You can’t bullshit a bullshitter

Harry Frankfurt an American philosopher and author of On Bullshit, talks about what bullshit is and how dangerous it is to society.

The reason why there’s so much bullshit I think is that people just talk. If they don’t talk, they don’t get paid. The advertiser wants to gain sales. The politician wants to gain votes. Now, that’s ok but they have to talk about things that they don’t really know much about. So, since they don’t have anything really valid to say, they just say whatever they think will interest the audience, make it appear they know what they’re talking about. And what comes out is bullshit.

The bullshitter is more creative. He’s not submissive. It’s not important to him what the world really is like. What’s important to him is how he’d like to represent himself. He takes a more adventurous and inventive attitude towards reality, which may be sometimes very colorful, sometimes amusing, sometimes it might produce results that are enjoyable. But it’s also very dangerous.

[…]

Liars attempt to conceal the truth by substituting something for the truth that isn’t true. Bullshit is not a matter of trying to conceal the truth, it is a matter of trying to manipulate the listener, and if the truth will do, then that’s fine and if the truth won’t do, that’s also fine. The bullshitter is indifferent to the truth in a way in which the liar is not. He’s playing a different game.


Just as food companies learned that if they want to sell a lot of cheap calories, they should pack them with salt, fat, and sugar — the stuff that people crave — media companies learned that affirmation sells a lot better than information. Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they’re right?
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption


Two countries

In a few hours half of the US will be weeping while the other half rejoices. The fact that this election is as close as it is has had me perplexed for weeks.
You have a president who is universally derided, a wrecked economy, disastrous wars of dubious if not criminal purpose, record budget deficits, and a foreign policy that has ruined the country’s standing abroad. The list goes on, with little to no positive counterpoints. How could so many people fervently support the party which holds the ultimate responsibility for the debacle of the past eight years?
Perhaps there are two Americas one that looks back and one that looks forward. Perhaps it’s cultural or class based. I don’t have enough insight to have a real answer but if you look at the results from previous American elections you see that when it comes to electing a president America has been somewhat evenly divided through-out it’s recent history (The Reagan era may be an exception).
politics.jpg
That gives historical perspective but not an answer. It’s going to be hard to focus on work this morning.
Via How will it feel on Nov 5th? and Where’s my country…


Twitter and politics

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This was one of the most interesting moments on the web I have experienced in years. I was watching a high quality live broadcast of the last Presidential debate in a window above realtime responses in Twitter.
The quality of the conversation is not always the best but it’s pretty clear how important services like twitter can be for debate, critique and fact-checking of political candidates. These a great tools for democratic journalism.
I’ll be monitoring twitter election night as well.


[Bits] Fear and American Politics

Identity, Policy & Character in Politics – America Idol Trumps All.
Deep down millions of Canadians and Americans “know” that something terrible is on its way. Middle and working class know that they in particular are going to be in the eye of the hurricane. No Golden Parachutes for them. Like Germans in 1931, they want to feel safe. Like Germans in 1931 they seek a Father and a Mother figure who will make it all go away. They want simple answers even if they know that they are wrong. Also, Why do the working class want to vote Republican or Conservative here in Canada?
The Palin-Whatshisname Ticket.
But race is just one manifestation of the emotion that defined the Palin rollout. That dominant emotion is fear — an abject fear of change. Fear of a demographical revolution that will put whites in the American minority by 2042. Fear of the technological revolution and globalization that have gutted those small towns and factories Palin apotheosized.
And, last but hardly least, fear of illegal immigrants who do the low-paying jobs that Americans don’t want to do and of legal immigrants who do the high-paying jobs that poorly educated Americans are not qualified to do.
From Hype to Fear in American Politics.
When the economy is doing reasonably well, the debate is dominated by hype — by the claim that America’s prosperity is truly wondrous, and that conservative economic policies deserve all the credit.
But when things turn down, there is a seamless transition from “It’s morning in America! Hurray for tax cuts!” to “The economy is slumping! Raising taxes would be a disaster!”
But there’s a powerful political faction in this country that understands very well that any real change will create losers as well as winners.
American Fear: The Causes and Consequences of High Anxiety.
Why, then, are twenty-first-century Americans more fearful than their counterparts sixty- five years ago or across the Atlantic? The “roots of American fear,” Stearns suggests, lie in traditions extending back to the colonial period of “fears attached to race and Evangelical fears associated with God’s wrath” (p. 74). He also invokes the post–World War II proliferation of science fiction scenarios of alien invasion and global annihilation, along with “the contemporary American sense of the strangeness of death” (p. 88). But the underlying cause is a “new fear culture” that began to take shape by the 1920s and that manifested itself most powerfully in childrearing advice and practices (p. 93). No longer taught to master their fear through courage, Americans were now socialized to avoid it or, when avoidance was not possible, to vent it. Meanwhile, an earlier sense of fatalism gave way to beliefs that most risks are preventable (as seen in changes in tort law and insurance practices)—beliefs that heightened Americans’ fears “when their expectations are contradicted” (p. 137). They were “left less emotionally prepared than desirable for unexpected intrusions” of fear and “more open to manipulations that either prolonged fear or promised decisive remediation” (p. 110). This “new socialization” combined with “decades of war-level alerts”—Stearns retraces the red scares, the nuclear threat, and a series of Cold War crises—to produce a populace prone to emotional overreaction (p. 198). Too much fear, in turn, has generated distorted psyches and policies. Via The Journal of American History.
Update 09/16: Jeffrey Zeldman’s A modest proposal is worth linking to. Imagine, discussing the the real issues and weighing each candidates resume and views on these issues. Revolutionary! Excerpt: “If you’re selling toothpaste, your claims must be vetted by legal and medical professionals. But not if you’re selling a candidate.
If you’re selling a candidate, not only can you lie about his record, but more to the point, you can lie about his opponent”.


