Itasca conference aids navigation of ‘Post-Truth Era’

PHOTO: Danny Boyle, Flickr CC

The peacock is really just a 12-pound pheasant with a fancy tail that is probably delicious. It evolved and lives today because potential mates and predators alike believe they are much larger birds with many, many eyes. It’s hardly the only species built on deception, but it’s a particularly successful one. It’s got nothing on us, though.

Every day we open our computers, our social media apps, or traditional media sources. Then we must ask ourselves, “Is this real?”

Because frequently, the information we see is twisted, manipulated, and aggregated by our fellow humans as part of an effort to manipulate our attitudes, moods and behaviors. It’s far bigger than “Democrats vs. Republicans.” It’s a titanic struggle that will one day have a name and be studied in history classes, should the study of history survive this episode.

Perhaps you’ve seen the national news. The single biggest threat our nation faces is the advance of weaponized falsehoods spread quickly through new technology. Further, we witness a mass psychological effect. Each of us freely expose ourselves mostly to facts that support our opinions, creating distrust in all inconvenient facts. There is no one arbiter that everyone trusts. Further, the forces best able to exploit this growing weakness are the least reputable and most likely to exploit people in the process.

When I teach persuasion, I refer to the wizardry school of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. Each student must study “Defense Against the Dark Arts.” This preparation enables survival in the presence of those who break ethical and legal codes. We must do the same, in our own way, when we study marketing and rhetoric.

This was part of a conversation between Chuck Marohn and I on our podcast “Dig Deep” late last year. We explored the phenomenon of “Fake News,” both as a new means of dismissing legitimate criticism and as an underhanded strategy used by enemies both foreign and domestic.

Richard Painter

This Thursday, Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids will host “Navigating Information in a Post-Truth Era.” This all-day conference features speakers and workshops throughout the day. It’s free and open to the public. Chuck and I will host a 10 a.m. “Dig Deep” panel discussion in the Media Center on the concept of effective political disagreement.

But we’re hardly the headliners. There will be a 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21 keynote and two March 22 sessions by Richard Painter. Painter was the ethics advisor for President George W. Bush who has been a vocal critic of the Trump Administration over its ethical lapses in its first year of office. He’s also exploring a campaign for the U.S. Senate, most likely as an independent.

In fact, the entire speaker list is a who’s who of Minnesota media, organized religion, tech experts and political watchers. If you have an interest in becoming a better consumer and producer of informative writing or media, you’ll find much of interest.

You can view the complete March 22 “Navigating Information in a Post-Truth Era” schedule at their website. Maybe I’ll see you in Grand Rapids this Thursday.


  1. I checked out the schedule and speakers and it should be fantastic. I wish I could attend but already have that day booked. Richard Painter would be great to hear in person. He doesn’t mince words.

    I just listened to your latest Dig Deep podcast. Excellent.

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