I don’t remember exactly when Post-Truth became a thing. I don’t care enough to look it up. I’m fairly certain it was when Kellyanne Conway described the alternative facts on crowd sizes that people began to discuss the death of Truth. Regardless of the exact beginnings of this disregard for the sanctity of facts, it has certainly become a staple of the entire Trump presidency, and its blossoming popularity among the wannabe dictators of the world shows a global crisis of fighting facts with alternative ones.

I’ve heard blame for this pandemic of misinformation being foisted upon postmodernism: if everything is relative, then nothing is true in which case everything can be true. Except the justification for these “alternative facts” is never a glib relativism, but always fierce, vitriolic partisanship. Trump isn’t accepting alternative views: his are the only ones and all others are Democratic coups or liberal media lies. In actuality, postmodernism’s view of truth is that the powerful craft the dominant narrative which then defines what ‘truth’ is.

foucault

Pictured: Postmodernism being sexy as fuck

Remember the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” of Saddam Hussein that turned out to be a lie? How about when infamous Reagan administration official Lee Atwater let slip that social spending rhetoric was merely a cover for taking advantage of racist fears? You can no longer say n*****, n*****, n*****, you’ve got to lie. How is dog-whistle politics not post-truth? A hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson needed to sell an unpopular world war to his country, and thus was birthed propaganda. Hell, even Plato talked about creating a myth to convince the plebs that the hierarchy he had set up in his Utopian Republic was both righteous and eternal. Those at the top, of course, were all in on the ruse. This is all prior to Trump, so there’s nothing “post” about it.

All these instances are powerful people shaping what we consider to be the “right” way of viewing the world. You know, the “truth.” Kinda sounds like the postmodernists were on to something, actually. So how have things changed since Trump was elected?

A compelling argument could be post-accountability. My own version of honesty as a virtue is that virtue requires personal sacrifice. When I have literally nothing to gain or lose by lying, like if I lie about the weather outside, then I’m considered pathological. Honesty doesn’t really fit in as a virtue in those kinds of scenarios. However, if I get drunk at a party and make out with my girlfriend’s sister, then I have a lot to lose in being honest about it. Hence, virtue requires the potential for personal sacrifice. This clearly shows that Trump is pathological, given that he, and his enabling administration, will lie about something as absurd as crowd sizes, even given photographic evidence to the contrary. However, no one holds him or the administration accountable. He was impeached, sure, but given the obstruction of justice he committed that was exposed during the Mueller probe, and the personal profit he has garnered violating the emoluments clause of the constitution, his impeachment was very lackluster. And then it was dismissed in the senate, with no lessons learned.

susan collins

Pictured: bending backwards to accommodate a previous lie into a current one whilst being sexy as fuck

Except, again, no one is ever held accountable. Remember Obama “looking forward” to avoid looking at the literal torture of the past administration? Clinton’s impeachment followed a similar trajectory to Trump’s in the senate. Or how about those who managed to get charged for the Iran-Contra scandal being pardoned by Bush Sr.? Or Richard Nixon being pardoned by his successor? It’s hard to remember any proportional political accountability since the French Revolution.

So truth in politics has never really had its day in the sun, nor has accountability for any vice, whether wrath, licentiousness, or the bearing of false witness. But, something must be different, right? This must be an aberration; Trump is different from all the rest because he’s orange and says the quiet things out loud! And there is! It’s what I would like to call: post-competency.

pots and pans

I don’t know why I thought of this image while visualizing the competency of the Trump administration, but it just feels appropriate.

 

All those other liars and crooks were good at what they did. The rhetorical twists and redefinitions of the word “is” and all other manner of sleights of hand, smoke, mirrors, and all the rest have always been a roller coaster of devilish charm and the subtlest of winks. Trump was accused of pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens, and when asked on camera what he was hoping to get out of his phone call with the Ukrainian president, he said that he hoped that they would investigate the Bidens. And that China should investigate too, just for good measure. He literally admitted to what he had been lying about days earlier, and then went back to lying about it days later. There will be no linguistic philosophy under the Trump administration because they’re all just such terrible liars. Our brains have become so accustomed to hearing well-crafted falsities and half-truths that when someone comes along who is just the absolute worst at telling lies, we think that the very concept of truth has been abandoned.

