The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World

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“The trouble now is not that we aren’t using language clearly enough, but that words and the truths they convey are no longer as stable as they used to be. […] In the political arena, drawing on cultural and contextual implicatures to make an audience believe something is a common way to plausibly deny and breezily wave off accusations of lying. So, it doesn’t matter exactly what is said, it only matters what listeners think you said or meant. It’s sadly unsurprising that, done on a large scale, it can be easy to confuse, normalize, and legitimize this kind of misbehavior. Plausible deniability has never been easier thanks to a fast shifting language and cleverly worded implicatures.”

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“In a post-truth era, public discourse can become muddled as words rapidly develop new meanings and connotations for different groups, increasing in unwieldy complexity.

Even if both sides of a political divide ultimately want to solve the same big problems in society, though they may use the same words, those words sometimes seem to mean entirely different things. When it comes to hotly-debated concepts that trigger emotional or ideological reactions, such as ‘climate change,’ the same words can be received completely differently by different people. The common semantic ground we normally depend on suddenly seems shaky.

Thanks to contexts in which implicatures are key, listeners are always reading between the lines and filling in blanks for themselves, usually with their own beliefs and ideologies. And so, the gaps in understanding one another can be as wide as if we were speaking completely different languages.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World.” JSTOR Daily.

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