“The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth; he will say anything to suit his purpose…”

From Friday’s Irish Times, Brian Boyd with a timely reminder [for any number of reasons… – Ed] of a topic noted in the Slugger archive back in February 2005 – “On Bullshit“.

From the Irish Times article – “Bullshit can be more dangerous than lies in politics

…as Dr Frankfurt explains himself: “Bullshit is trying to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression in a way that obscures the fact of the matter.”

And it’s crucial to our understanding of bullshit, says Dr Frankfurt, that we differentiate it from lying. The liar cares deeply about the truth; he has to in order to conceal it from his listeners and readers. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth; he will say anything to suit his purpose – invariably his personal advancement.

Invariably, but not always…

That’s the beauty of bullshit: it’s a magic wand of obfuscation. Because bullshit doesn’t reside along the traditional truth/lie axis, you can simply counter claims that you are bullshitting by applying further layers of bullshitting. It’s a magical realm where, as Lewis Carroll once noted, words mean what you choose them to mean.

…and a [political] warning

It is not the lies that hurt us – we are used to them – it’s the bullshit that will kill us. As our professor of bullshit at Princeton warns: “The bullshitter does not reject the authority of the truth – he simply pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a far greater enemy of the truth than lies can ever be.”

As I noted back in 2005…

Truly a book for our times, On Bullshit written by emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton Harry Frankfurt, and based on this article, is wonderfully reviewed here in the New York Times, including this quote – The bull[shit] artist.. cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is “getting away with what he says”.. hmm.. sound familiar?

[Anyone, in particular, in mind? – Ed]  Oh, one or two…

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  • jm

    Well, I immediately thought Boris 🙂

  • willieric

    Narcissists, of whom there are very many in Irish politics, also dwell in magic realms.

  • chrisjones2

    Tony “Pretty Straight Sort of Guy” ?????

  • chrisjones2

    Gerrys dog?

    1 It trampolines in the nude to relax
    2 Its frequently on Twitter
    3 It broadcast pictures from the birth of its puppies on Twitter
    4 It was never in the IRA

  • mac tire

    Possibly Cameron’s pig. I’d like to make a list like yours under it but that would frankly turn my stomach.

  • Nevin
  • mickfealty

    I might be wrong but those strike me as ‘charming’ lies, rather than actual bullshit. Obfuscating the distinction between a timetable an a deadline is a more nasty: since it’s a refusal to meet over common democratic ground.

    For reference, the current Brexit debate is literally full of it. But then again, Referendums literally call out for the mass production of bullshit: http://goo.gl/2Q0Fw3. It ought to be our job to chase it into the open.

  • Declan Doyle

    Lol, Adams again. That damned overly impressive taig.

  • Abucs

    quote …..”The liar cares deeply about the truth”

    Perhaps an early candidate for oxymoron phrase of the year?

  • Jollyraj

    Overly impressive? Nothing too impressive about being accuses of the various crimes against humanity he has been accused of, covering up child abuse or bragging in public about successfully orchestrating public disorder for political gains. Unless you find those things impressive?

  • mickfealty

    Not so much. The liar tries desperately to maintain some relationship to the truth, whilst the bullshitter only cares about getting away with it.

    See Trumps boast about shooting someone and getting away with it: it’s not true, and never intended to be seen as true? A supreme bullshitter revelling in getting away with it.

    A liar, an embezzler say, needs you to believe it all as though it were the truth. S/he’s invested/embedded in the lie as truth. Hope that makes sense?

    Here’s the relevant bit of the NYT piece:

    The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is “getting away with what he says,” Mr. Frankfurt writes. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to [bull] “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it,” he writes. “He pays no attention to it at all.”

    And this makes him, Mr. Frankfurt says, potentially more harmful than any liar, because any culture and he means this culture rife with [bull] is one in danger of rejecting “the possibility of knowing how things truly are.” It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal.

  • chrisjones2

    Yes….but that’s just from the Dog not the politician Mick!

  • chrisjones2

    Yes…. and all his arguments on Brexit

  • chrisjones2

    now do we distinguish Bullshitter and plain old Buffoon

  • Skibo

    Problem is the buffoon actually believes his own bullshit!

  • Abucs

    Mick I understand how the writer is treating the words but if a liar did in fact ‘care deeply’ about the truth he wouldn’t lie. Surely.

    It depends what is meant by ‘care deeply’.

  • Abucs

    Trump might be a liar/bullshitter or however you want to define being untruthful, but I don’t think he was in the example given.

    His supporters know that he would not be supported if he killed someone as he described. He knows it also. The only people who might think (or pretend) he was serious are adherents to the faith of Political Correctness who, on cue, seem to be waiting to be offended so as to tell others how they should think and act.

    His comment was a clever way of rubbishing the Republican leadership’s attempts to cast Trump as unsuitable, because he did not obey the religion of political correctness as ordained by the secular elites and media press.

    Trump cast his reply to them in a way that transgresses the religion of PC. In usual fashion, he blew their argument out of the water, not by backing down as usual politicians would, but by taking the religion of political correctness head on.

    He demonstrated his confidence in the fact that both he and his supporters have utter contempt for the attempted coercion of people’s values to that secular religion.

    People understood Trump clearly and his support grew after he made the comment.

    To me, the only way Trump’s comments might be seen as ‘bullshitting’ would be if he became President and then in fact he did kow-tow to the PC religion.

    Unfortunately, this is a real possibility, though I hope not.

  • mickfealty

    Indeed. Maybe the vernacular difference is between a ‘spoofer’ and a ‘liar’?

  • Harlequin

    but if a liar did in fact ‘care deeply’ about the truth he wouldn’t lie

    Frankfurt’s argument is not that the liar cares about the truth as something to value and uphold. They care about it in the same way that a cycling child cares about a stone they want to avoid: they focus on it and it is at the front of their minds as they (hope to) cycle past it.

    A bullshitter doesn’t care if what they are saying is true or not. They are solely focused on their speech as a kind of mood-music designed to produce some result (normally for them).

  • Abucs

    Yes, so Islamic State care about American soldiers in the same way?
    I think something has gone wrong with the way language is being used.