What is truth and does it matter? For centuries, civilised society has been founded on the idea that the answer to such questions was ‘Yes’.
But now the whole world is in the midst of a deep, cultural shift.
For some, it is not merely a battle but a war. We live in an age, whipped along by social media, where the concept of ‘the truth’ has disappeared.
Instead of ‘the truth’, we have that wonderful Oprah-ism: ‘Your truth.’ The troubles now roiling our Royal Family, and indeed our whole culture, largely originate in this change.
It is most telling that when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sat down for a tell-all interview, they did so with Oprah Winfrey.
Instead of ‘the truth’, we have that wonderful Oprah-ism: ‘Your truth’ from the interview last week
As Oprah was a friend of Meghan, there must have been an attraction in the belief that they were likely to get away with their litany of outrageous claims, unlike if they had faced a more forensic interviewer.
The latter would never have allowed them to offer as ‘truth’ whatever they decided it is.
They would have been asked follow-up questions and to give hard evidence to back up their assertions. Instead, the couple were free to spin out their sob story in a cascade of subjective truth.
For instance, the Duchess said there was a period in 2019 when she ‘just didn’t want to be alive any more’ and that this was ‘a very clear and real and frightening, constant thought.’
The couple were free to spin out their sob story in a cascade of subjective truth
Predictably, within hours, the whole world was running with her version of events. On BBC2’s Newsnight, presenter Emily Maitlis talked irresponsibly of ‘the sense of attempted suicide’ of the Duchess of Sussex.
There is a big difference between having dark thoughts and actually attempting suicide. It may be a painful distinction to analyse, but it’s vital when such an important cornerstone of British life – our Monarchy – is in the cross-hairs.
Similarly, with Meghan’s other most explosive ‘reveal’: that while pregnant, a member of the Royal Family asked about her unborn baby’s skin colour.
Assuming this claim is true, there need be nothing sinister about a relative wondering what the latest addition to the family might look like. It would be natural to wonder whether the baby would have Harry’s ginger hair or take more after its mother.
Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis talked irresponsibly of ‘the sense of attempted suicide’ of the Duchess of Sussex
Yet now, across the world, people who may know next to nothing about the Royal Family are under the impression that it is ‘institutionally racist’ and senior members have a problem with black people.
For anyone who knows the good work that the Royal Family does with communities all over the globe, this is tragic to see. The memories of the crowds cheering Harry and Meghan in Windsor on their wedding day and the fact that it was watched by a UK TV audience of 13 million people lie far in the distance.
There was a time when all of this and more could have been pointed out by people with a voice.
But no longer, now that we are living in an age with a ferocious culture war.
And the reaction to the Oprah interview has galvanised those on one side, giving them more weapons in the battle over issues such as class, identity politics, race and gender.
This is a tragedy for everyone who cares about social harmony and rational thought.
I have often said that what we are witnessing is nothing less than a ‘great mass derangement’.
It’s having a toxic effect, breaking society into myriad interest groups and giving self-ascribed ‘victims of social injustice’ a bogus moral sense of superiority. Add to this the fact that there is a great divide in opinion between the generations on such topics as the Monarchy and free speech, and many of us have great fears about how much damage will be done by all these exploding cluster bombs before a ceasefire can be declared in this crazed culture war.
The reaction to the Sussexes’ interview, sadly, won’t be the last explosion. Most worryingly, we are now being encouraged to think that we must never question the ‘truth’ of someone who presents themselves as a victim.
Even if it means they can get away with smears and provide no evidence. Anything must be accepted from anyone who cloaks themselves in the garb of victimhood. Inevitably, in this culture war, there has been much collateral damage.
Damage will be caused by these cluster bombs before a truce is called
TV personality Piers Morgan has lost his job for daring to doubt the Duchess’s testimony, and, in particular, dismissing her claim that she had been suicidal.
Morgan’s trademark is his punchy and pungent views. Any sane society would simply allow people to agree or disagree with him. But not in our deranged age.
Indeed, supporting Morgan can have profound consequences.
His former screen colleague, Sharon Osbourne, stood up for him and demanded that another woman US interviewer should provide evidence if she was going to accuse Morgan of racism.
Ian Murray resigned as executive director of the Society of Editors after it was ‘not acceptable’ for the Sussexes to make claims of racism about the British Press
The result? Osbourne was hounded by the online group-think mobs and tearfully felt obliged to issue an apology to the ‘black community’, saying she promised to ‘listen and learn’ and try to be better.
Similarly, Ian Murray (no relation to myself), resigned as executive director of the Society of Editors after saying on behalf of the organisation that it was ‘not acceptable’ for the Sussexes to make claims of racism about the British Press ‘without supporting evidence’.
And yet the couple themselves were allowed free rein by Oprah Winfrey to imply that British newspapers are racist.
What’s more, during their interview by US network CBS, distorted images of Press headlines were used in a montage to support the Sussexes’ narrative.
How typical of a culture where selected famous people feel free to make outrageous claims without proof or accountability.
Ironically, perhaps we should be grateful for Oprah’s interview. For it has become an exquisite example of this ugly and divisive debate.
Maybe we can all use it to learn from the perils of corrupting the truth and setting different parts of society against each other.
How typical of a culture where selected famous people feel free to make outrageous claims without proof or accountability
Yes, issues of race, politics and gender are a minefield but it is only through open and honest debate that we can understand and accept other people’s opinions and sense of identity.
Many of us still hope for a world where people are listened to for the content of their words and character, regardless of their nationality, class, colour of their skin, religion or politics.
A world where people are listened to not because of the chromosomes they were born with but because what they say makes sense and matters just as much as what we think ourselves.
In other words, a world where the concept of truth still matters.