Monday, May 16, 2005

I'm full of it! (A cautionary, but half-assed quasi-review of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit)

Well, it's not exactly like this site was getting past the Net Nanny software anyway.

On Bullshit is 67 short pages, and handsomely bound at that. You will either find the book valuable, or you won't have wasted much time. As low-investment reading goes, I don't think you can get a much better proposition. In fact, if you buy the book and don't like it, you can leave it on your obnoxious coworker's chair as a gag, and that's easily worth the $8 price of admission. My copy is going right on to a prominent place on my self-help shelf, he said with a reflective sigh.

The subject of On Bullshit is precisely as its title claims, although not so much a complete theory on the nature of the specific form of mistruth that is bullshit, but an early exploration of its definition.

In a nutshell, and pardon me for ruining the ending, bullshitters don't care so much about the truth, but about how what they say makes you think of them. Bullshitting involves a lot of misrepresentation and posturing, but it's not specifically intended to mislead you about objective truths. It simply has little concern for the those objective truths, as conveying them is not bullshit's, umm, objective.

We're all bullshitters. We do it every day. We put a good spin on an idea to sell it. We use technical jargon to portray that we're knowledgeable. We repeat opinions and phrases we've heard that we intend to show that we're bright, politically correct, charming beyond belief, and have impeccable taste.

Nobody is a bigger bullshitter than a blogger. (Relish in the irony!)

Says Frankfurt:
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 exceed 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. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country's affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person's opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.
That's it, I'm shutting this whole operation down!


Post a Comment

<< Home