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.

News and Media Literacy the Way It’s Always Been Taught May Not Be the Right Response to Fake News Woes

fake-news-old-timey-crop-990x507“Citizens can introduce and spread and perpetuate questionable information, and do so not because they aren’t media-literate, but because they have their own value system, and they’re trying to advocate for that:  [But] if finding truth is not as large a priority as finding personally relevant information, then what good is knowing how to critique a message in the first place? We suggest that mainstream media sources, in doing their jobs as traditional information outlets, end up legitimating spectacle. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just digital culture, pushing up against traditional forms of storytelling and reporting.”

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“Young people are really good at sharing and promoting ideas they like and things that reinforce their value systems. But in terms of interrogation or stopping to do analysis, oftentimes, […] they end up stopping at the level of consumption, and using weaker forms of expression — liking, retweeting, resharing. Engaging critical dialogue, or providing their own sense of reflection on this, often doesn’t happen. That leads to perpetuating some of these false narratives we see emerging.”

SOURCE: Wang, Shan. “News and Media Literacy the Way It’s Always Been Taught May Not Be the Right Response to Fake News Woes.Nieman.

Writing Human Rights and Getting It Wrong

dewaal-human-rights_body2“Human rights advocacy is a critique of power, not a directive for exercising it; humility is not only a necessary character trait but also an ideal. I now believe that a fully emancipatory human rights practice must be based on an agenda set by the affected people. This requires challenging the iniquitous structures of power that too often stand in the way of emancipation or co-opt narratives of human rights for their own ends.”

SOURCE: Waal, Alex de. “Writing Human Rights and Getting It Wrong.” Boston Review.

With ‘Fake News,’ Trump Moves from Alternative Facts to Alternative Language

“The ability to reshape language — even a little — is an awesome power to have. According to language experts on both sides of the aisle, the rebranding of fake news could be a genuine threat to democracy.”

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In other words, calling something fake news implies that it isn’t news at all. And using that phrase in the way that Trump uses it, said Berkeley professor George Lakoff, is dangerous:

 

“It is done to serve interests at odds with the public good. It also undermines the credibility of real news sources, that is, the press. Therefore it makes it harder for the press to serve the public good by revealing truths. And it threatens democracy, which requires that the press function to reveal real truths.”

SOURCE: Kurtzleben, Danielle. “With ‘Fake News,’ Trump Moves from Alternative Facts to Alternative Language.” NPR.

The Free Flow of Scientific Information Is Critical for Democracy

64d1689c-f1a6-40f6-8bb8601cca863649“Consider, for a moment, the word ‘media.’ The media mediate between sources of information and the public. They make decisions about what is most important and relevant to readers (since no one has time to keep up with all the science being done at federal agencies, or even one agency). They translate from the technical to the accessible. They place science in larger social and political contexts, and they hold institutions accountable when they try to manipulate or suppress scientific results for political reasons. No other institution in our society is capable of fulfilling all these roles. For this reason, free and open access to government scientists must remain open, even—indeed, especially—when scientists’ results challenge the government’s political outlook.”

SOURCE: Popkin, Gabriel. “The Free Flow of Scientific Information Is Critical for Democracy.” Scientific American.

Statement of the ACLA Executive Committee on Immigration Executive Order:

img-acla-logo“By its nature, comparative literature is a discipline which demands dialogue within and across national borders. The free movement of students and scholars, to and from universities, academic conferences, and other places of research and teaching, is therefore of the utmost importance to our discipline. In turn, the discipline and practices of comparative literature are important for fostering mutual understanding and respect across and among cultures, languages, ethnicities, religions, and national boundaries.”

SOURCE: acla.org