Truth in the Time of Infowars: Moral Politics and Conscience
Published in East European Politics and Societies: and Cultures, online on 23 April 2018, as a part of a special issue: "The Power of the Powerless Today" (guest editors: James Krapfl, McGill University and Barbara J. Falk, Canadian Forces College) which gathers reflections on Václav Havel's groundbreaking essay on its 40th anniversary.
Speaking truth to powers-that-be and overthrowing a “regime of lies” were both dissident trademarks during the Cold War era. But what if overreliance on such an idealized and static notion of Truth can be a problem in an age of post-factual politics and information warfare? In this essay, I first problematize the idea that “truth will set us free” and re-read Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless together with a contemporary work—the film Camouflage by Krzysztof Zanussi—to find other foundations for political strategies, beyond the “struggle for truth,” that might transcend the post-totalitarian situation and inform our normative choices and political agency today. In a reality over-flooded with information, where spreading doubt and forging counter-narratives has become a weapon, and where conspiracy theories seem to gain ground, relying on a self-evident distinction between Truth and Lies no longer has the power for political mobilization. It is individual conscience—nesting moral and political responsibility within the individual—rather than an externally existing Truth that might prove a more productive compass in a world of multiple vantage points and continuous re-interpretations.
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