Whose Reality You Talkin’ Bout?
If you haven’t read the piece from yesterday’s Post on information silos and the subjectivization of fact in a fragmenting media environment—absolutely, do so. It builds on fascinating work by people like Farhad Majoo, and his book True Enough, which is a great and essential read about the emerging character of our “post-fact society.”
The accelerating subjectivization of reality represents a profound social and political development, but it also has implications for making strategy. One great genius of U.S. Cold War strategy was that it rested on a pretty solid bipartisan, broadly-shared consensus in the country; which in turn rested on a largely agreed fact base—about the nature of the world, about U.S. power, and so on. At times that consensus became ossified into bias and groupthink, but for the most part it was constructed on what its primary authors—beginning with George Kennan—hoped and intended was a fully empirical look at the world as it was.
Today, not so much. Competing versions of basic facts (global warming is happening/is not; President Obama is a Muslim/is not; the country is becoming more unequal/is not; Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11/was not). If ideological media outlets create distinct fact environments—which rise, ultimately, even into the public officials who make policy (as they did, surely, during the Bush administration debates on the intelligence surrounding Iraq’s involvement with terrorism)—how can we make anything approaching coherent strategy?
What if it turns out the postmodernists and deconstructionists were right, at least as empirical assessments of the loss of an objective reality on which to base social policy? What happens to strategy in a world without a unifying narrative?
One initial thought: It becomes entirely reactive, because there’s no basis to create an anticipatory set of policies that link together and reflect a serious theory of how the world works. The room for serious, long-term, administration-spanning strategy (as opposed to political “strategizing”), in fact, shrinks to almost nothing. Which begins to sound, in fact, grimly familiar.