.”17
There are lines in William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming” that eerily resonate with darker future scenarios one can envision.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.18
In summary, the dynamics of a downward spiral are in play. Untruth and deception are fuelling distrust; growing distrust in turn, is fostering disconnection and isolation; which in turn creates conditions conducive to more lies and deception. Truth has always had its enemies and deceit its loyal friends. Only the most naive would conclude we arrived at this point as a society by happenstance.
Beware the hidden hand of the PTB that subtly guides the the naive and well-intentioned into the seductive grasp of "end justifies the means" thinking. Can we now see the outlines of a new dark ages taking shape in the fading light? The shadows have always served the purposes of the PTB well, providing cover for their enormous crimes against humanity. Darkness keeps their captives fearful, uncertain and susceptible to manufactured illusions. Like sheep, we can be easily led down precipitous side paths to war or other destinations of our faux shepherds' choosing. The PTB's mastery of the art and science of perception management means that they can now sell us anything, including our own destruction.
It will likely be some time before we see the light of new dawn. The appetite for truth is too small, and the power of enforced massive untruths overwhelming. There are too few brave souls resisting the tides of the post truth era. That said, the truth remains a threat to the elites governing our inverted Orwellian world. Consequently, they must hunt it down, capture it and ultimately destroy it.
This isn’t a time for despair, however; it’s a time for new resolve of the calibre of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, the resilient Russian author and survivor of the Gulag Archipelago. It’s time for a revolution. This is a call for a generation of bold truth-tellers, freedom fighters of the Post-Truth Era. Our revolution begins with our rejection the hypnotic illusions and lies of the PTB and defiant truth-telling capable of exposing their deceptions. We can be light amid the darkness of the Post truth era.
"Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of the light." (John 12:36)
1 Politics and truth: Uneasy partners, easy enemies, Yahoo News, September 6, 2012, https://www.yahoo.com/news/politics-truth-uneasy-partners-easy-enemies-222056435--election.html
2 A short history of the erosion of trust, the 2011 Gordon Osbaldeston lecture by Allan R. Gregg, http://allangregg.com/on-authenticity-%E2%80%93-how-the-truth-can-restore-faith-in-politics-and-government/
3 How PR sold the war in the Persian Gulf, Excerpted from Toxic Sludge is Good for You, Chapter 10, PR Watch.org, http://www.prwatch.org/books/tsigfy10.html
4 The Pentagon paid a PR firm $500 million for top secret Iraq propaganda, Mint News, October 3, 2016, http://www.mintpressnews.com/the-pentagon-paid-a-pr-firm-500-million-for-top-secret-iraq-propaganda/221035/
5 Saudi’s hire world’s biggest PR firm to push ‘Muslim Nato’, Middle East Eye, April 26, 2017, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/pr-firm-draws-criticism-over-saudi-deal-represent-muslim-nato-1485534964
6 Monsanto, the world’s poster child for corporate manipulation and deceit, GMONews, March 26, 2017,
7 Upton Sinclair quotes, Brainywords.com, http://www.brainywords.com/authors/upton_sinclair-quotes.html#l0TqJKm53F2FHPdq.99
8 The existential question of who to trust, Strategic Culture Foundation, May 1, 2017, http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/05/01/existential-question-who-trust.html
9 Declassified CIA documents show agency’s control over mainstream media and academia, collective evolution, May 11, 2017, http://www.collective-evolution.com/2017/05/11/declassified-cia-documents-shows-agencies-control-over-mainstream-media-academia/
10 Harvard’s fake guide to fake news sites. America’s 21st Century “Index Librorum Prohibitorum”, Global Research, March 14, 2017,
11 Paul Craig Roberts: Mainstream media in total collapse, SOTT, March 20, 2017, https://www.sott.net/article/345952-Paul-Craig-Roberts-Mainstream-media-in-total-collapse
12 Propaganda, 1928, Edward Bernays, History is a weapon, http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/bernprop.html
13 Americans’ trust in political leaders, public at new lows, Gallop.com, September 21, 2016,
14 Americans’ trust in mass media sinks to new low, True Pundit, September 15, 2016, http://truepundit.com/americans-trust-in-mass-media-sinks-to-new-low/
15 The existential question of who to trust, The Strategic Culture Foundation, May 1, 2015, http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/05/01/existential-question-who-trust.html
16 The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, 2004, Ralph Keyes, as quoted in “Welcome to the Post-truth era – Welcome to the age of dishonesty, Albert Mohler, July 19, 2005, http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/07/19/the-post-truth-era-welcome-to-the-age-of-dishonesty/
17 The Post-Truth Era – Welcome to the Age of Democracy, Albert Mohler, July 19, 2005, http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/07/19/the-post-truth-era-welcome-to-the-age-of-dishonesty/
18 The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), potw.org, http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html
(C) Futurescapes 21C, 2018. All rights reserved
For the better part of the last four decades, I have been encouraging people and organizations to anticipate the shape of their futures and plan accordingly. It can be daunting, but it can also be immensely practical. It can be as practical as using a set of binoculars to scope out a distant slope when hiking or winterizing your car before winter’s onslaught. Organizations that develop foresight capabilities are, among other things, creating a kind of organizational radar. This enables them to integrate discernible elements of tomorrow into today’s strategies and decisions.