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The era of free-market fundamentalism has persuaded scholars and workers alike to shun an unprofitable thing like thinking. Even an apparently thinky thing like mindfulness only gains acceptance as a productivity tool. A thinky thing like philosophy? Forget it. Until that persistent human question “what is truth?” acquires market value, it will not again be truly asked. Anyhow. Who has time, and why bother? The “thinking” liberal press has manufactured our answer for us.

Truth is “Independent. Always.” Truth, available at a reasonable cost, “is more important now than ever”. Apparently, “Democracy Dies” in the darkness of lies and, without truth, independence and truly independent journalism, “anxiety and confusion” will reign.

Notwithstanding the recent choice of The Washington Post to insert “Democracy” on its front page, that term is now suggested less frequently in news media slogans. At some point, panel program Q&A dropped the guarantee of “democracy in action” from its website — perhaps due to the diminishing esteem in which democracy is held. Democracy, once more-or-less synonymous for a “truth” partially delivered through dispute and “robust debate”, etc, is now held to be less marketable by The New York Times than “truth” of the unassailable sort that publication promises.  

The Times report last year on the decision of Fox News to drop its “fair and balanced” democratic motto is, in my view, illuminating. The Fox replacement motto “Most Watched, Most Trusted” is assessed by a paper, itself then newly “more important now that ever”, as timid. The Times sees this Fox slogan as evidence of a network nervously rebuilding itself following the death of infamous founder Roger Ailes. I see it as evidence that Fox knows its brand, while liberal outlets are unable to see themselves as most consumers do: fundamentally incapable of truth.

Don’t get me wrong! Fox News is, of course, entirely crammed with crap. But, this media megacolon sure knows how to market its popular constipation. The new Fox motto, adopted in post-Trump months just as the Post, the Times and others adopted theirs, not only abandons its reference to “balance”, a half-promise of truth, but dispenses with any mention of the truth at all.

Unlike The Guardian, Fairfax, WashPo, etc, Fox News does not claim to offer truth. It claims only that it is understood as truth by an awful lot of people. Which, like it or not, is the truth.

The study of truth has been critically endangered by the market. But, belief in sale by truth may never have been more widespread in newspapers of “quality”.

Fox knows, as Steve Bannon knew, that “truth” is defined by the radically unthinking relativists this era has produced. We don’t ask “what is truth?” where such pursuit is seen as unproductive in everyday life — better to be “mindful” than thoughtful — and is disappearing as an academic discipline.

Liberals ask the question no more sincerely than those who are conservative or “alt-right” do. They simply continue to believe that “truth” is a definable thing, is more important now than ever, and is our own prophylactic against darkness, confusion and the disappearance of long and earnest treatises on mindfulness in The Guardian. When it comes to the “truth” of the political class, the Fox producer or consumer may more easily concede: now, it’s all relative. The liberal news producer cannot do the same. Liberal media serves absolutes to an audience largely aware of political bullshit.

Still, the editorials and broadcasts on liberal truth persist.

Last year, Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor suggested truth as an effective weapon in the battle against Pauline Hanson. By failing to counter the parliamentarian’s frequent fact-free flights, says Taylor, we legitimise them. We must delegitimise her, the logic goes, through the legitimacy of truth.

I do not question the nobility of this urge. I am, however, moved to point out its futility. In a time where legitimacy of any sort is itself delegitimised, why resort to “truth” — that is, the truth undefined, but still stubbornly sought, by liberal journalism.

It’s difficult to let go of this “truth”, though, no matter how much you might like to. For example, these past few months, I have been offered decent money often to delegitimise the abhorrence Jordan Peterson. If I counter, as others ably have, the viability of his argument or the scientistic approach of his method, what do I produce? Nothing but an endorsement of a “truth” about whose nature we have long since quit thinking.

Denied the conditions in which truth can be considered, all we are left with is bullshit. To counter Pauline is only to legitimise her. To name Peterson the thick git’s intellectual is to endorse him. To retain our shallow liberal faith in truth is to deny its very possibility.

To upturn this age of bullshit is to upturn this age.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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