Post Truth era and the Great Disruption is the new normal in 21st Century. Cambridge dictionary describes post truth as ‘relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts’. Another description states that post truth politics is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotions disconnected from the details of policy, and by repeated assertion of trivial punch lines factual rebuttals are ignored. post truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of facts by relegating facts and experts opinions to be of secondary importance, more emphasis is on appeal to emotions.
In the age of information empowerment of the masses, state’s monopoly on information has been compromised, media has developed a capability to directly affect national and international issues through the colossus of Non Kinetic Warfare; Arab Spring and chaos in Middle East is a case in point, where strongmen like Gaddafi and Mubarak could not control the chaos generated through media. More recently we have witnessed chaos in Venezuela and even France. President Macron’s rule has been challenged by the Yellow Vests or ‘Gilets jaunes’ and most of the French cities have become battle grounds for the political middle class, interestingly another group mobilized through social media called ‘Foulards rougues’ who claim to be Pro-Macron have come out in the streets of Paris, is France heading for a new civil war and are we witnessing the true manifestation of post truth garbage in the streets of fashion capital of the world.
It is being discussed that state with more central control would fare better than chaotic democracies, especially if these are federations or unions like India, Russia or even Pakistan. Some of the political scientists are calling for a new social contract between the state and people, after all the state exists to stop the madness of chaos and if modern digital media is creating more chaos than the state can manage, the state has two choices, exert control or perish, something that happened in Libya and Ukraine
Another important aspect of post truth era is the question of reputation and credibility of leadership; you may be one hell of a leader, one trivial scandal of your past can ruin your reputation and bring down complete system; President Trump is one such example where his past is continuously haunting the White House, almost on daily basis.
Pakistan’s geostrategic position and sharing neighborhood with giants makes its survival challenging, in addition the physical presence of the sole super in the region adds to Pakistan’s geostrategic matrix. There is a need to discuss the post truth politics through a national debate and help the state develop a more robust and objective social contract between the state and people. It is important that developed and developing nations and states are finding it increasingly difficult to even develop a common National narrative, mainly due to an uneven matrix and lack of whole of the nation approach within various elements of national power, even in a country like Pakistan there are more than 50 million social media users and approximately 120 million people with smart phones, this is larger than population of most of the European countries and keeps growing at an average rate of 7% every year.
Pakistan’s image problem has remained consistent as no worthwhile long range strategy was conceived to improve the positive image of Pakistan. While making a long term strategy, Pakistan has to develop a concept that addresses both the positive projection of Pakistan’s image and at the same time erects effective firewalls against a plethora of negative blitz from outside and within Pakistan.
Pakistan’s perception management and national image challenges stem from number of factors which have become accentuated in the post truth era, these are briefly discussed in succeeding paras:
There is a persistent exploitation of Pakistan’s major fault-lines by hostile powers, including sectarian, interprovincial, ethnic or class based issues. Pakistan has tremendously suffered due to a long and hard war fought against terror, despite success in the war, Pakistan is entering the phase of settlement and rehabilitation of the displaced people from conflict prone areas and needs a political resolve. The post truth period provides ample opportunity for mischief and chaos in the conflict prone areas.
Then there is the realignment of strategic power play in the region and emergence of Eurasian colossus under China and Russia, challenging the status quo superpower in the region. It creates another contest between the existing and ‘would be powers’ and Pakistan finds herself in the crossfire. No wonder the Western and Eurasian ideologies fond a fertile ground in Pakistan to advance their agenda.
We also find domestic media, at times impinging on national security and governance, either by default or to set the agenda. There is also the issue of foreign sponsorship within Pakistani media to drive a particular agenda. Other important factors affecting the relationship between state and the people of Pakistan include domestic political sponsorship, uneven civil military relations turf and a general negative perception about Pakistan in international arena.
Post truth politics is generating a lot of trivia, especially on social media, which is giving vent to tribal tendencies and pressure group. Some of the common trends include a twisted view of history, daily doses of negativism, especially affecting the youth, trivial punch lines to target the state institutions, netizens activism to expose he state policy through trashing and group satire consuming time and effort.
Where do we go from here, Venezuela, France, Ukraine or even Libya?
The state and major stake holders in Pakistan should have a wholesome view of post truth era and how it is impacting governance and state security. For that we need an informed debate and a compatible strategy. While freedom of expression has reached a new level of chaos, the state has to develop structures and mechanisms for information management and build firewalls against negative repercussions. While governance is becoming difficult in post truth era, the state has to exert herself to avoid strategic chaos and Black Swans, if in doubt, please look at those states who became redundant for their leadership could not see writing on the wall.
The author is a freelance journalist.