sábado, abril 14, 2018

Brontosaurus Shit: "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."

In “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt

"’a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to take the context as well, so far as need requires. This freedom from the constraints to which the liar must submit does not necessarily mean, of course, that his task is easier than the task of the liar. But the mode of creativity upon which it relies is less analytical and less deliberate than that which is mobilized in lying. It is more expansive and independent with more spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the 'bullshit artist'"

In “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt



The current state-of-affairs (I won't name any more names) is not b... s... It is elephant shit! Or is it chicken shit? I know! It's Brontosaurus shit! Let's start by dropping the euphemisms. Not bullshit, not alternative facts, nor post-truth - but lies. Lies, lies, lies, lies. That's all we know how to do. The difference is important between a liar and a bullshitter. All politicians for instance, bend or interpret their own version of the truth but it is possible for us to take a view on their reasoning and motives. Bullshitters like Trump, Farage, and Socrates (a former Portuguese Prime-Minister) literally couldn't care less and will say absolutely anything to anyone to get what they want and pivot 180 º in an instant. Whatever it is you wish to measure, intelligence or other key parameters, half the population is below average. Yes, I know the difference between mean and median. Many are simply not capable of the intellectual rigor required to analyze carefully the output of our former Prime-Minister Socrates. Like Trump, they are at the mercy of the last thing they heard that appealed to their prejudices or their emotions. It used to be, in the US, in Portugal, that party higher-ups would limit the choices faced in general elections to two candidates who were not too far from the middle ideologically, and not terribly incompetent, in general. That system has broken down, and wealthy individuals who buy themselves a place in the spotlight can overcome party leadership and wrest the nomination away from party regulars. I read a story a day or two ago pitting Donald Trump against The Rock in a presidential preference poll. I better retire to a desert island then, because the phenomenon I accurately describe above, is not going anywhere. At least not unless and until the population wakes up. Which is unlikely, as long as all they do is watch TV all night.

I don't know what the fix is, but if it doesn't come soon, Trump and Socrates could be the tip of the iceberg. Mass and social media are competing with each other to feed the monster. I am not optimistic.

Most of the problem is short attention spans and poor education. People can't be bothered doing the laborious reading to find out the facts. Part of it is the fall in the quality of journalism. When did you last read an in-depth article in a journal on the one thousand-year history of relations between Ukraine and Russia? Or a comparison of those relations to those between Scotland and England, for instance? When did you see an analysis of the vital importance of Sevastopol in Russian history? Without that kind of detailed historical background no intelligent judgments can be made about current events. Nobody apparently has time for it, not even journalists who are paid to do it. A tiny handful of academics are privy to the facts, most other people are wallowing in ignorance. The other major problem is the need to simplify in order to get your argument across within very limited space. This means making a selection of facts, and leaving other facts out. Almost all arguments are between two people adducing different sets of facts to support their case. The facts may all be correct. But there are in a sense two "alternative sets of facts." Each person is emphasizing the facts that support their case. Nobody is lying. They are merely leaving things out. They are not giving the whole picture. This degradation of the level of journalism and political argument is simply the consequence of the world we live in: no time, no appetite for reading in depth, too much distraction, and who cares? Nobody can be bothered reading a ten-page refutation of a politician's stupid argument: so why not just insult him instead? It's quicker. It gets more hits and likes. More people understand it. It gives instant satisfaction. That's the age we live in. Heinlein used to say: “What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? […] Get the facts!” In this day and age, the question is not how to get the facts, but to get the “right” facts…

Bottom-Line: I am going to try to give up bullshit now. But first I must quit bullshitting.

NB: I think there is only one solution to this problem: make sure a sufficient number of the population receive an education in enlightenment values. Including such novel things as:

- Absolute truth exists;
- Striving for the truth has intrinsic (and perhaps ultimate) moral virtue;
- Lying & deception is bad;
- Discourse & debate is how to resolve problems;

And I'd add for good measure:

- Life doesn't revolve around politics, go out and have fun.

That's the only way to do this without falling back to some sort of explicit class system which denies the "little people" from political engagement or visibility in the press. We quite correctly realised a wee while ago that such an authoritarian measure is unacceptable. Post-modernism has a lot to answer for.



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