We were never all that keen on the “truth”

Northern Ireland is a complete joke of a place. It has the lowest wages in the UK, the most poverty and the worst health; there’s a road fatality every day and a murder every week; its education system is a farce. Its public transport is laughable and, uniquely in the British Isles, it can’t even get a train connection to the airport. No wonder far more people leave the place than come to it!

Show that sentence to most people in Northern Ireland, and perhaps beyond, and few would quibble with it. Most indeed would enthusiastically agree, perhaps even adding a few more pointers to just how useless we all are.

Yet every statement above is complete and utter nonsense.

Northern Ireland’s wages are indeed below the London-skewed UK mean but now approaching the median among UK regions, its poverty rates are if anything lower, and life expectancy is also about the UK/EU average; on average there is a road fatality every five days and a murder once a month; Boston College recognises Northern Ireland’s basic education as the best in Europe and the best in the English-speaking world. Northern Ireland’s trains are the most punctual in the UK and, post-bus lanes, more people now enter Belfast City Centre than before; and there is a train connection to one airport with a platform accessible on foot within 20 minutes of leaving the plane (highly unusually for a city of Belfast’s size which, typically in the UK, wouldn’t have one, as Dublin hasn’t). Perhaps as a result, in fact five more people come to Northern Ireland to live every day than leave it.

Take a screenshot of the above paragraph and check how often things are said – from private conversation to media debates – which run contrary to it and are, therefore, just plain wrong.

We can see that this “post-truth” era is nothing new. It is perhaps more visible than it was – in fact, in the past, it would have been much harder to stick a blog post on the web for the world to see to tackle the myths we all take to be true.

What is interesting, however, is that even people reading this who may have been surprised by the “correction paragraph” above will still find themselves repeating the myths. One thing about human beings is that once they understand something to be the case, they find it extremely difficult to remove that knowledge from the brain and replace it with the correction. This basic psychological fact can of course be abused by unscrupulous individuals, who will happily report rumours and news, have it placed well up the Google charts, and then turn them into apparent “facts”.

As an acquaintance pointed out, this merely reflects a norm. It is standard marketing and sales technique to appeal to emotion first, and only then provide some back-up information. Successful political movements will do the same thing – which is why ability to communicate (emotive) values is far more important electorally than the development of rational and coherent policy positions.

We were never all that keen on “truth”. If you want something rational which operates solely on the basis of facts presented, it is called a computer. We are human beings, and we are not “post-truth” because we were never “pre-truth”!

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2 thoughts on “We were never all that keen on the “truth”

  1. William Allen says:

    Well said. Having lived in SE England I know that life here in NI is pretty good. The public transport is not perfect but I have enjoyed using it over the last couple of years. I don’t knock NI and I squirm when I hear people doing so.

  2. You are measuring Health by Life Expectancy … surely there are better measures?

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