Accountability for this brash incompetence fails because modern politics is more about tribalism than it is about policy or even ideology. The attachment most people have to their political parties is the same that they have to their preferred sports team: it doesn’t matter who they are or what they do, we support them no matter what. Trump can talk about injecting bleach or grabbing women by the pussy, and then brazenly lie about sarcasm or locker room talk despite abundant evidence to the contrary, and his fans will not bat an eyelid for the same reason the ref always seems to be penalizing your team more than the other.

ESY-031306450 - © - Antonio_Diaz

The caliber of stock photo actors on full display. Their ambivalent rage is palpable.

We shouldn’t be worried so much about the abundance of lies, even as deadly as they might be. The tobacco industry lied to congress about the addictive nature of cigarettes, and the oil industry knew about climate change in the 80s, long before Trump started peddling hydroxychloroquine. Hell, even the level of incompetency is a bit of a blessing. Can you imagine a Trump administration that had even a modicum of intellect or skill? Or, to be fair, had these things that were then not stifled by sycophancy to a president lacking in both? America would actually have a Muslim ban as well as a wall along its southern border. We’re better off that they’re idiots. We should be concerned as to why people don’t seem to care when these things are so out in the open, when pathological narcissism demands impossible to believe lies, and nothing changes. Fealty to surreality is a bizarre thing to witness, and it is no surprise that we question our collective commitment to reality because of it. However, what we need to focus on is breaking away from the devastating tribalistic partisanship that allows it to happen.

The first step towards good, wholesome anarchism is the abolition of all political parties. Let’s start our focus there.

 

Those who are less than enthusiastic about sports are often confused by the vehemence with which a true fan can celebrate their team. A team can change the entire roster of its players, can change the coach, the owner, the logo, can change every single facet of itself, and the fan will continue to cheer without question in a complete validation of Theseus’ ship. This is because the fan is connected to the idea of the team rather than any tangible aspect of the team itself. The critic is baffled as to why the fan would bother with something that is so incredibly alien to them. The answer is simple enough, however: the fan sees the team as part of their tribe.

Sports television is very aware of this. Pre-game shows often deliver the stories and travails of the players and teams as a whole. Relationships will be analyzed and champions will be celebrated. It’s all gossip, and gossip is how we navigate tribes. How is Susan doing? Watch out for Bill. Did you hear what happened to Karen? Gossip is what keeps us safe and connected in our communities; it’s a natural human attribute. When we talk in-depth about the stars and heartbreaks of the previous night’s game, we are engaging in communal gossip.

The thing is, your sports team is not your tribe. The stress of a close game and the pride toward a favourite player kindles deep instinctual drives, but modern sports are “entertainment.” You can’t call any of your team for emotional support during a difficult time. The success of the quarterback does not bring food back to your table. A loss has no concrete consequences. Knowing who is a dangerous player will not keep you safe. Fandom is not so much the connection to an idea of a team, but to an idea of a community.

world series tickets

I value baseball over having a life partner! I’m sure I’ll be able to count on the Red Sox in turn to help me cope with the emotional devastation of losing said life partner

There are merits in the celebration of athletic prowess and remarkable skill. An argument could be made that sports facilitate community by acting as a shared interest among friends, and that’s fair. However, sports as an interest is then interchangeable with any other interest, and the accompanying gossip becomes meaningless.  If a group subscribes to the full tribalism of intense fandom, then it is in the same danger as described above. The importance of interdependence and mutual support in a tribe could easily be lost in shallow relationships centred on extrinsic factors.

We are, all of us, literally all of us, living in a time when the necessity of our tribe is morbidly obvious. Communally-deviant behaviours such as hoarding, ignoring physical distancing measures, neglecting essential workers, and spreading disinformation are representative of large swathes of the population feeling disconnected from the real-life human beings that surround them. We’ve been so focused on our false tribes for so long that we’ve forgotten the value of our neighbours.

covid toilet paper

We seem to recognize the destructiveness of wealth hoarding when the wealth is toilet paper. Wouldn’t it be sad if there were far worse forms of wealth hoarding taking place that people go to great lengths to justify? But I digress…

Whose shoulder can we cry on? Who will drop off groceries for us if we’re sick and unable to go out? Who will help us financially if we’re out of work? Who will mourn us as we lay dying, even if from afar? These are the people who matter. These are the people who have always mattered. None of them are on the television hanging in a sports bar. Let us no longer be distracted by idolatrous practices meant to profit off our deepest human instincts.

