What Is Post-Truth: Dhiraj K. Nite

The term of post-truth and post-fact has recently become a commonplace. It is no more confined to the realm of politics, that is, post-truth politics but informs the subjectivity in a wider social life. It seems to constitute the substance of a public sphere of the post-Fordist multitude itself. Our following discussion makes an exposition of its characteristic feature and foundational root. It is, I suggest below, a discourse of the contemporary forms of life. #Author


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Post-truth: A discourse of the contemporary forms of life

By Dhiraj K. Nite

Post-truth relates to a public sphere. It is characterised by the repeated assertion of a set of opinions, which disregards the contradictory fact and ignores the factual rebuttal. Hence, it is, one and the same time, post-fact:the violation of what Carr (1961) and Ricoeur(1984) consider the scientific method.[i] This public sphere is akin to what Habermas(1989) terms ‘the plebiscitary-acclamatory form of regimented public sphere’.[ii] This is a consuming public rather than rational-critical debating public: the latter is the liberal model of the bourgeois public sphere that puts reason to use for fostering public opinion. The latter normally happens to be a critic of the authorities and calls on the public authority to legitimate itself before public opinion. The latter is brought into play as a critical authority in connection with the normative mandate that the exercise of political and social power be subject to publicity. By contrast, post-truth public opinion is the object to be moulded in connection with a staged display of and manipulative propagation of publicity in the service of persons and institutions: what Habermas simplistically terms ‘non-public opinion’ and ‘quasi-public opinion’(ibid: 236, 247). Post-fact public opinions are currently working in great numbers. The commentators have identified these in the contexts of the victorious campaigns of Trump, Brexit and the role of Russia and Syria in the Aleppo humanitarian crisis. As also the jingoist aggression over the issues, including beef, love jihad, the encounterkilling of IshratJahan, capital punishment of Afjal Guru and YakubMenon (2014),the Bhopal Encounter of six SIMI associates (2016) and the likes, is a similar case in India.

The term of post-truth, however, appears to be the elemental feature of the contemporary public sphere. Furthermore, it is supposed to be connected with the very desire of free people to live in a post-truth world, to express a post-truth tendency and work on a post-truth narrative structure cum strategy. It is an epistemological condition in which the attitude towards the very question of truth has become not merely ambivalent,pragmaticand self-serving. Instead, truth itself has become dispensable in this scheme of post-truth.[iii]Here it is marked out from another Habermasian viewpoint. The latter maintains that in a comparative sense the concept of public opinion is to be retained because the constitutional reality of the social-welfare state must be conceived as a process in the course of which a public sphere that functions effectively in the political realm is realised: that is to say, as a process in which the exercise of social power and political domination is effectively subjected to the mandate of democratic publicity (ibid: 244). Post-truth opinion obviates any distinction between public opinion and non-public opinion or quasi-public opinion, at the first place. Then, it affirms its non-dialogical, cynical reality. It valorises the logic of emotion as the final referent and mocks that of rationalism as well as universalism. Consequently, the terms of post-humanism,[iv] post-fact and the politics of America First, India First and the likes, and the society of spectacle and the polity of control tend to feed each other.[v] All this surpasses the negative connotation, whatsoever, attached to Habermasian term of non-public opinion and regimented cum manipulative public.

The desire of free people to live in a post-fact world is, it could be said, connected with some circumstantial factors, which form the materiality and subjectivity of contemporary forms of life, as these are, from the late twentieth-century.One of them relates to the postmodern criticism of enlightenment and modernity.The postmodern thinking has begun to take hold in the aftermath of the golden era of capitalism (1945-70), the crushing defeat faced by the campaigns for emancipatory cum egalitarian transformation (1967-80), the stifling experience of the existing socialism, and the emergence of a political economic scenario in which no promising alternative of the neo-liberal market economy is imminent.[vi]This thinking challenges, inter alia, the notions of objectivity and universal truth. It advances, among others, the idea of relativism. It reduces a treatise to simply a discourse that is a product of the [decentred] power relationship.[vii]

The post-Fordist forms of life connect to post-truth public sphere. The former includes the pre-eminence of immaterial labour, interactive and communicative labour, affective labour, and the roles of general intellect, social cooperation and virtuosity in the work performance (Virno 2004).[viii]The two emotional tonalities of thepost-Fordist multitude are opportunism and cynicism. Opportunism is marked by unexpected turns, perceptible shocks, permanent innovationand chronic instability (ibid:86). It is now a systemic behaviour caused by structural instability. In the post-Ford era mode of production, that is ajust-in-time method and informatisedaccumulation, opportunism acquires a certain technical importance. It is the cognitive and behavioural reaction of the contemporary multitude to the fact that routine practices are no longer organised along uniform lines; instead, they present a high level of unpredictability. Precisely this ability to manoeuvre among abstract and interchangeable opportunities which constitutes professional quality in certain sectors of post-Fordist production, sectors where the labour process is not regulated by a single particular goal, but by a class of equivalent possibilities to be specified one at a time. The information machine, rather than being a means to a single end, is an introduction to successive and opportunistic elaborations. Opportunism gains in value as an indispensable resource whenever a diffuse communicative action permeates the concrete labour process.

Likewise, cynicism is also connected with the chronic instability of forms of life and linguistic games. For general intellect is now associated withthe loss of the principle of equivalency (ibid:87). Cynics are related to certain cognitive premises and the absence of ‘real equivalence’. This is connected with thenon-dialogical renunciation of an inter-subjective foundation and a standard moral evaluation and abandonment of equality (ibid:88).

