On the day that Oxford Dictionaries announced Post-Truth as the "word of the year" London Walks Pen & Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker writes…
So that’s the Word of the Year says the Oxford English Dictionary.
Wonder if they’re telling the truth?
But seriously, what a sleazy, despicable, vile, shameless word.
No, let’s rephrase that: what a sleazy, despicable, vile, shameless, dishonest state of affairs that word describes.
That we’ve now got a word for it tells you how far the cancer’s advanced. (Puts me in mind of the impossibly brave Christopher Hitchens saying “I’ve got stage 4 esophageal cancer; there is no stage 5.”)
I mean let’s postmortem this linguistic “development.” Let it sink in. Let’s run the changes.
There are hundreds of “post” words and none of them are even remotely as odious as post-truth. Postwar, postdoctoral, postgrad, postindustrial, postmodern, postproduction, postseason, posttraumatic, postdated…
Well, you get the idea. And now, crashing the party, we’ve got shamefaced – or should I say shameless – “post-truth.”
So it’s come to this.
Time for this boy to hunker down with some poetry. Always my response, it’s my staff, my stay, my anchor.
Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach, for example.
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Be sure to notice the first line of the last stanza. Especially the word Arnold puts out there at the end of the line.
No need to explain why Dover Beach came to mind when I picked up the newspaper this morning and saw the Post-truth story.
The other** bit of verse that comes to mind – comes to my aid and comfort in this clinging to the wreckage moment –is Hotspur’s great line in Shakespeare’s I Henry IV.
It couldn’t be simpler, couldn’t be cleaner, couldn’t be more a gauntlet flung down in the path of a preposterous, faintly odious, lying scoundrel:
“Tell truth and shame the devil.”
That line thrilled me half a century ago when I was a callow undergraduate “English major” at the University of Wisconsin
Time can not wither nor custom stale its appeal. It still thrills me.
So to hell with “post-truth.” Tell truth and shame the devil.
I suppose the “post-truth” story tipped me over because I’ve been only too aware for some time now that this sort of sharp practice isn’t confined to politicians. As a culture we’re awash in lies.
And, yes, they’ve washed up against our patch, our bailiwick.
Talking about rival concerns helping themselves to our name. Free London Walks, for example. Or Authentic London Walks.***
A couple of points spring to mind. In the first instance, they’re not free and they’re not London Walks but other than that everything’s tickety boo. I mean, “objective facts”, what do they have to do with anything?
But the other point**** of course is: if you’re doing something as intrinsically creative – which it has to be if it’s done well – as a walking tour operation and you don’t have the creativity – let alone the integrity – to think of your own name... what’s that say about you and your “product”?
Well, I suppose it means you’re post-truth.
*OED defines it thus: post-truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
**Needless to say it’s not the only “other bit of verse that comes to mind.” Keats’ “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” is there in this kit bag as well. Shining forth. And shaming “post-truth.”
***And as for the other one, how lame is that? They daring to say the oldest urban walking tour company in the world – the walking tour company universally “acknowledged as the premier walking tour company in the entire world” – isn’t authentic? And they are?
Talk about a hold your nose and walk on by moment.
****A pretty good “other point” that one. But it’s a molehill compared to the Everest of the bible, establishing, right at the beginning – the opening verses of Genesis – the fundamental importance of the “identity” of things. Doesn’t get any more basic then Genesis Chapter 1.