 

Movies shape our view of the world. We are socialized not just by our parents and peers, but by the stories we consume, and movies are one of the most predominant storytellers of our current era. This makes the content of films of paramount importance. We can learn courage and determination from John McClane. We can learn responsibility from Spider-Man. We can learn about changing the world from Neo. Our virtues are shaped by the heroes we learn to emulate, since the very practice of storytelling puts the protagonist on a pedestal. A generation growing up on anti-heroes is likely to be as cynical and morose as their paragons, learning that these are admiral qualities to embody.

Rick

Rick is genuinely a bad and miserable person. The show is quite clear on that. Fans struggle to emulate against him rather than from him because of the nature of the protagonist pedestal. Similar things can be said of Bojack Horseman. I know these are TV shows. Shut up.

SJWs seem to be aware of this, and so a new spat of movie trends throw women and ethnic minorities into the protagonist role, allowing these demographics to see a hero that they can relate to. This then allows black youths to learn responsibility from Miles Morales rather than Peter Parker. We now have Katniss Everdeen to teach us how to be fearless, and Melissa McCarthy to teach us how to bust ghosts.

This seems to anger some people. Those who think that women can’t bust ghosts or that black youths can’t be responsible decry this new trend as ruining film. There are those who, regardless of quality, think that these kinds of movies just shouldn’t even be made. Soon, films won’t have white men at all, and it’ll be the great replacement all over again! It’s that cancer Feminism running amok once more!

Ghostbusters

What’s next? A remake of Leprechaun with a female leprechaun!? UNACCEPTABLE! Leprechauns can’t be female!

Let’s take a deeper look at our lessons from these common tropes. We might learn to be responsible, but it’s a responsibility to our tribe at the exclusion of the Other. We might learn courage, but it’s a courage to defend the normal rather than a courage of standing up as someone different. We might learn to change the world, but if we’re changing it into an exact copy of what has come before, this type of change is more an enforcement of the status quo rather than its repudiation.

Is this trend truly feminist? Carol Gilligan, a notable feminist, would likely disagree. All of our ethical systems since the ancient Greeks have been philosophized by men. And not just any kind of men, but men who grew up in societies that did not care about women at all. This means that these ethical systems that they devised were not informed by the situations of women whatsoever. Gilligan decided to ask the question, what if we considered women when thinking of ethical systems? Thus arose the ethics of care.

The ethics of care is born in contrast to what is typically called the ethics of justice. The ethics of justice represent systems of ethics that see moral situations in objective terms. There is a right answer, whether that rightness is determined deontologically or consequentially, and that right answer is determined in the abstract. The ethics of care seeks to find rightness is the salvaging of relationships, of meeting needs, and existing in concrete situations that are determined by the individuals and the relationships they share. While Gilligan does not dismiss the intentions of justice, she does seek to imbue care into that system in order to incorporate women’s perspectives into the ethical discourse.

in a different voice

This is coming from a book, one of the least predominant storytellers of our current era.

If this is a feminist ethic, then very few of these movies are actually feminist at all. The latest Terminator movie (Dark Fate) perfectly encapsulates this distinction. The villain is literally an unfeeling machine that will not stop. Regardless of how many Hispanic women you throw into this movie, it is a film defined by a relationship that cannot be repaired. Patriarchal ethics exist in a Manichean dichotomy that pits absolute, rigid and uncompromising evil against absolute (though occasionally nuanced) good. Feminist ethics cannot exist in this universe because the way the villain is written. If these kinds of stories are what shape our virtues, when we look at our universe, it is much easier to see our own antagonists as dogmatically inflexible monsters who cannot be bargained with. What this means is that Doctor Strange is actually more feminist than the 2016 Ghostbusters film because it conceives of a solution wherein the villain (after some degree of coercion, sure) settles their score through a dialogue. The villainy of the ghosts allows no such relationship.

The socialization that these kinds of films are expanding is actually patriarchal in nature. They indoctrinate their viewers into an ethic of domination, of a good guy with a gun ultimately crushing a bad guy with a gun, but now the good guy can be a good black woman with a gun. Those angry with these films correctly assert that they are propaganda, as all stories are propaganda for the ideology that underlie them, Die Hard as much as Into The Spider-Verse, it’s just that the propaganda isn’t feminist.

Post-Script: For those who read the title and expected a listicle, and still made it this far, congratulations on your attention span!