Six months ago, post-factual society was a mildly interesting side development. Not something that seriously threatened the world’s progress towards increased democracy, growth and sustainability. But after Brexit, Donald Trump and the recent developments in Poland, Russia, Turkey and Hungary – everything has been turned upside down. The post-factual trend has, in record time, grown so powerful that it now threatens our global prosperity and social order.
To ‘Navigate Post-Factual Society’ is one of our five new Design to Improve Life Goals. These goals were identified from a detailed internal strategy where we, the organisation’s entire team, interviewed over 100 experts from all over the world. We asked them what they thought were the biggest challenges right now, and where they see potential for solving these problems. We then compiled and analysed this data and identified the new Design to Improve Life Goals – soon to be officially revealed – that are not exclusively covered in the current 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We consider our goals as the essence of several new issues that have arose in recent years. Some of which may not threaten the world yet, but certainly have the potential. One of our core functions as an organisation is to be acutely aware of impending challenges. That’s why we talk, listen, look ahead and anticipate to guide the world’s creative minds to solve the world’s greatest challenges, present and future.
A GAME-CHANGER FOR DEVELOPMENT
Why have we chosen to ‘Navigate Post-Factual Society’ as our first goal? Simply because the fast growing movement, with Trump at the head, could effectively derail our social progress that we have worked so hard to develop. It threatens to destroy our democracy, solidarity, growth and the whole Western world as we know it.
A society that is not governed on the basis of facts is controlled by prejudice. The post-factual development is racist, discriminatory and divisive – a corrosive movement to our entire society.
In the United States, where the development is most rapid, the polarisation among communities appears almost unstoppable. You have the Republicans watching Fox News, the Democrats watching MSNBC, and the same events are almost unrecognisable with both channels constantly reiterating their own prejudices. They simply provide their viewers with exactly what they want: a confirmation of their own bias.
Television is one of the key contributors to the divide in the US, according to Professor Michael Bang Petersen from Aarhus University. But, he says the division isn’t where most think it is: between black and white citizens. It’s between Democrats and Republicans – political opponents who used to respect each other.
This is the future post-factual society is promising, and a polarised society will only demand even more ‘news’ to suit their own worldviews.
A society and its policies that aren’t based on fact cannot bring the world forward. And when politicians don’t address the real problems, but focus on issues that are opportune or in their personal opinion ‘relevant’, the system fails.
A post-factual environment online has also shown to have grave repercussions. During the US election last fall, there were numerous reports that a Washington DC pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong, was harbouring young children as sex slaves as part of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton. Articles citing the allegations were widespread across the web, including Facebook and Twitter. It ended with a 28-year-old family man running into the pizzeria and shooting up the place with his AR-15 rifle. But, the reports of ‘Pizzagate’ – as it was called – were, in fact, entirely fake.
FAKE NEWS AS A COMMODITY
Fake news is another ugly side of the post-factual movement. With a hot scoop and a ‘borrowed’ notable name, any fake news publisher can generate masses of traffic, and therefore profit, on their websites. For them it’s strictly business, but the practice is clearly hugely harmful to the trust of the community.
We’re now in a situation where many people no longer care about facts. Either they don’t trust them, they see them as something for the elite, or they just feel like their emotions and prejudices are more important. But how did facts lose their value and authority? And why didn’t we see the signs?
In 1998, when Social Democrat Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and the Liberal Party’s Uffe Ellemann-Jensen battled to become Prime Minister in a final televised debate, they argued on facts. Facts, so to speak, were God. They threw figure after figure at each other, and the winner emerged as the one with the most convincing facts to support their policies. But just two months ago, Donald Trump won the US election by giving facts the finger and spouting whatever he felt like. The world has truly turned upside down.
“There are three kind of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain.
REINFORCING THE DISTRUST
This distrust of facts and figures has generally been reinforced in recent years. For example: it has become widely known, through several publications, that the so-called objective ministries decide the conclusions of a number of reports before they’re even completed. Our tax money is therefore often used to promote a particular political agenda. Unsurprisingly, this has led to an increased lack of trust in research.
The credibility of research recently took another blow thanks to a prudent review published in the renowned journal Science. The review replicated 100 psychology studies – all of which were previously featured in high-ranking psychology journals – to verify their findings. However, only 36% of the experiments passed the test and produced the same results.
What food is good for us also changes all the time – eggs were considered healthy, and now they’re not – what should we believe? One of the most shocking examples of this was recently published in the New York Times. The article revealed that in the 1960s the US sugar industry bribed scientists to downplay the link between sugar and cardiovascular disease, and instead portray saturated fat as the main culprit. This has influenced the dietary guidelines across the globe ever since – in other words, we’ve been deceived for decades.
Facts can almost always be manipulated for an agenda or just plain misinterpreted. The king example of misinterpretation: poll institutes completely missing the mark with Brexit and Trump, and even the Danish election in 2015.
WHERE’S THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA?
When the facts and figures are properly examined, it turns out they’re always relative. They’re worth nothing unless you’re thoroughly inside the premises and fully understand the sources interests. But, who has time for that? At the very least, the mainstream media should.
We also need to consider the decisive factor 0f social media and its role as a leading global source of information. Online feeds are home to everything from serious contributions to sinister propaganda – but who can tell the difference? There are still very limited fact checking and quality filters.
This over saturation of media is one of the key reasons why many people are dropping facts and simply turning to feelings, prejudices and imagination.
Although Trump might spring to mind when we consider a catalyst, the post-factual movement isn’t something we can pin on any individual. It’s most likely been a long development where facts from seemingly untouchable high-status positions have been produced and frivolously distributed for all sorts of manipulation.
It’s a powerful movement to overcome and the road certainly won’t be short, therefore, our first step at INDEX: Design to Improve Life® is to first understand and navigate.