The Golden Age of Bullshit

Via Legal Insurrection, a review of On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, “we have no theory.”

Frankfurt, one of the world’s most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.

Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner’s capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

The best way I can define the difference between lying and bullshitting is that a lie is a single discrete intentionally untrue statement whereas “bullshit” is a constant mixed stream of lie, truth, half-truth and omission along with irrelevancies and distractions. A liar wants to convince you of something that is not true. A bullshitter doesn’t care whether it’s true or not.

In other words, Barack Obama.

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25 Responses to The Golden Age of Bullshit

  1. myiq2xu says:

    Yes, I am still alive. I have been asleep all day. I finally wake up and now I discover that the Giants game is not on television.

  2. myiq2xu says:

    I should have added:

    A politician wants you to vote for him. He really doesn’t care WHY you vote for him. If you vote for him because you like him, and/or agree with his policies, that’s fine.

    But it’s equally fine if you vote for him because you dislike the other candidate and/or disagree with the other candidate’s policies. Or if you vote for him because of the party he belongs to, what some movie star thinks, because he has cool ads or because all your friends like him.

    • DM says:

      Yeah, but why are Americans so prone to accept bullshit? I think that Americans don’t like the discomfort of hearing the truth.

    • DM says:

      I think most societies engage in bullshit, but I think like the professor said, marketing has made our culture more accepting of bullshit. It permeates though our daily life.

  3. DM says:

    The problem with a bullshitter usually spews feel good bullshit that may be corrosive and destructive of the truth, such as “hope and change”. We knew it was bullshit, but how can one be against it? And calling it doesn’t help because it makes one sound like a naysayer, trying to destroy something good. It’s difficult to destroy bullshit and the bullshitter. Maybe it’s accepted in our country because it eases the discomfort of hearing the truth. Most Americans agree about the 47%, but when Romney says it, he was vilified. The message was not delivered with “elegance”, a.k.a. bullshit.

  4. wyntre says:

    Univision is hell bent on clearing the BS. Check this out!


    I don’t know how to separate this clip from the story but CHECK IT UT!

    It’s the Univision preview for its F&F investigation airing tomorrow night.

    This is unbelievable! It could torpedo the POS’s chances with Hispanics.

  5. HELENK says:

    all tv’s should should have this equipment. when ever a politician speaks it should go off. especial backtrack

  6. Simofish says:

    The game is on NBC here in Oakland

  7. HELENK says:

    I have not really paid attention to the chavez election

    but for that county’s sake I hope this guy is not another backtrack

    • DM says:

      I think most independent polls give Chavez the edge. It’s funny that despite all the bad things that are said about Chavez in the U.S., he wins his elections. He is elected through a democracy.

      Chavez has the “victim” vote in his corner. From the Independent article:

      Capriles has made big inroads among the working class where Chavez has his power-base, but still faces suspicions that he is too much of a rich kid and will end Chavez’s popular welfare programmes.

  8. myiq2xu says:

    Mark Steyn:

    Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote that, in striking contrast to the official line, the Benghazi slaughter was not a spontaneous movie review that got a little out of hand but a catastrophic security breach and humiliating fiasco for the United States. Even more extraordinary, on September 14, fewer than two-dozen inbred, illiterate goatherds pulled off the biggest single destruction of U.S. airpower since the Tet Offensive in 1968, breaking into Camp Bastion (an unfortunate choice of name) in Afghanistan, killing Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Raible, and blowing up a squadron’s worth of Harriers. And, even though it was the third international humiliation for the United States in as many days, it didn’t even make the papers. Because the court eunuchs at the media are too busy drooling over Obama’s appearance as what he calls “eye candy” on the couch between Barbara and Whoopi.

    Eye candy is in the eye of the beholder. And to the baying mob from Tunis to Jakarta those dead Americans and al-Qaeda flags over U.S. embassies and an entire USMC air squadron reduced to charred ruins are a veritable Willie Wonka production line of eye candy. To the president, they’re just “bumps in the road” to the sunlit uplands of “the future.” Forward! Obama has lived on “the promise of the future” all his life — Most Promising Columbia Grad of 1983, Most Promising Community Organizer of 1988, Most Promising Fake Memoirist of 1995, Most Promising Presidential Candidate of 2008 . . . The rest of us, alas, have to live in the present that he has made, which is noticeably short of promise. The Chinese Politburo get it, Czar Putin in the Kremlin gets it, and even the nutters doing the “Death to the Great Satan!” dance on the streets of Cairo and Lahore get it. On November 6, we will find out whether the American people do.

    • Jesus, I hadn’t even heard about Camp Bastion. WTF?

      • myiq2xu says:

        I blame Mitt Romney

      • lyn5 says:

        That’s the camp where Prince Harry is stationed.

      • DM says:

        I read about it, but it was a one day news. Prince Harry was okay, so the news disappeared. Here is the NYT article

        Audacious Raid on NATO Base Shows Taliban’s Reach
        By ALISSA J. RUBIN
        Published: September 16, 2012

        KABUL, Afghanistan — An audacious Taliban attack on a heavily fortified base in southern Afghanistan did far more damage than initially reported, destroying or severely damaging eight attack jets in the most destructive single strike on Western matériel in the 11-year war, military officials said Sunday.
        While other attacks have caused greater loss of life, the assault late Friday at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, one of the largest and best-defended posts in Afghanistan, was troubling to NATO because the attackers were able to penetrate the base, killing two Marines and causing more than $200 million in damage. “We’re saying it’s a very sophisticated attack,” said a military official here. “We’ve lost aircraft in battle, but nothing like this.”

        The complex attack, which NATO officials said was conducted by three tightly choreographed teams of militants wearing American Army uniforms, was a reminder that the Taliban remain capable of serious assaults despite the “surge” offensive against them. Now the offensive is over, and nearly 10,000 American Marines have left Helmand Province, a critical stronghold for the Taliban, over the past several months.
        Audacious Raid on NATO Base Shows Taliban’s Reach

      • wmcb says:

        Ir was the single largest loss of aircraft since Vietnam. Since fucking Vietnam. And total media blackout on it.

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