On Bullshit

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit
– Harry G. Frankfurt

[Update: Sadly, labelling Trump’s lies as bullshit is too kind. Its more insidious. He’s a populist with authoritarian tendencies who lies in an ongoing and cynical fashion. Its more than bullshit, its propaganda.]

Donald Trump has the rational world equal parts baffled and dismayed (dear God I hope he doesn’t win the election). One reason is that he simply talks nonsense. He makes claims that are patently false and then doubles down defending them. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about yet believes it true because he said it. Kindly put, he is full of it.

And its not fair to paint all politicians with his brush, but it did make me think. When last did you see a politician appear uncertain, or say ‘I don’t know’? Maybe its our fault, maybe we project the unrealistic requirement that politicians seem sure about everything, or maybe politics self-selects for this personality trait. A little honest uncertainty sure would go a long way.

So what you get is a lot of bullshit. Harry Frankfurt, a professor of philosophy, explains:

‘Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a persons obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant’

Frankfurt even wrote a short book, On Bullshit, to define bullshit in a formal academic sense, with some wry humor on the side. Yes, bullshit is officially a thing.

This is as good a reason as any why I am not a politician.


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