Idle talk and curiosity are some of other features of the contemporary multitude.Authentic life to unauthentic life, the world workshop to a world–spectacle: a shift has occurred.[ix] These attitudes have become the pivot of contemporary production in which the act of communication dominates, and in which the ability to manage amid continual innovations is supreme. Curiosity is connected with the autonomy from predefined goals, from limiting tasks, from the obligation of giving a faithful reproduction of the truth (ibid:89). These are connected with post-Fordist virtuosity (praxis, technical skill).

An accentuated taste for difference and the refinement of the principle of individuation constitute the selfof post-Fordist multitude (ibid: 111).The latter resists homogenisation, statistical dehumanisation and monotony of secular liberalism, which they consider as the tools of governmentality. The postmodern thinking serves it when it posits real labour, as opposed to abstract labour, in the shape of ‘the diverse ways of being human or the politics of human belonging’ (Chakrabarty2000: 70).[x]Instead of contributing to social integration, the neoliberal administration acts rather as a disseminating and differentiating mechanism in its endeavour of social control from the 1980s (Hardt and Negri 2001: 340).

Post-Fordism, as also the conservative revolution in the political economy from the 1980s(Piketty 2014),[xi]is characterised by the co-existence of the most diverse productive models. The ex-colonies, ex-socialist economies and the advanced capitalist countries are, for the first time, faced with a similar pattern in the organisation of workplace. The instability defines the latter, which is an expression of casualization, subcontractualisation and regulated informality.[xii]This is the material base of valorisation of difference. It is, however, a misleading assumption to regard this materiality as the prime mover. Instead, the very Fordist multitude had emphasised the desire for the personal autonomy or autonomous self, which had mediated the social unrest in the 1960s and 1970s. Such a desire, in the aftermath of the failure of transformative efforts, shifted to the non-socialist and anti-socialist demands, including the politics of the diverse ways of being human and identitarianism and the verncularisation of labour politics.[xiii]

If the publicness of the general intellect of multitude, it could be said, does not yield to the realm of a public sphere, of political space in which the many can tend to common affairs, then it produces terrifying effects. A publicness without a public sphere, this is the downside of the experience of the post-Fordist multitude. In this context, post-truth has surfaced in the form of a discourse of the contemporary forms of life.


[i] EH Carr, 1961. What is History?Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Paul Ricoeur, 1984. Time and Narrative (Translated by Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer). Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

[ii]JurgenHabermas. 1989/1962.The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society (translation by Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence). Massachusetts: the MIT Press.

[iii] It is grounded in the belief that no system of equivalency is stable and certain for any shceme of universal measurement.

[iv] It refers to the context of biopolitical ontology and its becoming, where the transcendent is unthinkable. In such ontology Value is outside measure, for no system of equivalency is stable and certain. Value and justice seem to be determined by humanity’s own continuous innovation and creation rather than transcendent power or measure (Hardt and Negri 2001: 355). Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, 2001.Empire.USA: Harvard University Press.

[v] The society of the spectacle – the control of broadcast and the deployment of dominant as celebrities and their views as an advertisement for manufacturing of consent – isa feature of the postmodern world. It rules through the weapon of the passion, fear – desire and pleasure that are intimately wedded to fear. The politics of fear is spread through a kind of superstition, that is, the negation of rationalism. It takes away from a struggle over the imperial constitution of the world order (Hardt and Negri 2001: 322-23).

[vi]DipeshChakrabarty suggests that the Foucauldian term of biopower and biopolitics – life as part of administration – is the final chapter of modernity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23QV66LdPOM.accessed.16February2017. By contrast, biopower and biopolitics are the components of postmodernisation, that is, the control paradigm of government and the society of control, as suggest Hardt and Negri (2001: 318-330, 344-411).

[vii] Michel Foucault, 2008/1976. The History of Sexuality, Vol. I. (Translated by Robert Hurley). Australia: Penguin Group. Colin Gordon, 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-77 of Michel Foucault. New York: Pantheon Books.

[viii] Paolo Virno, 2004. A Grammar of the Multitude: For an analysis of contemporary forms of life. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

[ix] For Heidegger, the authentic life finds its adequate expression in labour. The world is a world-workshop, a complex of productive means and goals, the theatre of a general readiness for entering the world of labour. This fundamental connection with the world is distorted by idle talk and curiosity. One who chatters and abandons oneself to curiosity does not work, is diverted from carrying out a determined task, and has suspended very serious responsibility for taking care of things. By contrast, the multitude, passionate aboutan autonomous self from the 1960s, rejects the very fact that labour or work forms the human essence or being-in-the-world, that is, Heideggerian ontic. Thereby they discard the negative connotation attached to the inauthentic life within the productivist paradigm. To them, the authentic life reduced to labour/work is basically a life sentence. Martin Heidegger, 1962. Being and Time (translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson). New York: Harper and Row.

[x]DipeshChakrabarty, 2008/2000. Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[xi] Thomas Piketty, 2014. Capital in the Twenty-First Century (translated by Arthur Goldhammer). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[xii]PrabhuMohapatra, 2005. ‘Regulated Informality’, in S. Bhattacharya and Jan Lucassen (Eds.), Workers in the Informal Sector. New Delhi: Macmillan.

[xiii]Sabyasachi Bhattacharya and RanaBehal (Eds.), 2016.The Vernacularisation of Labour Politics.New Delhi: Tulika Books.

Dhiraj k Nite

Dr. Dhiraj Kumar Nite, A Social Scientist,  University of Johannesburg, Ambedkar Univeristy Delhi. You can contact him through dhirajnite@gmail.com


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