Martin Gurri argues that truth is based on trust. Trust in turn requires some authority in whom we trust. If we trust not in God, then we may trust in science or in experts, or in the people collectively amassed in a self-governing state. But we live, as Hannah Arendt argues, in an age when authority is no longer feasible. It is beyond doubt, Arendt writes, that “authority has vanished from the modern world.” And yet Arendt does not despair. The “loss of worldly permanence and reliability—which politically is identical with the loss of authority—does not entail, at least not necessarily, the loss of the human capacity for building, preserving, and caring for a world that can survive us and remain a place fit to live in for those who come after us.” Arendt’s writing is suffused with an effort to think what it would mean to live in a human world—a world that includes permanence and reliability—after the loss of authority. At the root of her answer is the power of talking honestly and directly with one another about the common world in which we live.
What a “post-truth” age means for Martin Gurri is not simply that there is no authority, but also that we simply no longer wish to talk with each other. In such a world, we do risk losing the common world. He writes:
We fondly imagine that truth must emerge, pure and triumphant, from facts discovered by “science” or “experts.” That’s not how the world works. Truth is a function of trust and pertains to the authority of the source. If we lose confidence in science—if, for example, we come to think of scientists as hucksters or crackpots—then scientific pronouncements would have no greater weight than a television commercial.
The collapse of trust in our leading institutions has exiled the 21st century to the Siberia of post-truth. I want to be clear about what this means. Reality has not changed. It’s still unyielding. Facts today are partial and contradictory—but that’s always been the case. Post-truth, as I define it, signifies a moment of sharply divergent perspectives on every subject or event, without a trusted authority in the room to settle the matter. A telling symptom is that we no longer care to persuade. We aim to impose our facts and annihilate theirs, a process closer to intellectual holy war than to critical thinking.