I learnt what a white lie was in a Sainsbury's car park when I was about seven. Someone asked my Mother whether she had any spare change. She apologised, said she didn't and got in her car. I asked why she lied, but she asserted it wasn't a lie, it was a white lie and we were in a rush. White lies may not be the truth exactly but they spare yours or another's feelings: they are the pragmatic choice in a sticky situation. Now, this isn't an expose on how my mother is a heartless uncharitable woman, but a question on pragmatism. Are we in an age where we accept white lies if they protect our feelings?
Looking at the recent coverage surrounding the phrase "post-truth politics" and considering it was named Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year I suppose we are to assume so. Following the big shoes left by the laugh-crying emoji, 2015's word of the year, we should have had low hopes for the word to sum up 2016: of course it was going to be something political and underwhelming. Cue poop emoji. When you dig slightly deeper however, it becomes clear that this phrase does not encapsulate our political times at all, this is a time of lies.
Those who advocate for our post-truth political times claim that we are now in rejection of facts, as long as what is being said appeals to our emotions or beliefs. Conceptually, this makes sense. When Brexiteers label a giant red bus with the claim of giving £350 million to the NHS, and you love and hold the institution dear, of course you are going to want the money to go there. You may ask yourself, after seeing the giant red bus, "I mean the money is just being wasted right?" "It doesn't do anything else, does it?" But the giant red bus does not respond to such questions, because, unfortunately, it is a giant red bus. If you, from the poster saying that £350 million would be given to the NHS, believed they actually would, then more fool you. You must live in a post-truth world, where you believe in your emotions over fact.
I could say I live in a post-truth time when I undertake my 2017 New Year's Resolutions. I will reject the fact that I am terrible at reading books, appeal to my belief that 2017 will make me a new woman and promise myself that I will read a book a week. I will soon come to realise I have been lied to when my books gather dust and I return to Netflix, approximately three weeks in. The world still turns, the cycle continues, the X Factor is probably still on TV. This is also where the idea of post-truth politics fails. The difference here is that I was able to see I was being lied to, by myself, when my books were left unread and when this was realised as false, I no longer believed in the promise. I could have asked myself a million questions about why I believed 2017 would be my year for reading and still have chosen to believe in my ability to do so, and I accept that this would be a case of post truth belief. The imperative difference then between personal and political belief is the ability for scrutiny and an active need to search for truth. Without political actors being held to account, and for as long as giant red buses are used as tools for political statement and cannot speak, the truth cannot be realised and thus the public cannot be dammed as a post-truth political herd.
We need to hold those who lie to account, and educate those who have been ripped off by political actors who tell 'white lies'. This may sound rudimentary, but in a time of political uncertainty, the active pursuit of truth is the most vital and invaluable source held. Individuals and agencies have been working tirelessly to expose the inaccuracies behind speeches, campaigns and promises to no avail, but, as those who feel despondent from the political upheaval of 2016, the truth is the only thing which can still be held dear: on both sides of the political spectrum. The belief in post-truth politics is not only damaging to society, but it vilifies those who would feel the harshest repercussions from being lied to. To imply that those who believed in the illusions of giant red buses were simply stupid only leads to further division in political perspective. Lulling yourself into the illusion that people choose to believe lies for self-gain is redundant and damaging. Lies are not considered so until they are identified as such, and we have an obligation to identify them correctly. To sum up with a poignant quote from George Orwell's 1984: "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act".