Post Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit And What We Can Do About It by Evan Davis (book review)

I have to confess that I always wonder how people can ask for a product over the counter when its title has a profanity or swear word in the title. Oddly, ‘bullshit’ is an instantly recognised word having more to do people spouting incorrect information than a farm animal’s waste product or necessarily seen as a profanity.

TV broadcaster Evan Davis’ new book, ‘Post Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit And What We Can Do About It’, focuses on whether we’ve just had enough that we have to wade through in our lives. In that respect, it’s the range from outright lies to the interpretation of the statement so you’re not quite lying when having to explain yourself to others. In that regard, the media can spread the confusion and so you end up not seeing the truth. In other words, we can be taken in by the bullshit of others some of the time while also time doing the same ourselves. Mind you, you could just ask for ‘Post Truth’ and hope they don’t send you to the post office.

Davis’ plea is we’re just getting far too much and certainly politicians use it on their way to power. Thinking on that, there’s a general consensus that all politicians lie or evade questions so ultimately you end up relying on who lies the least or whom you don’t catch out. Mind you, there are still far too many people who are still fooled by it and look who we put in power because of it. Davis asserts that we need to get a lot more honesty back into our lives.

I should point out that Davis doesn’t focus purely on political intrigue but also on advertising where we know the slogans are rarely believed in their totality. Good thing, too, or I would have believed there were real tigers put into car’s petrol tanks when young.

What did puzzle me was the connection as to why the judicial system wear their silks as a disguise to say I might be telling my client’s version of the truth but don’t have to believe it themselves. This did make me look up how many countries lawyers dressed up in court and amazed by how many followed our sort of system. Even so, in the UK, if a lawyer firmly believes he’s been told lies or misled, they can decline the contract.

It’ll be interesting to see what our colleagues across the pond make of Jeremy Paxton’s interview technique for politicians shown here compared to their own as he attempts to get answers. I was never sure his repetition axe attack was very effective seeking a positive from an evasive answer. Then again, I would have varied my approach especially as the politicians are practiced on how to beat it by imposing a different answer now.

It shouldn’t be that surprising that the biggest bullshit factor involves politicians. They don’t want to say anything in concrete on record because it makes it hard to deny later. Heaven forbid that they should ever change their minds on a subject. Consequently, they learn to speak in evasive half-truths which makes for an entirely different language to what normal people expect. Seeing the demonstrations here is helped along because as a newscaster, Davis gets a better picture of what is going on than most people and shows how words can mislead.

Even advertisers do it. The endorsement of confidence in the celebrity star tends to be used to mislead people because people forget how much they are being paid. Personally, I think people don’t pay as much attention to adverts as they should. They tend to seep in under the consciousness when you aren’t focusing on them while you’re waiting for the TV programme to resume. People also tend to associate a product being expensive as to being worth more and not think the mark-up might not be worth it. If something is selling well at a high price, why sell cheaper and be amongst the riff-raff? Then again, when Davis explores the 99p way of selling something, about the only thing he didn’t hit on is people don’t only not see the item as being a penny less than it really is but perceive it as being a lot cheaper. Mathematically, I always tended to round up to the nearest whole figure.

Polite etiquette in dining out doesn’t tend to work for type one diabetics like me where we have to refuse certain types of food simply because they will be far too sweet or get in the way of the need for sufficient carbohydrates over everything else. I suspect also we would be caught in an outright lie if something was on the plate but not eaten or can’t eat because it’s the wrong time of day. Reading about some of the politeness in dining out here is something I’m glad I’ve avoided. I did have a lot more thought on my lack of bullshit in my own life and think that as an editor I have to be very straight with my team about any mistakes I edit because they will see the results. It also percolates into our reviews as to why be diplomatic about a bad product?

I’m not too sure about the Lombard Effect, where you increase your speech volume to overcome ambient background noise, but then I can defocus background noise. I do think Davis strikes home on people having to act the same or appear weak although that does tend to sound more like herd instinct and a need to prove to be equal to any who claim to be leaders. It is possible to over-ride that but needs a different approach that puts your opponent on the wrong foot. Try getting them to explain exactly what they mean and you should be able to find any holes in their arguments and they’d certainly be revealed to other people.

When the focus is on advertising, I’m not sure if Davis covered all that’s out there. Yes, even a bad product can sell for a brief spell until found out but even a good looking product can hide its own cost. For those in the UK, look at those magazines sold with parts to build a car or SF vehicle selling the initial issues cheap but builds up in price to a very expensive model. Doesn’t that feel like the wrong type of promotion when then don’t say how close to a £1000 it is? Then again, some people think the more expensive something the more worthy it is. A lot of advertising works by repetition. Donald Trump was hitting the headlines a lot more than Hillary Clinton which must have been a bigger influence in the USA.

As you’ll notice from this review, I’ve been jumping from politics to advertising and back but then so was Davis in this book. I think if he’d stayed on one subject all the time you wouldn’t have maintained the interest and there is a lot of useful information here.

At the end of the book, Davis sums up by saying never take anything at face value which is good advice. I wish he’d done a bit more on how to recognise what isn’t necessary true or how to check things, especially on the Net. His journalistic background would surely have been helpful here but maybe he can come back to this in another book.

Make no mistake, this book will make you think and, who knows, you might get around the bullshit that goes on in this reality and expect honest answers to honest questions.

GF Willmetts

June 2017

(pub: Little, Brown Book Group. 347 page indexed hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4087-0331-1)

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