First, for those out there who have been hearing the term post-truth thrown around but aren’t sure what it means, let me give you the dictionary definition (because it is in the dictionary now, apparently):
Post-Truth (Adj.) – Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
To put it simply, post-truth is the idea that how we feel about something supersedes the facts surrounding that issue. Which – in case I am not being clear – is fucking stupid.
That is not how facts work. They aren’t up for debate. They’re facts.
But that doesn’t matter, because post-truth is real. Very, very real. And now we, the sensible, logic-driven portion of the population have to contend with the reality that people can and will defend themselves in arguments by saying “well, that is just how I feel,” and then they get to walk away with their nose in the air.
So how do we fight this new trend of validating the willfully ignorant? How can we continue to support our arguments with facts when the people we are arguing with are rewarded for keeping their heads in the sand?
Know Your Shit
Be well informed. Have sources that back up your argument. Be able to quote authorities on the subject. Have a quantifiable response to every one of their unfounded positions. Be able to tell them with certainty that their beliefs are grown from toxic soil.
Simpler said than done. You need to do more than just watch John Oliver or Adam Ruins Everything if you want to have credibility, even though the person you are arguing with has no foundation whatsoever. I know, it makes no sense, but then again – what does anymore?
A few places to start are Associated Press and Reuters. These news sites pride themselves on being as bare bones as possible. No editorializing – just facts. Get the apps and set up alerts for subjects you are passionate about. Be an authority. Know your shit.
Don’t Give In
Keep at it. Be the pounding waves of sensibility that erode the walls of their emotional fortress. People who pin their arguments on a post-truth belief only win in battles of attrition. They are waiting for you to give up, get tired, and go home. And because they provide their own bottomless pit of experiences and opinions, they are ready for the long haul.
It doesn’t matter how many compelling arguments you made if you let them get the last word. But with enough persistence you might just break through. Wear them down. Keep them engaged. Be tenacious.
Give Them Enough Rope
The very virtue of ignoring facts in favor of one’s own opinions on a subject reeks of egotism. “Oh you mean a dozen respected authorities on a subject have conducted a dozen independent studies that have all concluded the same thing? Well I disagree.” Say what you want, but that takes some fucking stones.
Unfortunately, when they set their post-truth minds to establishing a registry for Muslims, sending immigrants into exile, or repealing Roe v. Wade, it is clear that their unfounded opinions could have very real and very detrimental repercussions .
That is, unless you find a way to use their denseness and emotional tenacity against them. Here is the thing – emotions are fickle and opinions predicated in them are often rooted in something far afield from the issue at hand. So, if you keep gently tugging on that thread, the whole sweater might unravel.
For example, let’s say you are arguing about the idea of whether or not gay marriage should be repealed:
Them: “I just think marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
You: “Okay, why do you think that?”
Them: “Because the Bible says so.”
You: “Okay, so this is a religious issue for you?”
You: “And you want the federal government to force your religious beliefs on everyone else?”
You: “So you don’t care about separation of church and state?”
Them: “I wouldn’t go that far.”
You: “But you just said that you wanted the federal government to make something illegal because your religion says so.”
Them: “That’s not what I meant.”
You: “Then what did you mean by this being a religious issue for you?”
And the second you force them to re-frame their argument, or question the validity of their standpoint, you have stripped them of their armor and left them defenseless against your onslaught of facts. Now is when you hit them with the big guns.
And when all else fails…
Calmly Accept a Stalemate and Scream Into a Pillow
The sad truth here is that you probably won’t change their mind. You won’t lose, and you might make them rethink things, but the reality is that post-truth beliefs are so hard to shake because they are based in emotion and not fact. You can’t simply show these people a few articles and definitive proof to the contrary – you need to change the way they perceive the world around them. And that can take a while.
But don’t give up. Take a break, go for a run, hit a punching bag, and then get back out there and continue to fight belief with reason.