The BU[ll]SH[it] Presidency

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The BU[ll]SH[it] Presidency

I posted on the essay "On Bullshit" yesterday, but I finished reading it on the way into work and just wanted to highlight a few sections
On the other hand, 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 fake the context as well, so far as need requires.


It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Frankfurt makes clear that there is a distinction between a "liar" and a "bullshitter." I happen to think that Bush is both, but this section might explain why the "Bush is a liar" attack never really stuck during the campaign
In fact, people do tend to be more tolerant of bullshit than of lies, perhaps because we are less inclined to take the former as a personal affront. We may seek to distance ourselves from bullshit, but we are more likely to turn away from it with an impatient or irritated shrug than with the sense of violation or outrage that lies often inspire.
I thought this paragraph also quite enlightening
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 person's 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.
Bush is a bullshitter, in part, because he is obligated to discuss issues about which he is more or less uninformed - but his bullshit does not come across as lying and, as such, is simply shrugged off and he is never held accountable.

Bush's refusal to care about the truth or falsity of his own remarks is, in many ways, worse than outright lying. At least when one lies, he or she recognizes objective facts and works to conceal them. Bullshit, on the other hand, is wholly unconcerned with truth or objectivity and, as Frankfurt notes, that makes it "a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

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