Monday, February 14, 2005


How ironic is it that the NYT*, which prints an unending stream of bullshit which they misrepresent as "news," is still edited by such a prissy pack of pantywaists that they will not allow the word "bullshit" to be printed in their pristine pages?

This fact forced the reviewer/interviewer, Peter Edidin, to some rather convoluted, not to mention flat out silly, usages to write this piece. Read it anyway, because the distinction made here between "liars" and "bullshitters" is invaluable for our current battle:
Harry G. Frankfurt, 76, is a moral philosopher of international reputation and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is also the author of a book recently published by the Princeton University Press that is the first in the publishing house's distinguished history to carry a title most newspapers, including this one, would find unfit to print. The work is called "On Bull - - - - ."

The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity:
Blah blah blah. See what I mean about convoluted writing? Anyway, here's the money quote:

What is [bull], after all?... Those who produce it certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars, given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not identical, regard for the truth.

"It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth," Mr. Frankfurt writes. "A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it."

The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is "getting away with what he says," Mr. Frankfurt writes.
Sound like anybody we know?
An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to [bull] "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it," he writes. "He pays no attention to it at all."

And this makes him, Mr. Frankfurt says, potentially more harmful than any liar, because any culture and he means this culture rife with [bull] is one in danger of rejecting "the possibility of knowing how things truly are." It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal.

The reader is left to imagine a culture in which institutions, leaders, events, ethics feel improvised and lacking in substance.
Turns out the essay on which this book is based was written in 1986. I'm sure glad it's getting more attention now, but we could have used it these last few years to explain to people why, how, and with what they were Being Had.

*Sorry the link is to the regular site, I keep meaning to ask the farmer to tell me how he does those RSS thingies but keep forgetting. I blame February.

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