Alternative truths
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2019 - 12:00am

A regular gathering of friends invited a guest last week to talk to us about the “post-modern world” and its impact on relationships, specially within the family. I hear that term “post modernism” all the time, but never gave it a second thought.

But it seems it defines more than just a generation gap. It is a generation chasm. No wonder seniors like us no longer understand what is going on in the world today.

Our guest was a good explainer because she herself went through all the angst as the world of her parents’ generation clashed with hers. She teaches a course in senior high school that helps her students get a grip of what is going on out there.

Last Friday evening, she tried to do the same for a dozen seniors. She traced the evolution of world views from medieval times to the present. At the end of her talk, it was clear the big change is the loss of authority figures and as a result, the death of truth as we understand or believe it.

She explained that her generation and more specially those after, no longer have the kind of moorings we grew up with on matters like truth. Today, there are alternative truths, as Donald Trump and his minions put it.

I know truth can only be truth and there can be no alternative. But as she explained to us, current generations no longer trust institutions and people we used to consider our North Stars to tell them what is truth.

Priests and cardinals have been found to molest children. Evangelical pastors live in utter luxury and have been caught committing the vilest sins against morality. Government officials steal from the National Treasury every minute of every day. Parents sell their children into prostitution via online sex. Who is there left to believe as a paragon of truth?

On top of all that, the internet is drowning us with information. Current attention span is a short eight seconds. Parents no longer have control over what our children learn about this world. We say one thing, the internet chat rooms say another. Guess who our children believe?

Our children are confused and stressed. The situation is serious enough for Dr. Cornelio Banaag to sound the alarm bells in an interview with the Inquirer. A respected psychiatrist with over 40 years of practice, Dr. Banaag said he has never seen anything like this.

“I’ve seen depression and anxiety, but not to the degree that we have now. I’ve seen suicidal patients, but not to the extent that we see now. It worries me. There’s not a week that goes by when you don’t hear about people cutting themselves, people so depressed that they threaten to kill themselves, attempt to kill themselves or actually dying.”

Most vulnerable are the postmillennials, says Dr. Banaag, that generation of Filipinos born after 1994, the oldest of whom are just at the threshold of adulthood.

“The question is, what happened to this generation?” he asks. “What makes them so different from previous generations?”

Technology is one explanation... how it drowns us with information.

“Smartphones came out in 2007,” Dr. Banaag says.

“By 2010, mental health professionals all over the world began to see changes in the behavior of young people. They’re meeting up less and less, they’re not eager to go out, they spend more and more time on the internet and social media. After a bad exam, they don’t go out together to drink or hang out, they go home to their smartphones.

“I’ve never seen a group of people so stressed,” he adds. “Have you ever heard a five-year-old say, ‘I’m stressed’? I have!”

I was bothered and intrigued by what I heard last Friday evening that I googled “post modernism”. The best article that makes sense to me was one published by vox.com. It was written by Sean Illing and updated just last Saturday.

Entitled “Post-truth prophets”, it confirms my fear that facts don’t seem to matter anymore. The Trump team is shamelessly operating on this principle with no less than Trump himself tweeting his alternative truth. The Duterte trolls are doing the same here and getting away with it.

The death of facts and the profusion of narratives are being blamed on a philosophical movement that began almost four decades ago called “postmodernism and its purported attack on the idea of capital-T truth.”

The vox article traced the term to Jean Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition — “the book that coined the term…”

Post modern thinking has thrived in a world that had become too fragmented by media and technology to support anything like a moral or social consensus.

“What passes for truth in postindustrial society is often a reflection of who holds power, and to forget that is to risk being manipulated… The individual had become submerged in content, symbols, and ads — and we can now add misinformation and clickbait to that list.”

Jean Baudrillard, another French academic, sounded the alarm about the political implications. Baudrillard sees television, and now the internet, as immersing people in their own private realities.

“The constant battle for our attention means that we can experience whatever version of reality we prefer, whenever we prefer. Even worse, because media platforms are competing to win audiences, the incentives will always push them in the direction of catering to our worst impulses…”

The vox article warns that what really matters now are the narratives we rely on to make sense of all those facts.

“Think of narratives as a device for connecting the dots, a way of mapping our experience of the world. This process of connecting the dots has never been immune from bias or distortion.”

The challenge for parents raising children today had never been greater. Get their trust at their earliest age or forever lose the ability to teach them how to discern the truth.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

POST MODERNISM
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