‘Post-Truth,’ or the Death of Skepticism

A.P. Turek ’20

Opinion Editor

People are pretty tired of accusations of fake news, jaded to the meaningful, yet labor-intensive, task of deciphering fact from fiction. When two concurrent yet contrary views are expressed by major media sources, there is an uncomfortable realization that one of these narratives must necessarily be wrong. There’s a paradox of reporting, in which all purport to speak the truth, and yet one must be wrong. If the people whose jobs are to find truth out there can’t agree, how can the average person be expected to find their way in a word filled with misinformation? I think there’s a pretty simple solution to the stresses and dangers of dealing with fake news, and it’s not what you’d expect. While many bemoan the death of real reporting in what is apocalyptically dubbed a ‘post-truth’ society, there is not a lack of belief—in truths, in reality—but rather an overabundance of it. Far from being ‘past truth,’ too many people are too certain that there is such a thing. A growing mass responds to the paradox of conflicting truths by reaffirming their beliefs, not doubting them. 

To illustrate this, I’d like to talk about the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, in which six were killed and a further nineteen wounded. There’s this online forum called Free Republic that attracts a lot of traffic among conspiracy theorists. As a resource for reading popular discourses around truth, it’s invaluable: there is no hiding of opinions. What’s written is a direct expression of what the posters think. The forum posts that followed the shooting followed an easily demonstrable pattern. The first reports of the shooting mentioned only the key points. Shortly thereafter, another posted claimed that the shooters were two recent Syrian immigrants, which was a total and utter fabrication, and the suggestion of evidence that confirms their preconceived ideas was taken up instantly. The suggestion that Muslims were behind a mosque shooting fit neatly into a white nationalist worldview. It was revealed by the police that two unnamed suspects were being held in custody, to which Free Republic members postulated that this information was being deliberately withheld to better spin a liberal agenda. Said one poster, “can’t be white.. it would have already hit the news by the libtards.”  

The names were in time released—according to established legal procedures to avoid false accusations—Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohamed el Khadir, stating that one of these men was a suspect and the other a witness. Immediately Free Republic posters jumped on this with predictable results—to quote a few, the report “means Alexandre Bissonnette was the witness and Mohamed el Khadir was the shooter. Otherwise, we’d have been told immediately,” and “if they’re holding back the information it’s more likely it’s the Muslim… the press doesn’t protect ‘white guys’…” When the police revealed that Bissonnette, a far-right nationalist, was the suspect and el Khadir the witness—the first real challenge to this conspiratorial narrative—Free Republic posters went a step further. News coverage was “fishy,” and the story was “not even close to being done,” in the words of The Rebel Media pundits: ‘we know enough to confirm our prejudices’ had moved to ‘we need to know more to prove we’re wrong.’

The event itself is truly meaningless if you know the truth, as the Free Republic pundits believe. In the conspiratorial mindset of these posters, shootings must necessarily be caused by Muslims. That moment, when the police narrative went from hiding the truth to creating a lie, is the disgusting heart of this trutherism age. Reality is insufficiently certain and must therefore be revised. Naturally, this is an extreme case, though this behavior, in much smaller doses, happens to all of us. These racists model what we are capable of. Reality isn’t good enough in this age of truth’s overabundance. This tragedy conveys the point that we are too prepared to accept truth, rather than question it, too willing to believe than doubt. In this trutherist age, men like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson can peddle cheap facts that masquerade as truth—they need not convince an audience which wants to believe what they preach. Knowledge itself is far from sufficient: the modern citizen is as much a believer as anything else. And that is the death of skepticism.