We live in a post-truth era, where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief
(…) Deeply involved in this is the question of truth. It was no accident that the Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year in 2016 was "post-truth," a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Liberal British academic and philosopher A. C. Grayling characterized the emerging post-truth world to me as "over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data." Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl predicted that the term could become "one of the defining words of our time."
Grayling is a scholar of the Enlightenment, and he concedes that this new dynamic challenges the mode of thought dominant in the West since that era, a mode that until recently valued experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study, and a respect for ideas. At its best, the craft of intelligence, at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition, pursues these Enlightenment values. Intelligence gathers, evaluates, and analyzes information and then disseminates its conclusions for use, study, or refutation. So the erosion of Enlightenment values would certainly devalue or even threaten the practice of good intelligence.
When I design online ads for American Apparel, I almost always look for an angle that will provoke. Outrage, self-righteousness, and titillation all work equally well. Naturally, the sexy ones are probably those you remember most, but the formula worked for all types of images. Photos of kids dressed up like adults, dogs wearing clothes, ad copy that didn’t make any sense—all high-valence, viral images. If I could generate a reaction, I could propel the ad from being something I had to pay for people to see (by buying ad inventory) to something people would gladly post on the front page of their highly trafficked websites.
But entertainment has the merit not only of being better suited to helping sell goods; it is an effective vehicle for hidden ideological messages. Furthermore, in a system of high and growing inequality, entertainment is the contemporary equivalent of the Roman “games of the circus” that diverts the public from politics and generates a political apathy that is helpful to preservation of the status quo.