The May Bido Lito! Special Event ALTERNATIVE FACTS was a discussion with How Much Of This Is Fiction curator Dr David Garcia about the FACT exhibition, his background in Tactical Media and the current political climate played out via an increasingly untruthful media. In response, our contributor Tom Bell gives his thoughts on why hope is in short supply.
It was at the end of Bido Lito!’s event that it hit home. An audience member asked: “Can the left win back ground while staying honest?” And in his reply Dr David Garcia admitted to having had the thought that, while fiction that appropriates the tactics of alternative fact may be justifiable to reveal reality, it “still leaves us powerless”.
It was a vexing note on which to finish and reinforced why I don’t currently watch or read much news. Hope flies against almost all evidence. If reason is not a weapon, if expertise is not a weapon, if summoning a greater good or noble sense of nationhood or national values is not a weapon, if isms are not weapons because the cause of them have remembered their numerical advantage and discovered a thrill in a spiteful revenge on them… Then where are the weapons?
That night, I found myself on the fringes of a Facebook “discussion” in which those condemning the reported ‘nerve gas mass-murder’ in Syria were labelled trolls paid by government, peddling fake news. The aggressors themselves resembled paid thugs. Short of overambitious ideas like a mass desertion of (or the now-wealthy owners closing down) social media platforms, and all big-player advertisers withdrawing from search engines, and a lot of non-hard-right zillionaires (do these exist?) suddenly finding their tongues and peppering very aggressive, frivolous litigation to divert alt-right backers’ resources, I struggle to see how we respond to those who want their bias confirmed by alternative facts.
And it’s at times like that when I think Dr Garcia had a point when he questioned whether we should even talk about such a thing as “post-truth”, thereby saying it’s real and human. Just the same as a (failed) self-serving intra-party manoeuvre by David Cameron gave people like me, who’ve no obvious diplomatic or trade deal-striking experience, the option to start tearing up treaties and dismantling an economy – an option that, on a mass scale, we hadn’t previously thought was feasible let alone credible. And just the same as that option was given its ludicrous name, effectively, by portmanteau-happy newspaper headline writers.
But I’d argue that the left, and alternative institutions, and even tech pioneers – for years, on many fronts – have all failed to show a lead for a changing world, and at times like this we see indirectly where that ends. It snowballs from relatively minor decisions being corrupted, just as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage were offensive niche jokes that got out of hand. I blame Twitter, of which Trump is president, Gordon Brown’s cowardice over “that racist woman”, even Glastonbury’s compliance with the status quo. These have not welcomed post-truth or reactionary votes, but neither have they offered weapons with which to respond. Why? Because they’ve told the masses: we like whatever you like.
There’s a mock-up of Julian Assange’s room at the Ecuadorian embassy in the FACT foyer. It contains files of intelligence and research, including a paper on how Leninist theorists might contrive revolutionary situations by creating disorder before presenting themselves as those most likely to restore order. What troubles me is that we may be in that phase right now, and those phases are long and bloody, and most of us (myself included, before this exhibition) didn’t even realise it was happening. So we can thank art for creating a disorder of thought. From where will come order?
How Much Of This Is Fiction runs at FACT until 21st May.
Bido Lito! Members get free admission to our monthly Special Events. Sign up here.