Post-Truth Era: Living in Confusing Times with Rapid Changes

I am always a bit suspicious about invoking “the truth” in debates about social issues. Truth claims are more often than not already highly problematic in scientific discussions – as anyone who has studied a bit the recent controversies about climate change or Covid-19 will notice.  But they are even more problematic in the case of old policy debates about social issue.  As I took pains to explain in all of my publications, no “society” exists as an absolute given in the “world out there”. Similarly “normative utopias” which rely on some “promise” -such as revelation of historical speculation about an “end of history”-   exemplify this dilemma even more clearly.

Even if we have a “consensus” about the relevant norms, the issue remains that who is entitled to interpret them authoritatively and thus, as we all know controversies between different “schools” abound.  In short, the metaphor of creating a match between our notions (concepts) and a pre-existing reality breaks down. The point is precisely the issue of how one is to “create” social arrangements, many of which are not (yet) in existence, or which we cannot assess since we do not know about theirs direct or unintended consequences and have no data about the distributions that follow from our choices. 

So actually my message is not ‘hopeful” in the sense that I have some recipes. And this is what most people cannot take, as I experienced in my decades long professional career in the US and after the mid 90ies in Europe. People are much happier with spectacles, be they the revival meetings familiar from the US, or the election circuses that we experience in “populist” politics in Europe, as we then have no longer to shoulder our responsibilities for looking for “solutions” for the dilemmas we face; since there is “the answer” out there, provided by science, history, or some prophets of interplanetary phantasies.

It is not surprising that we get confused since we not only live in confusing times with rapid changes but in a time when even the criteria -which we took for granted to orient ourselves- have been subjected to criticism.  So, no wonder, that one has the feeling that nothing is secure any more – and by (wrong) implication – anything goes.

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