The Kenya Forum | Objective truth in a post-truth world - The Kenya Forum

April 21, 2023

Summary

Why is it necessary to make this distinction between opinion and fact? Why not express one’s true sentiments outright?

More by Waweru Njoroge

Objective truth in a post-truth world

Objective truth in a post-truth world

Graphic courtesy of Research Gate

Although the truth is pervasive, some individuals are quick to accept falsehoods. Within academic and media circles, there is a prevalent discourse about a “post-truth” world, where words no longer reflect reality. According to this narrative, we have abandoned the idea that objective truth exists and is discernible.

Numerous endeavors have been made to elucidate the concept of “post-truth”. While some characterize it as an epoch where truth holds little value and falsehood can be disseminated with impunity, I believe that its connotation is more multifaceted.

‘GMOs will make Kenyan men grow breasts and women grow beards – Prof WAJACKOYAH says’ – Daily Post, 27 December 2022

Although truth remains a significant concern for many of us, it is the accuracy of corroborating evidence that some individuals have forsaken. Individuals who align with either end of the lifting of the Kenyan ban on GMO’s spectrum, for example, frequently cite partial sources of information to bolster their subjective understanding of the truth.

As a case in point, “a study of GMO media articles published by Kenyan media between October 2022 and January 2023 found that 151 out of a total of 376 articles contained unchallenged negative misinformation about GMOs. This equates to 40% of media coverage by volume in Kenya promoting negative misinformation about GMOs. Only 3% of articles contained pro-GMO misinformation”

Objective truth in a post-truth world: ‘Truth value’

The field of propositional logic employs the term “truth value,” which I believe is significant since it highlights the fundamental issue plaguing our contemporary discourse, whether it is a contentious exchange among pundits on a television program, a quarrel with online outrage warriors, or lively conversations with ‘mates, down the pub’.

When we hold an opinion regarding a specific matter, we strive to reinforce it with what we deem factual evidence. We tend to assume that by citing such evidence, our opinion is automatically validated. However, if we fail to verify the accuracy of the facts that support our viewpoint, we may find ourselves defending an untenable position.

“The well-established principle that the person who asserts a fact must prove it, casts the burden upon the petitioner to demonstrate that there were instances of ballot stuffing of such a magnitude to justify nullification of the presidential election,” CJ Martha Koome – 5th December 2022

Despite lacking evidence to support their claim, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party asserted that President William Ruto was elected illegally in the 2022 election, blaming, among other grounds, technology, mathematics, Gubernatorial and MP election postponements, alleged ballot stuffing and Venezuelans for Honourable Raila Odinga’s loss in the popular vote. What is notable about this assertion is how it is presented: they do not directly express their underlying belief (I should be President), instead using euphemisms that lack veracity but sound convincing to those inclined to believe it. This tactic allows them to disguise their true sentiments while still appealing to their audience.

When individuals engage in a genuine discussion about their subjective viewpoints, it is common for them to eventually reach a point of “agreeing to disagree.” However, those who argue in bad faith often employ tactics to manipulate their audience into accepting a conclusion that lacks a factual basis. Such individuals use information that lacks a truth value to give the impression of logical reasoning, while concealing the true nature of their argument. This approach is akin to constructing a building on an unstable foundation and claiming it to be a sturdy castle.

In this ‘post-truth world, it’s never been more important to distinguish opinion and fact

Why is it necessary to make this distinction between opinion and fact? Why not express one’s true sentiments outright? The reason for this is that when attempting to persuade others of the validity of one’s argument, it is crucial to present a facade of knowledge rather than mere opinion, particularly if the underlying opinions are influenced by bias. The perception of truth remains a significant factor when making statements, especially when trying to sway those who are undecided on an issue. The appearance of truth can have a profound effect on those who are on the fence, making it vital to present information in a manner that is both compelling and grounded in reality.

I believe that the phenomenon of “post-truth” stems from a fundamental issue: a growing number of individuals no longer consider the truthfulness of the statements they use to validate their beliefs. Furthermore, many people are not aware of the discrepancy between the statements they make and the underlying beliefs they hold. This disconnect creates a situation where the validity of the information presented is no longer of primary importance, and personal biases become the driving force behind arguments.

While some may view this distinction as mere semantics, it is critical to understand why the accuracy of a statement matters. The truthfulness of sentences becomes crucial when evaluating how people perceive new information. It is easier to rally supporters behind a policy using a statement such as “Kenya’s electioneering process should be rigorously scrutinized” rather than “I demand to be President!” Opinions on personal feelings towards our election processes can be subjective, and people can “agree to disagree.” However, a controversial position presented as a fact requires supporting information that must be as accurate as possible.

If an individual fails to consider whether the supporting information is true or how it relates to the underlying beliefs, then the statement becomes a tool for propaganda. When the truthfulness of statements is no longer valued, people who do not consider themselves bigots may find themselves supporting bigoted views unknowingly. In effect, they will end up endorsing prejudiced viewpoints without recognizing the bigotry behind them.

This is what simplifies the process: proponents typically skip fact-checking the supporting statement. Even those who do verify it still struggle to distinguish between what is factual (to the best of our knowledge) and what is mere opinion. Many people rely on heuristics when reasoning and tend to trust authoritative sources, particularly when they are presented with all the markers of credibility.

Expressing beliefs underlying one’s statements is less dangerous than thought soldiers taking up the mantle of prejudice, pseudo-science, authoritarianism, or other harmful ideologies while still believing they are right. They use specific terminology and turns of phrase to disguise their true intentions, all while purporting to support tolerance, the best available scientific theories, and global justice. For instance, people who claim to support free speech for Nazis but remain silent when it comes to defending the speech of marginalized individuals.

Similarly, those who spread anti-GMO or anti-global warming propaganda under the guise of promoting scientific truth. These individuals feel comfortable fighting for reactionary or unsupported values because the rhetoric they encounter emotionally aligns with their feelings, rather than actual knowledge. Moreover, those who fail to recognize the disconnect between their underlying beliefs and the slogans they share naturally gravitate towards others who prioritize winning arguments over truth, regardless of the information’s quality.

While truth remains important, for some individuals, it holds only symbolic significance. Those who spread propaganda place immeasurable value on the argumentative power of truth, even if it is used in a manipulative manner. In certain cases, particularly in today’s society, a person who genuinely believes in a falsehood may prove more persuasive than the individual spreading the falsehood intentionally.

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