Oxford English Dictionary crowned its international word of the year: post-truth. The dictionary defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Consider that oldest of cons, the shell game. The con man presents three shells, one of which has a penny underneath. He moves the shells around and asks you to pick the shell with the penny. It looks easy, but isn’t. Using sleight of hand, he distracts you so that you can’t track the right shell and know where the penny is. But one can lack knowledge without having a false belief. One can be simply confused, and that is typically the case with such tricks. You don’t know what to think, and so simply guess. You can be deceived not only by believing what is false but by not believing what is true.
As the late-19th-century mathematician W. K. Clifford noted in his famous essay, “The Ethics of Belief,” ambivalence about objective evidence is an attitude corrosive of democracy. Clifford ends the essay by imagining someone who has “no time for the long course of study” that would make him competent to judge many questions. Clifford’s response is withering: “Then he should have no time to believe.”
And we might add, tweet.