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Bullshit Is A Process

"One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit."
-- Harry G. Frankfurt, from "On Bullshit" (in The Importance of What We Care About, and as quoted on wrongheaded)
"I had a guaranteed military sale with ED209! Renovation program! Spare parts for 25 years! Who cares if it worked or not!"
-- 'Dick Jones', Robocop

I've been thinking a lot lately about a problem, a phenomenon, a type of behavior that I've described for myself as "po-mo ironism". It's a way of keeping a sense of ironic detachment that lets you criticize something as you valorize your decision to participate in it -- for example, carefully noting the defects and problems of SUVs while arguing that your decision to buy one is, nevertheless, virtuous.

It's seemed to me that there's something more than mere disingenuousness at work, here, and something more than simple ironic detachent, as well. Now I have a simple, concise word for it: Bullshit. And a framework to hang it on. Bullshit could be said to be the basic "truth-process" underlying lysenkoism, disingenuousness, ironic detachment, self-delusion, and a host of other discretely-named ills.

Bullshitting, according to Harry G. Frankfurt, is far more insidious and corrosive than lying, thought they might superficially seem to be synonymous. Something can be true and still be bullshit, if the purveyor of said excrement never cared whether it was true. So, for example, even if we choose to believe that Saddam really did want to buy Yellowcake in Africa, the infamous "16 words" are still bullshit, because Rice, Bush & Co. never actually cared whether they were true.

What makes it bullshit, in other words, is not that they lied -- they might have even believed it was true -- but rather that they if they hadn't found evidence, they would have made it up. (Which, in fact, they did; that Saddam might have actually tried does not alter the fact that the Bushites ["Bull-Sites"?] fabricated their evidence.)

Because what mattered to them was not whether it was true, but whether they had the evidence to support doing what they wanted to do: Go beat up the guy who made George's daddy look silly.

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