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Dreams Of, By & For The People

The famous Hollywood comedian, Stephen Colbert, has become a familiar face in the US thanks to reality shows on the television. However, President Donald Trump possibly is not overtly fond of him. Colbert recently coined a term, Truthiness, which means the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true……or which has no relations with the reality or (simply) a lie. In different parts of the world, rulers are creating such truthiness in a democratic set up. Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and there are so many leaders……who use truthiness to climb the ladder of success.
Meanwhile, Dipankar Sinha – a Professor of Political Science at the University of Calcutta (India) and an expert in media information and political communication – has published his latest book, ‘The Information Game in Democracy’ (Routledge International Edition). The publication has triggered a sensation across the globe, as Sinha said in this book that the media capitalism has started influencing our political and social lives! According to the author, the media have become a strong power in the modern world and this power has good, as well as ill effects on our society.

Sinha has emphasised the foundational value of information as the ‘source code’ of modern societies. In this publication, he explains how it is strategically manoeuvred in technologies of governance in so-called established and credible democracies. It not only studies the neutralisation and subversion, but also studies the complex, nuanced and multidimensional act of othering of people, who are supposed to be the repository of power in democracy and in whose interest the business of governance is expected to be conducted. The publication further highlights the challenges of technocratic interpretations, stunted public policy communication, hyped information society, co-option through the state-of-the-art capitalism, rhetoric of virtual networks and the often-unilateral agenda of mainstream media.
It is to be noted that Russian-American writer Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum – known to the world as Ayn Rand – had developed a philosophical system, called Objectivism, in the 1940s. The system derived from the idea that human knowledge and values are objective, as they exist and are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by one’s mind, and are not created by the thoughts one has. Rand clarified that she chose the name because her preferred term for a philosophy based on the primacy of existence – Existentialism– had already been taken. She characterised Objectivism as “a philosophy for living on earth“, grounded in reality and aimed at defining human nature and the nature of the world in which we live. “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute,” stressed Rand. (Atlas Shrugged; 1957)

After six decades, Sinha said that the media had played a super-active role in the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The fundamentalists, too, used the social media in that revolution. As a result, there was a confusion between revolution and counter-revolution among the users of social media during that period! In Shahbag protests (Bangladesh 2013), the progressive forces and the supporters of Jamaat used the media to influence the masses.
In recent times, the mediatised truth has become more reliable than the actual truth. And the modern day democracy has become the mediatised democracy. We live in a society where the political power plays with information and what was called ‘information society’ in the past is now called ‘network society’. This is a new level of social transformation, explained Sinha. Now, the media serve a selected part of news to the people and those selected news encourage members of the society to make the democracy happy. Stephen Colbert calls it truthiness. This is a dangerous game. In this ‘game of news’, poor farmers do not commit suicide in remote villages! Instead, they are (as projected by the media) satisfied with the initiative taken by the government and are gradually becoming self-reliant!

Sinha used two cartoons in his introduction. The first one is on a TV show, with participants taking part in a debate. Interestingly, all the participants knew the questions even before the show. It means that they faced pre-screened questions only. The political leader was expressing his/her views on different issues and other participants were ready to confront the leader with stock answers. Often, we use carefully rehearsed joke in order to make our opponents naked. Sinha suggests that we have to notice the position of the leader, public and the media carefully.
The second joke is about the secretary of a US Senator. The secretary tells his boss: “The common man – mentioned by you quite often while delivering speeches – has come to meet you.” So, a citizen has become just a character of mediatised democracy. Actually, there is no difference between citizens. Discussions on this subject are going on around the world and intellectuals prefer the words – ‘post-truth’ era or ‘post-fact’ era – to explain the contemporary world.

Dr Yuval Noah Harari

Dr Yuval Noah Harari – the Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – has explained the post-truth era in a different way in his latest publication. In this book, Dr Harari describes human beings as ‘post-truth species’ who love to believe in the ‘lie’ since their birth. He further argues that fake news is much older than Facebook, saying that people of different countries believe that ‘stories’ – narrated in their national epics – are ‘true’.
Once, George Orwell said that “useful lies were preferred to harmful truths”. And we know that Hitler’s strategy to issue false statements repeatedly converted the ‘lies’ into ‘truths’. Even erstwhile Soviet Union and China used propaganda as a strategy to win the people’s trust. So, we should not blame Trump and Putin.
Even India achieved Constitutional Democracy through the struggle. The pluralistic philosophy of Gandhi and Nehru managed to uphold the Indian culture of tolerance, despite facing various threats. Gandhi’s philosophy taught us that disobedience‘ doesn’t mean anarchy. However, the time has changed and (today) we live with surrealism, mediatised democracy and truthiness. Perhaps, we have learnt how to live in illusive reality.
Long live democracy!

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