Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Civic engagement and governance when facts don't matter in a post-truth environment

In the past few months, I've written some posts:

-- "(un?)informed electorates, democracy, and referenda"
-- "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance"

in part as a result of the Brexit vote, and the current presidential campaign in the US, about democracy from the standpoint of civic participation and healthy local government. The point I made is that democracy works based on a set of conditions:

-- that citizens are committed to being informed and willing to educate themselves on the issues
-- that people running for and holding office are committed to being knowledge-driven and open to different viewpoints, and committed to quality governance
-- that political parties are motivated by the greater good, albeit committed to pushing their positions and approach to the best of their ability, but not mendaciously
-- that there is a system of media (newspapers, magazines, television, radio, cable, other) that reports on the issues and campaigns and is objective

It all falls apart if many participants in the process and "system" aren't committed to "the truth" -- facts and honesty. It's really tough too with the media element because in for profit media, "entertainment" and ratings drive programming and how it is presented, even "the news," and this can diminish significantly the informational content of what is presented. Plus, people point out that the "false balance" promoted by many media outlets gives too much credibility to people who lie.

The Economist's cover story this week is on this post-truth environment (or apocalypse). See "Post-truth politics, Art of the lie: Politicians have always lied. Does it matter if they leave the truth behind entirely?."

From the article:
Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power. And he is not alone. Members of Poland’s government assert that a previous president, who died in a plane crash, was assassinated by Russia. Turkish politicians claim the perpetrators of the recent bungled coup were acting on orders issued by the CIA. The successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union warned of the hordes of immigrants that would result from Turkey’s imminent accession to the union.

If, like this newspaper, you believe that politics should be based on evidence, this is worrying. Strong democracies can draw on inbuilt defences against post-truth. Authoritarian countries are more vulnerable. ...

But post-truth politics is more than just an invention of whingeing elites who have been outflanked. The term picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance. Once, the purpose of political lying was to create a false view of the world. The lies of men like Mr Trump do not work like that. They are not intended to convince the elites, whom their target voters neither trust nor like, but to reinforce prejudices.

Feelings, not facts, are what matter in this sort of campaigning.
Post-truth is oppositional to the idea of positivism, or a focus on societal improvement through the development and application of information and knowledge,

People like me aren't set up to function in such an environment.

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