Thomas Friedman, wait, don't hang up, wrote an interesting column
recently about the myth that Obama was spending $200 million a day on a trip to India. it was a claim that wouldn't stand up to the most rudimentary fact checking or common sense considerations and yet was widely repeated by a number of pundits respected on the right and even a US Congressman.
Now, I don't bring this up as yet more evidence of what douches Beck et al
are, i bring it up because it illustrates vividly the extent to which politics is permeated by bullshit
; bullshit in the most technical sense of the term, i.e., Harry Frankfurt's definition in "On Bullshit
". Frankfurt says that bullshitters "aim primarily to impress and persuade their audiences, and in general are unconcerned with the truth or falsehood of their statements
Why is this a prime example of bullshit? Because, I don't think any of these people were lying, i.e., they weren't deliberately saying something false with an intention to mislead, they were just completely uninterested in the truth. The only point of their words was to make political hay, not to convey facts. Of course, that's a very common MO in politics. But I contend that we don't heap enough scorn on the perpetrators. As Frankfurt argues, "bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are". I think he's right and I think that it's this incessant bullshit, not a lack of civility or even lies or myths, that is hurting America. We should treat bullshitters with more contempt than we treat liars. I think I'm finally in a position to understand where Jon Stewart was going and what he got wrong, the part that bothered me
. We do need to tone down the rhetoric insofar as rhetoric is bullshit, but we don't and we shouldn't stop speaking the truth, contra what Stewart suggested. So, if Maddow really believes that GWB is a war criminal and can assemble a cogent argument for it, then she should absolutely articulate that argument, not hush it up and act like a car trying to merge into traffic
if she's using the expression "war criminal" rather than something less provocative simply because she wants people to hate Republicans, or even worse, get people to watch her show, then she's bullshitting. So, I say let's worry a lot more about getting rid of bullshit, but having set aside bullshit, let's not worry about civil discourse. Truth is far more important than civility and civility will mostly return when we throw away the bullshit.
(Question for the reader. Consider, malasadas
's excellent recent post
about public myths. To what extent are the myths perpetuated by bullshit, i.e., disregard for the truth and to what extent are they motivated by sincere desires to pursue truth. I'm torn on this as many commentators use bullshit to stir up fears of those truly concerned with truth. OTOH, many conspirarcy theorists aren't bullshitters at all, just misguided/deluded (usually) souls who are very concerned about the truth.)