If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, it’s clear that we’re neck deep in the post-truth era. Post-truth area? Say what? Ralph Keyes spells it out in his 2004 book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life:
Lying has become, essentially, a no-fault transgression. “That’s okay,” we say of those who are caught dissembling. “She meant well.” “Who am I to judge?” And the clincher: “What is truth, anyway?”.
Sounds familiar, right? Whether it’s explaining the magical abilities of Santa Claus to my kids or pushing back on a deadline because I’m “swamped”, the truth is that I’m guilty of the occasional half-truth, fib and lie. I know I’m not alone here. As Keyes pointed out in his book, we’ve all become deceivers (some worse than others) and we’ve accepted this reality.
But with the growing tide of resistance against the new leadership in Washington and the renewed focus on real-time fact checking, I’m hopeful that the tide is turning against the post-truth era. Let’s not forget Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion:
To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.
As the floodgates of half-truths, double-speak and outright lies swing wide open, hunger for the truth will naturally grow. Creatives (designers, writers, marketers, photographers, etc.) can and should be advocates for the truth. Whether it’s multi-million dollar marketing campaigns or tweet-ready infographics, creatives often play a pivotal role in the development and dissemination of information. I completely understand that creatives are hesitant to take a risk by offering something that’s grounded in reality rather than fantasy. Been there, done that, have the battle scars.
But as our fellow citizens struggle to make sense of what’s real, sort of true and total post-truth era bullshit, creatives should be willing to step up and give our audiences some good old-fashioned truth. I know this notion flies against the “give the people what they want” and “the client is always right” conventions, but I believe it’s time to give the people what they need. Consider this notion from Milton Glaser’s essay entitled Ambiguity & Truth:
‘Do no harm’ is an admonition to doctors concerning their relationship to their patients, not to their fellow practitioners or the drug companies. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central to what we do.
I’ll take Glaser’s last line one step further: Telling the truth MUST become central to what we do. The longer we spend in the toxic fog of the post-truth era, the less likely we’ll be able to differentiate between facts and fakes. We owe it to our audiences and ourselves to advocate for and deliver a much-needed dose of reality.
Notice the repeated use of “we” throughout this essay? Escaping the post-truth era and forging a new era of responsibility is going to be a group effort. It’s time for all creatives to get in the boat, grab an oar and row like hell.