A new study conducted by the scientists at Indiana University and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) reveals that humanity has slipped into a state where people believe facts based on their emotional quotients and not by rationality. This public contempt for scientific facts is a result of a process that has been in the works for the last couple of decades.
The study highlights that humanity has started to make a move towards a time that philosophers term as the “post-truth era,” and it is driven by emotions instead of rationality. The public’s apathy towards truth began almost four decades ago.
Ideally, there is a generalised accepted genesis of the “post-truth” era — during the time when impulsive irrationality was at an all-time high in the socio-political landscape after the 2016 Presidential elections in the US and Brexit. This was even more prominent when conspiracy theories and anti-vaxxer sentiments were on the rise in the face of a global pandemic.
Language As Determining Factor
The study noted that over the last 40 years, collectivism has been replaced by individualism, as a result, “I” has replaced “we.” The use of language at any given period symbolises the sentiment of the people during that time.
According to the study, during the 1850s, words such as “conclusion” and “determine” were highly used in science instead of the words such as “believe” or “feel”. The trend of using these terms has reversed in the last four decades.
The study was conducted by analysing several books covering the time period between 1850 to 2019. The books analysed were in different languages including English, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Russian and French.
“Interpreting this synchronous sea-change in book language remains challenging,” said the co-author of the study from Indiana University, Johan Bollen.
The researchers found this significant change in the usage of these terms in both fiction, non-fiction as well as in New York Times articles. This determines the shift in the rationality and sentiment patterns over time.
“One possibility when it comes to the trends from 1850 to 1980 is that the rapid developments in science and technology and their socio-economic benefits drove a rise in status of the scientific approach, which gradually permeated the culture, society and its institutions ranging from education to politics,” said the lead author from WUR, Marten Scheffer.
What Caused The Changes?
The study noted that it is hard to determine the exact cause of this reversal trend from the 1980s. However, the authors tried to link the cause to the fundamental changes in the economy during that time.
The study suggested that the ideology of individualism was introduced as a result of the ushering in of neoliberalism during the tenure of the US President Ronald Reagan the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Their introduction of financialization and deregulation policies gave rise to the idea of ‘entrepreneurship of the self’.
Thatcher’s dictum is evidence of the rise in individualism. “There is no such thing as society,” inscribed on it.
The recent study papers also noted that countries with an over 40% population agree in trusting most people ended up doing better in managing the COVID-19.
One of the other reasons that the study pointed was the introduction of Web 2.0, with increased permeability into average households, has amplified the trends of ‘atomisation’.
The use of social media has a role in shifting towards the use of emotion-laden vernacular, which then spilt over to books.
According to a co-author, Ingrid van de Leemput from WUR, if the causes of these changes are linked with the “seesaw in the balance” between reasoning and institution, the trend is “impossible” to reverse.