“On Bullshit: The essay that explains the era of Fake News” – Thomas COOMBES

MEDIUM, March 3, 2017

The essay offers useful perspective in an era where writing fake news has become a lucrative business (especially in Montenegro, apparently), where avoiding facts and embracing vague rhetoric is a recipe for success, and the editor of the Wall Street Journal says it is not his paper’s job to call a politician out for lying.

Here is how essay the essay helps us identify when and why politicians and fake news are selling us bullshit.

“A theoretical understanding of bullshit”

The first thing Frankfurter wanted us to understand was that lies and bullshit are not the same thing. Lies are based on truth, but not bullshit.

“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 bets are off. …

He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.

Lies are craft, bullshit is art

A lie, Frankfurter says, is “an act of sharp focus” that requires “a degree of craftsmanship”. Crucially, the liar must have a sense of what is true:

“He must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.”

Lies misrepresent the “state of affairs” or the speaker’s own beliefs — the facts or what he thinks of the facts. If making a lie is therefore a craft, bullshitting is an art.

The bullshit artist doesn’t care about the truth one way or another:

“His focus is panoramic…with more spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play…”

Full essay on MEDIUM [+]


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