In our latest installment of Post-Truth Hottakes, here's one that's been rattling around everyone's newsfeeds this month...and it provides some teachable moments on how we're making sense of things these days, and how we can hopefully do it a little better.
Just finished watching Inventing Anna, the top trending "this story is true except for all the parts that are made up" retelling of the exploits of the fake German heiress Anna Sorokin (nee Delvey). It was the 2022 Netflix guilty pleasure that we all hoped would rinse the taste of Tiger King out of our mouths.
Beyond the tale itself, what really struck me was something the journalist who broke the story said at the end. "You know, I'm just not sure I got the actual story––was it a case of everything that's wrong with Millennial influencer culture, was it a cautionary tale of feminism in late stage capitalism, was it about wealth and power in New York City, or really about post-Soviet collapse and corruption?" (paraphrasing here).
That kind of blew me away––the idea that the facts of the case, the actual IRL on the ground realities of a twenty-something hustler, complete with bank statements and Instagram trails could "be about" so many wildly different, competing and conflicting truths.
And then I clicked on an article about the Canadian truckers strike...
Seems we're all awash in Rashomon like stories (Kurosawa's famous murder mystery told from competing points of view) and the truckers' strike is the latest and most pressing. On its surface, it doesn't matter much, but it's becoming an emblem, a symbol of "what's really going on" and "what we all ought to do next." And that's gonna matter long after we forget all about Ottawa.
A few of the lenses of "what's really going on."
One day, there was a peaceful democratic protest by salt of the earth blue collar workers against the bureaucratic overreach of vaccine mandates of the government
90% of Canadian truckers are vaccinated (and 80% of Canadians), the US side of the border requires the same standards which the two major trucking organizations endorse
a bunch of regular (and often vaccinated) Canadians sympathize with the truckers right to protest, even if they are on opposite sides of this particular decision
this protest wasn't just salt of the earth truckers, and was actually started by a fringe conspiracist James Bauder with ties to some super sketchy QAnon and alt-right movements––basically a serial agitator with an eye to good optics and agitprop
turns out the protests were overwhelmingly boosted and platformed on social media not by grassroots movement, but by the Daily Caller, Telegram and Fox News in a proxy fight for the culture wars south of the border
copycat protests broke out in NZ, FR, UK and elsewhere, as if this were an entirely spontaneous grassroots act of civil disobedience like the MockingJay salute from the Hunger Games
over 60% of the funding for the movement was coordinated by US based right wing sources and there's some evidence this was an opportunistic psy-op
Trudeau froze all the funds in the GoFundMe campaign and invoked emergency powers which many even centrist folks figured was a gross overreach of executive powers and a super concerning precedent for future civil disobedience, regardless of political persuasion.
And that friends and neighbors is more or less where the narrative finds us this week (stay tuned for more dramatic developments, or maybe it all ends with a whimper as this gets replaced by Ukraine and Britney Spear's new $15M tell-all book that she sold for more than pope's and presidents').
But really, the Freedom Convoy is a stark example of the meaning crisis, the collapse in "post-truth" realities and shared consensus about what's really going on and what we should all do about it.
If you wanna slag off Trudeau then you latch onto the initial description of honest truck drivers peacefully protesting, and frame all official responses as inept (or corrupt) overreach.
If you're a Blue State knowledge worker you cite the stats on vaccination rates among truckers and Canadians and sniff how this is a fringe minority selfishly gungeing up the works of the capital city.
If you're a Social Justice advocate you repost pictures of swastikas, MAGA hats, and QAnon posters and opine that these are fascists looking to storm the gates (just like Jan 6 and Charlottesville).
If you're an anti-vaxxer you see the Build Back Better cabal turning the crank on freedom loving citizens and ratcheting us one step closer to New World Order.
You can kinda see how weird this is all getting!
A decade ago, those same truckers would have rolled into town, maybe listed their demands, given a few interviews, and the government would've responded (or not).
The media would've covered it relatively straight (Rashomon notwithstanding). A few reporters who missed the major scoop might have started interviewing pissed off neighbors, or vaccinated truckers for color and background and most of us would've barely noticed.
But today with the advent of algorithmically optimized, bot-infested "social" media, we presume that what's showing up in our feeds is both true (factually accurate and representative of reality) and valid (just look at those millions of likes and shares!) and if it's both those things, our primate brains conclude it is what's "really going on."
And in this instance, we should be thinking more like the journalist who broke the story of the fake German heiress. We need to approach "the facts of the matter" with a more refined understanding of the power of narrative to reveal and hide the truth. Because long after the Freedom Convoy has come and gone, we will be faced with the troubling task of separating fact from fiction. Democracy depends on it, and so do both our sanity and our decency.
As Himalayan mountaineer Maurice Herzog famously wrote on returning from his historic climb, "there are other Annapurna's in the lives of men." And he was right. We all have goals, dreams and ambitions to conquer one day. We will never stop searching for that next impossible challenge.
But, sadly there will also be other Anna Delvey's in our lives as well. Looking to trick us with half truths, and lure us with our own desires.
Then (as now) the only real question to ask is "what are we pretending not to know?" And do our level best to answer that question with clarity and humility.
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