Political blogs vs. Obamedia

I just spent a couple hours procrastinating by reading a number of American political blogs with leanings toward the Republican political spectrum. I won’t say conservative because though many label themselves conservative, the values and opinions they express are anything but.
With the exception of Drudge (which I think is funny like the Onion) and the Huffington Post (which i guess is ‘liberal’ and funny like the Onion) I never read sites such as these.
It’s their community’s which are especially illuminating. So here off the top of my head a short list of memorabilia:

  • Russia wants Obama to win the election so they can run all over him
  • Obama is a pussy. Anyone not tough enough or who doesn’t advocate war is a pussy
  • If off-shore drilling will save me 2 cents a tank where is the downside? (unless you live on the coast of course)
  • Hummer’s seem to be a necessary accessory
  • Liberals all want to spit on the constitution
  • Lots and lots of tough aggressive talk – like I remember conversations in high school or while drunk
  • Lots of black and white thinking. Us and them. Liberal or Conservative. Against us or with us.
  • The media is run by liberals who are against ‘us’
  • Though proven ineffective torture is ok and desirable
  • The Republican leadership can do no wrong
  • It’s not the administrations fault ‘things’ (always see this word and never clear points) have gone the way they have
  • Obamedia
  • Liberalism is a mental disorder
  • There is a fight to take America back … from Americans (wtf?)
  • It seems anyone with an education is branded dumb and elitist. Especially if they went to an ivy league university

My uncle back home, who is one of my favourite people in the world, had similar thinking. He never voted on the issues or the person on the ballot but has fallowed the Liberal party religiously for as long as I can remember. But he was neither aggressive, nor violent, and was generally very kind to people regardless of their political or racial make-up. The kind of thinking I read was so utterly narrow that I can see how fractious debates in the have become.


Issue 8: The Loop as a Temporal Form

Looks like some good reading for a few idle moments this weekend. Nice early 90’s web aesthetic!

As a form, the loop contradicts the linear structure we typically associate with time. The common-sense formulation understands time as a progression forward from moment to moment to moment, with a clear division of past, present and future. Yet many theories contradict this apparent truism. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for example, organize time into chronos and aeon. Greg Hainge, a contributor to this issue, writes that the latter continually and simultaneously divides the event into the already-there and the not-yet here, while failing to settle on either. This describes a loop folding back on itself, while not returning to its place of origin. Elsewhere, Jacques Derrida uses this failure of origins to structure a system of ethics grounded in an attempt to elude the eternal return of the same. While Deleuze, Guattari and Derrida insist on this failure in their use of the loop as a temporal form, Sigmund Freud understands time in terms of telos and its failure. In other words, absent a forward progression through, for example, mourning, the individual is doomed to circle back repeatedly to the lost object. Both formulations of the loop, one that either returns or does not return to its origins, are at work in this issue’s articles.

Issue 8: The Loop as a Temporal Form.