In his article ‘How the Enlightenment Ends,’ Dr. Henry Kissinger contends that “through all human history, civilizations have created ways to explain the world around them.“
In the age of the internet, artificial intelligence, and new media, technologies predate the philosophical framework. Inundated with news via new technologies, a single narrative is easily supplanted by multiple antithetic storylines.
On the receiving end, news trickle down, and the receiver has neither time nor the ability to challenge the information. Thus, truth becomes a function of reality – a function of the perception of reality if you will.
In a world with a plethora of truths, a clash of perceptions of realities is a foregone conclusion. In fact, discrepancies are only further aggravated. For instance, Dr. Kissinger comments that “the digital world‘s emphasis on speed inhibits reflection.“ Further, Kissinger poignantly recognizes, “Truth becomes relative. Information threatens to overwhelm wisdom.“
In an environment with a maximum of possible sources of information, but also false reports spread with manipulative intent, these contradictory narratives shape the perception of reality of millions of people, and exert massive pressure on the political process.
By way of illustration, on November 3rd, Americans voted in the 2020 presidential election. A record number of votes were cast for President Donald Trump and Vice-President Joe Biden, respectively.
Likewise, against the backdrop of the corona pandemic, a record number of 100 million Americans voted by postal vote. Reminiscent of a scene in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,“ where one reporter says “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend,“ the media proclaimed Joseph R. Biden as the 46th President of the United States of America.
To give but one example, on November 8th, the New York Times ran the headline “Biden beats Trump“, whereas media that are supportive of Donald Trump, such as Breitbart News Network, provide a pro-Trump narrative in which he has become the victim of fraud, and will ultimately win the election.
Although it goes against tradition, U.S. President Donald Trump has not admitted defeat. Under American law he has the right to challenge the results – and so he does.
In fact, on election night, Trump claimed “we want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we‘ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court.“ A day later he said during a press conference, “if you count the legal votes, I easily win.“
Taken at face value, mail-in voting fraud does exist, and according to a bipartisan commission chaired by Jimmy Carter and James Baker, mail-in voting is fraught with the risk of fraud. The devil lies in the detail. What matters in a contested election is the definition of fraud, and the scale at which occurred.
Ultimately, I am an optimist American democracy will win. The Founding Fathers did not just craft the constitution, they also ensured its success. However, as stipulated by President Obama in an interview “I came out.. very worried about the degree to which we do not have a common baseline of fact and a common story. Without this common narrative, democracy becomes very tough.“
When two or more narratives of realities clash, it creates a situation where people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than based on facts – a post-truth world.