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.

Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too

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“The impact that shifting languages can have on us reveals how central it is to our identities and social connections. In a series of intriguing studies, Boaz Keysar and his colleagues at the University of Chicago have shown that when speaking a second language, people tend to behave more rationally. In our native languages, we’re somewhat stuck in our habits, and likely to be susceptible to classic cognitive biases. But the more thoughtful effort that is required to speak a second language helps elevate us into more rational territory.”

SOURCE: Cook, Ed. “Learning a Second Language Isn’t Just Good for Your Brain—It’s Good for Democracy, Too.” Quartz.

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.

The Language Wars

“[T]oday, languages are changing more rapidly than ever.  The reality is most lexicographers are likely scrambling to keep up with all the neologisms and newly developed, most prominent meanings. We can point to the networked behavior of digital and social media as one of the driving factors, the ‘how’ of rapid meaning changes. But why are there so many more new connotations for words? If there is such a thing as a linguistic time of peace, is there a linguistic time of war?

rhetoricThe fact is language does not change in steady ebbs and flows. Cultural and social forces can play a major role in the speed at which language changes. Some language scholars claim that language actually behaves differently during times of social upheaval and even war, according to linguist Donna Farina. So as a society becomes increasingly unstable, it turns out this is when linguistic innovation happens more rapidly, possibly as speakers seek to explain, reclaim, dilute or degrade certain terms on the linguistic battlefield.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Language Wars.” JStor Daily.

How Facebook, Fake News & Friends Are Warping Your Memory

“Memory is notoriously fallible, but some experts worry that a new phenomenon is emerging. ‘Memories are shared among groups in novel ways through sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blurring the line between individual and collective memories,’ says psychologist Daniel Schacter, who studies memory at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. ‘The development of Internet-based misinformation, such as recently well-publicized fake news sites, has the potential to distort individual and collective memories in disturbing ways.’”

nature_NF_Memory-illo_09.03.2017“Although history has frequently been interpreted for political ends, psychologists are now investigating the fundamental processes by which collective memories form, to understand what makes them vulnerable to distortion. They show that social networks powerfully shape memory, and that people need little prompting to conform to a majority recollection — even if it is wrong. Not all the findings are gloomy, however. Research is pointing to ways of dislodging false memories or preventing them from forming in the first place.”

“To combat the influence of fake news, says Micah Edelson, a memory researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, ‘it’s important to understand not only the creation of these sites, but also how people respond to them’”.

SOURCE: Spinney, Laura. “How Facebook, Fake News and Friends Are Warping Your Memory.” Nature News.

Foucault -The Power Thinker

“Rather than staying in the world of words, in the 1970s he shifted his philosophical attention to power, an idea that promises to help explain how words, or anything else for that matter, come to give things the order that they have.”

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“Foucault sought to unburden philosophy of its icy gaze of capturing essences. He wanted to free philosophy to track the movements of power, the heat and the fury of it working to define the order of things.”

“Discipline, according to Foucault’s historical and philosophical analyses, is a form of power that tells people how to act by coaxing them to adjust themselves to what is ‘normal’. It is power in the form of correct training. Discipline does not strike down the subject at whom it is directed, in the way that sovereignty does. Discipline works more subtly, with an exquisite care even, in order to produce obedient people. Foucault famously called the obedient and normal products of discipline ‘docile subjects’.”

SOURCE: Koopman, Colin. “Why Foucault’s Work on Power Is More Important Than Ever.” Aeon.