The Post-truth Condition:
A Report on Conflict and Coalescence

Sourav Chattopadhyay

Since November 2016, the year it was named as the Oxford Word of the Year, “post-truth” has rapidly drawn critical and popular attention. In post-truth culture, the label of “truth” is no more a singular and objective idea, neither it has much to do with its correspondence to facts or coherence. The recent popularity of the term post-truth appears mostly during political debates. In apparent usages, it has gained a status of an effective excuse for holding on to one’s subjective idea of a truth instead of continuing debates for an objective truth.

The association of post-truth with Donald Trump and the US election has been one of the most significant of late global phenomena. This has served to justify and legitimize the use of post-truth for many. In last two years, the phenomenon of post-truth has worked its way into the political landscape of India as well. Electoral politics gained much from the cultural logic of post-truth. A few weeks before the 2019 loksabha election, a nationalist emotion churned across the country by the controversial cases of Pulwama attack and the Balakot air strike which was fuelled by the resident anger of the people against ‘Pakistanis’, and fed on any scrap of news without confirming its legitimacy. Within hours of the news of the attack, a host of fake news had spread in the internet, prominently through social media platforms, including videos that claimed to be CCTV footage of the attack, but which were found by fact-checkers found were to be visuals from Syria and Iraq. Other such pieces included an old video of a Pakistani commando that was declared to be of a militant who had been arrested after the attack (Thaker). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s subsequent speech at Latur, Maharashtra on April 9 pulled in sentiments on the Indian Army: “I want to ask the first-time voter, can your vote be dedicated to those soldiers who conducted the air strike on Balakot in Pakistan? Can your first vote be dedicated to those soldiers who were killed in Pulwama attack?” (Bhadrakumar). This was a perfect example of “bullshit conquering the world” (James).

While the role of the state and media (national, as well as private corporate funded) in the popularization of the term, and the interaction of the digital medium with the creation of a hyper-real post-truth space are to be brought under scrutiny, the philosophical origins of post-truth as a lexical unit also demands critical attention.

In the context of the contemporary US politics, philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dannett had argued, “Philosophy has not covered itself in glory in the way it has handled this. Maybe people will now begin to realise that philosophers aren’t quite so innocuous after all. Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might come true. I think what the postmodernists did was truly evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts. You’d have people going around saying: ‘Well, you’re part of that crowd who still believe in facts’” (Dennett).

Clearly, Dennett views the phenomenon of claiming the “alternative facts” as an extended empirical manifestation of Lyotard’s idea of configured petit récits or little narratives as opposed to a singular universal objective meta-narrative. Most of the postmodernist theorists and philosophers were radically critical about the idea of an absolute, objective truth. Derrida’s theory of “deconstructing” a text opened up ways of many interpretive possibilities of a singular text, Papazoglou talked of “perspectivism”, Foucault claimed that any profession of truth is ideologically informed and is a reflection of power and dominance and insisting on accepting any particular and specified perspective is a form of fascism. Cultural theorists have, therefore, attempted to establish a direct logical link between the postmodern philosophy and the post-truth culture and politics. Lee McIntyre writes “postmodernism [is] the godfather of post-truth” (131).

However, some also claim that postmodernism and post-truth cannot be seen as cause and effect. Truman Chen collects the arguments in his blog ( The first of the three main arguments are that post-truth was always there, even before the emergence of postmodernism. “Second, in a time when most seem to be lamenting the lack of influence of philosophy in general, is invoking the postmodern bogeyman even reasonable? Is Kellyanne Conway reading Derrida?” (Chen). The third argument in Chen’s blog is presented in a form of a tweet: “Blaming postmodernism for post-truth is like blaming romance novelists for unsatisfactory marital relations” (Chen).

Yuval Noah Harari in his recent book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century considerably discusses the notion of post-truth. According to him “humans have always lived in the age of post-truth. Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions” (233). The postmodern question does not bother Harari. He argues that the ancient self-reinforcing fictions, myths, have been there in human society since time immemorial. In his words, “If you blame Facebook, Trump or Putin for ushering in a new and frightening era of post-truth, remind yourself that centuries ago millions of Christians locked themselves inside a self -reinforcing mythological bubble, never daring to question the factual veracity of the Bible, while millions of Muslims put their unquestioning faith in the Quran”(233).

However, the arguments given by Chen, Harari, and others, are not incontestable. In their arguments, there is an attempt to trace and compare the origins of postmodernism and post-truth chronologically. And yet, neither, in this kind of approach, succeeds in providing any considerable explanation to the sudden increase in the documented usage of the word in 2016, nor does this method give any scheme of development of the post-truth era. In order to explore the notion of post truth, it must be understood genealogically. The second and the third arguments are based on the assumption that the phenomenon of post-truth is being considered as a causal effect of the historical and political contextualization of postmodernism. This assumption again is directed by a chronological approach which is reduced to a study of the history of lying. A genealogical study, on the other hand, would not tend to establish any relation of entailment between postmodernism and the post-truth condition. Besides this, Harari’s idea, though valid in its own way, overlooks the politically charged presence of the notion of post-truth in the contemporary world. Harari also gets himself trapped in the look-for-origin propensity. Harari’s preoccupation with the historical origin of post-truth also blatantly disregards the discursive odds of post-truth.

The irony about truth is that it is structured like fiction. In this way, it is very difficult to distinguish the fact from the fiction, the true from the false or the real from the fake. Fiction is depended on language to be communicated and acknowledged thereby. Same is the case with truth, but the moment a truth enters the domain of language, it attains a fiction-like structure. The presentation of a truth is no way different from that of a fiction. The binary between fact and fiction is apparently a blurred one as both are in the sphere of language. To look for a historical origin of that state of a truth or a fiction is a futile one. But a silent acceptance of it in all probability could be in a way acknowledging injustice. This discursive problem, as Foucault suggests, “must not be rejected definitively of course, but the tranquillity with which they are accepted must be disturbed” (25)

In conclusion, turning away from the debate of whether postmodernism is the site of the origin of post-truth; it is undeniable that the rhetoric and vocabulary of the postmodern has made it easier to make sense of the post-truth condition. Post-truth and its political usage in the contemporary world become only possible because of the existence of a plurality of subject positions and interpretations. The post-truth thus coalesces with the postmodern to give birth to some unresolved conflicts in the ethical spheres of media, history, and justice.

Works Cited
Word of the Year 2016 Is... | Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford                        Dictionaries,
Ball, James. Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World. Consortium Book Sales & Dist, 2018.
Bhadrakumar, M.K. “Modi's Post-Truth Politics.” The Week, The Week, 12 Apr. 2019,
Chen, Truman. “Is Postmodernism to Blame for Post-truth?” Philosophytalk (blog), 17 February. 2017,
Dennett, Daniel. “I Begrudge Every Hour I Have to Spend Worrying about Politics.” Carole. Cadwalladr. The Guardian 12 February. 2017,
Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2002.
Harari, Yuval Noah. 21 lessons for the 21st Century. London: Jonathon Cape, 2018.
McIntyre, Lee C. Post-Truth. The MIT Press, 2018.
Thaker, Aria. “‘Never Seen Anything like This," Says Facebook India's Fake News Buster after Pulwama Attack.” Quartz India, Quartz, 21 Feb. 2019,

Sourav Chattopadhyay, Student, Department of English, Presidency University

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sep 19, 2020

Sourav Chattopadhyay

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