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Surviving in a Post-Truth World: Shoma Chaudhury on the needs of the times

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Shoma Chaudhury, a noted journalist delivered a lucid lecture on one of the most complex problems grappling the 21st century on August 23, organized by the Planning Forum. Chaudhury spoke of modern times, wherein facts aren’t the ultimate truth, and truth isn’t objective but swayed by emotion and personal belief.

As a journalist, Chaudhury has been exposed to a world full of reported truths and lies: The political purposes to bury the former and the veritable verisimilitude of the latter. Her professional hands-on experiences provide a telescoped view of the post-modern world riddled with ironies and paradoxes. As an individual, which narrative must one believe in? Chaudhury dwelt on the importance of a mature public discourse and its two facets. One, the matter of discourse, and second, the public who involves itself in it.

The matter of discourse attains some significance with regard to a Post-Truth world, for this discourse is usually biased. “It’s a hard world out there for journalists”, she says. Journalism is not valued enough; people need to pay for their news. Highly underpaid by the public, it becomes difficult for news houses to sustain themselves, and they fall back on sponsors who influence the reported matter to suit their benefit. Thus, the matter of discourse which depends on the news, is often biased at the source. Since journalists do end up shaping public opinion, they should not refrain from doing so.

Journalism should be subjective, but fair, accommodating all sides, and finally operating to the needs of society. Thus, even by the manner of arranging facts in an article, journalists can bring out their views clearly and then arrive at their own truth.

Talking of the public, she mentioned that a demarcated public space is central to the idea of modernity. These public spaces are important non-state actors, with an influence over the power structures. But how does one become part of this larger discourse? It is “by keeping an open-mind, by finding fault in your own rhetoric”, Chaudhury suggests. She believes, we are so often swayed by our personal ideologies that we completely disregard the opposition’s views; and this is dangerous, for we may eschew certain (un)agreeable points. This is how right-wing extremist political organisations develop, she says- over time, their ideologies become increasingly rigid and lead to fascist establishments.

The problem with the political discourse, she said, is the lack of a centre- there is no balance, one side ends up overpowering the other. In this Post-Truth, Post-Scientific world, facts don’t matter anymore. Emotions can transcend into bigger and perhaps, violent outcomes. The case of Babri Masjid demolition, and the Taslima Nasreen protests best explain portrayal of distorted facts and the existence of an immature political discourse which is both problematic and hazardous to the society. Speaking of portrayal of facts, Choudhary mentioned that even research in a Post-Truth world is profit-centered to the extent that hypotheses become theories without reliable facts to validate them. In this scenario thus, it becomes hard to choose your beliefs. One’s outlook hence becomes important. Chaudhury says, “Have the courage to be a radical in your views”, exist in a complex zone, acknowledge differences, for this is the hardest age to live in, amidst climate change, high levels of unemployment and a huge information explosion. Thus, she says that a single person’s resistance makes all the difference in this post-truth world.

Chaudhury believes in the power of an individual- a single individual can stand up in the face of resistance and bring about a change. It’s time for us to step out of our prosaic chambers, our self-constructed bubbles and meet people who don’t conform to our beliefs. Addressing a young audience, Chaudhary explained this phenomenon through the most (over)used social media platform- Facebook. Like it is known, Facebook regulates the posts we see based on our preferences. This, she believes, has a negative effect because one does not end up exploring or reading about conflicting ideas, but has a more monolithic view of society. Therefore, she urges one to be proactive and to seek complexity in life- after all, a feature of the post-truth world is that it’s no longer divided solely into black or white.

The talk remains significant in the discourse of contemporary times. Chaudhury highlights important matters: Resistance, radicalism, creation of a public space and quite importantly, biases. She summed up the essence of a post-truth world, saying that it is a world swayed by feelings and emotions, driven by the thirst for power leading to a lack of justice in a lot of cases. Thus, power becomes less pragmatic, and follows the frenzy rhetoric of the general mood, which one requires to identify and resist.

Featured Image by: Aarzoo Jolly, 1st English 


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