Talking Points: Post-Truth

Refugees deserve action and investment not indifference and cruelty

A lie, or just too damn lazy to ask questions?

Post-Truth is the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of 2016, defined as an adjective ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. The usage of the term increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to the year before. The dictionaries’ editors attribute the spike to the EU referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the US.

There is really no such thing as an alternative fact. Once the fact has been tested and found accurate, there are of course different ways in which we understand and interpret it. Over the past decade, some 110 fact-checking groups have emerged in over 50 countries, nearly half within the last two years. In 2005 US television host Stephen Colbert used the word ‘truthiness’ to describe the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not. Here are two examples:

• The refugee Crisis is a European problem. Of all the refugees worldwide under the UN Refugee Agency’s mandate:

– 6% are in Europe

– 86% are in developing countries

– 26% are in least developing countries

• The US spends too much on aid. Each year the Kaiser Family Foundation polls the US public on this question. Americans believe aid makes up on average 31% of the federal budget. Only one in 33 correctly state it is under 1%. In the UK it is 0.7% of GDP.

Who do people believe deliver facts?

The UK public trust in Doctors 89%; Teachers 86%; Judges 80%; Scientists 79%; Hairdressers 69%; Person in the street 68%; Charity CEOs 47%; Journalists 22%; Government ministers 22%; Politicians generally 21%. Mori Poll December 2015 to January 2016

Facts do matter…. 85% of people want politicians to consult professionals and experts when making difficult decisions. 83% want government to make decisions on objective evidence.

Polling by Populus in 2016 for the Institute of Government UK. The figures are relatively the same in 2014, and show almost no difference in responses from those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain.

….but so do feelings

Attacks on journalists serve as a tragic reminder that facts do matter. Shawkan, an Egyptian photojournalist, was arrested after documenting security forces’ violence against protestors in 2013. More than three years on he is still in jail, facing the death penalty.

The ‘non-interventionist’ President of the United States launched his first counter-terrorism strike in Yemen on 29th January, resulting in the deaths of more than 30 Yemeni civilians, including 10 women and children. US air strikes in Iraq were reported to have killed about 200 civilians in Mosul and a US-led coalition bombed a school near Raqqa, Syria, which is believed to have caused the deaths of at least 33 civilians. US air strikes in Iraq and Syria are now killing more civilians than Russian air strikes. The civilian death toll from such attacks doubled between December 2016 – the last month of the Obama administration – and March 2017.

In campaigning for the presidency, Trump never hid his crude belligerence, or his utter disdain for international law and human rights. In Trump, we have a bellicose commander-in-chief with a childlike understanding of national security and international diplomacy, having the almost unprecedented number of hawkish generals serving in his cabinet, and bent on an historic increase in US military spending.

Our detachment from Europe, in more ways than leaving the single market, moves us ever closer in ‘our special relationship’, to becoming the closest ally of American domination ever known.

Thinking Globally

To put some facts into the situation from those who are the experts on the ground, such as the UN Humanitarian Affairs Office: the Syrian Government did everything it could to withhold permission for the movement of convoys. Many thousands of humanitarian workers would risk their lives every day to try and deliver aid to those who needed it most. A crisis like Syria requires a strong global response. It needs people to care and to hold their own governments to account.

Students at universities want to be active citizens and the more they can travel and learn in other countries the better interchange of ideas and co-operative working there can be when they become tomorrow’s leaders. We must preserve at least this area across Europe and the world.

A final quote from Valerie Amos (Baroness Amos was Co-ordinator of UN Humanitarian Affairs from September 2010-May 2015, now Director of SOAS, University of London): “When considering today’s burning issues – whether that’s climate change, inequality, immigration or conflict – place matters. To be understood, issues need to be considered in their proper contexts. And we need to learn from the mistakes of history: Syria represents a massive collective failure” Noel Beattie