Tonight I attended Evan Davies’ talk at L.S.E entitled: “Post Truth: Why we have reached peak bullshit and what we can do about it” (aptly named after his new book). And man was the word bullshit on a lot of peoples lips and possibly their minds this evening.
Davies began the talk with a coherent and well-analysed review of why we bullshit, how we bullshit and the evolution of bullshit: from new Labour spin, through P.R power, to the modern day fake news eruption.
“In more divided times, people swallow more bullshit.” Davies described how during such times our animalistic brain overpowers our rational brain leaving us exposed to bullshit and hungry to eat it up, which explains why bullshit and fake news has erupted into such a problem now. Later in the audience Q and A section Davies would go on to argue that humans are disposed to certain beliefs which become their prejudices and politicians exploit these prejudices when it comes to their manifestos. So maybe our own prejudices are to blame for the bullshit? However, Davies didn’t conclude as such.
Davies’ conclusion to protect ourselves from bullshit was simple. We should “never let the lie stand.” and we can protect ourselves further by being open-minded and watching out for “friendly fire bullshit”, the kind that ambushes you from your own political confirmation biases. He also repeated the remark that the current models of fake news would wear out or wash away without a massive load of intervention being needed- a seemingly passive approach to what can be a very aggressive problem.
And then came the audience Q and A
When questioned with his passive approach to fixing the immediate issue of fake news and bullshit Davies remained obnoxiously unfazed. An elderly gentlemen combatted Davies’ promise that this era of bullshit would naturally wash away by asserting the example of how the Germans ate up Hitler’s bullshit which most definitely did not just fade into non-existence. Davies’ response was rash, he claimed that this kind of example is very rare and not often seen in reality. If I had held the mic at that moment I may have reminded Davies about Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, Hussein- an endless list of people whose bullshit was swallowed passively and perhaps not actively dealt with sooner.
As Davies is a journalist and broadcaster as well as writer the issue of gender equality was raised and whether the public has a higher tolerance of bullshit from male as opposed to female politicians. A great example of this is how berated Dianne Abbott was after her car-crash interview in the run up to the general election compared to how berated Jeremy Corbyn was after his equally catastrophic interview on ‘Women’s Hour’. Despite Corbyn being the leader of the party Abbott was the focus of weeks of media attention that didn’t stop even when it was discovered she was unwell at the time of the interview. Davies almost completely dismissed this point with little consideration and it was not cool.
I started the evening liking Davies. His analysis seemed accurate and insightful albeit with slightly weak conclusions. However, after the audience Q and A, I left the event feeling quite frustrated with him. His rebuffs came across unwavering and absolutist and not like the open-minded person he was preaching us to be.
North Korea is the most fascinating political landscape that exists currently. It’s so alien to me, living in the west, to think that there are people living under a communist- dictatorship on the same planet at the same time as me. Communism seems so outdated and even in China we see a communist-style regime that has fused with capitalism. This makes North Korea seem even more interesting.
It’s so hard to be able to explain the politics of North Korea; mainly because the people themselves don’t appear to understand them and so it becomes near impossible for an outside source. We hear fractured stories from disgusting human rights abuses to trivial tourist reports without really knowing anything about the country. Where is the money for it’s lavish water parks coming from? If there are no human rights abuses why is the country locked down? All we really know is the form of politics being pumped through North Korea is labelled ‘Juche’ but no one in North Korea or the west seems to really know what that means. This is seen so clearly in Álvaro Longoria’s ‘The Propaganda Game’ (an amazing, impartial documentary- it’s on Netflix). But the only thing that is really obvious through the uncertain landscape of North Korea is manipulation and misinformation.
Many people like me, who have grown up in the west, instantly think of propaganda when we hear the words ‘North Korea’. We recall images and videos of men and women sobbing and wailing at the death of Kim Jong-il and massive golden statues with huge parades saluting them. Yet, then we have to question why we see this. How much of this footage is twisted or accompanied with exaggerated claims by the western media. In a sense we have a propaganda war. North Koreans still believe it was the USA who initiated the Korean War and in the west we are led to believe Kim Jong-un watched as his uncle was executed by vicious dogs. Both of these examples are untrue. Both highlight the strange, warped propaganda war we are currently living in. I honestly don’t know what’s going on. Is North Korea as bad as we are led to believe? I think it probably is. But then when we are faced with constant manipulation from all sides it becomes harder to take any news we receive about North Korea seriously.
While this may be a specific example focusing on North Korea, this highlights such an important issue that relates back to British politics too. We, as a public, are not taught to be critical of mainstream media, leadership figures or politicians. It became so evident during ‘Brexit’ that we were fed manipulated facts and even lies (cough cough NHS claim) by both sides of the campaign. We need to fix this and what is even more frustrating is that it’s so easy to fix.
Question why somebody in a position of power, whether that be politics or media, says what they do. What do they gain by saying this? How does it make them appear? These really basic questions expose motives and consequently stop us from being fed propaganda and false information.
In the west we are lucky to have education that isn’t influenced directly by the state in the way it is in North Korea. We are not indoctrinated from a young age. We must use this privilege to expose propaganda. Question everything. Maybe we can even begin to help the people of North Korea who are often forgotten behind the worlds political fascination.