Bullshit is worse than lies

By Pieter Stuurman (Translated from the Dutch by Margreet Booij, abridged and “adapted” for the German reading public by Ullrich Mies).

In 1986 Harry G. Frankfurt, professor of philosophy at Princeton University, wrote an essay on the term “bullshit.” This became a huge success in academic circles and was published in 2005 as a handy little book that spent a whopping 27 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. To determine what bullshit really is, Frankfurt examines how bullshit differs from lies. Although he says that both lies and bullshit are intended to intentionally mislead listeners or readers, the bullshitter has different motives and uses different methods than the liar.

The main difference between a liar and bullshitter is that a liar lies to cover up a truth by intentionally spreading false information. Thus, the liar knows the truth. Bullshit, on the other hand, has no connection to the truth. The bullshitter cannot be limited by truth either. A bullshitter has the goal to make himself look better or to make others look bad or even to discredit them. In contrast to lies, bullshit is not about content, but about its effect. Bullshit is sucked completely out of the proverbial fingers by the spreaders and used as it suits them best.

A lie can be refuted by the truth. However, since the bullshitter’s claims have not a single connection to the truth, refuting bullshit is far more difficult. According to Frankfurt, bullshit is therefore a greater enemy of truth than lies. According to Frankfurt, bullshit can also be recognized by behavior and not just by assertions and statements. Bullshit expresses itself, for example, in certain rituals, actions and habits that do not contribute in any way to the claimed intentions. He cites the Army as an example: the endless sprucing up of things that have long since shined, or the endless standing toe to toe. They contribute nothing to the goal of the Army and the defense of a country. It is bullshit behavior based on bullshit orders.

When Frankfurt wrote his essay, he could not have guessed that we would end up in a situation we are in now. Currently, bullshit has become almost the norm – in the media, in politics, and in NGOs with an affinity for domination. One of the most widespread manifestations of bullshit is the term “conspiracy theorist”. It is used at every appropriate and inappropriate opportunity – without even considering the content of the term – as a generalization and derogatory term for anyone whose viewpoint differs from the government narrative, no matter how far. Claims that conspiracy theorists are aggressive and erratic, that they have a pronounced ego, feelings of defiance, dogged pride, are the pipe dreams of amateur psychologists. They do not testify to any relevant knowledge of the true intentions and character traits of the denounced, nor of their psychological condition. Those who throw around such attributions do not even intend to know the true intentions of the people they call “conspiracy theorists.”

He is trying to discredit an entire group of people and is using invented insinuations. The denunciators and slanderers pick out the misbehavior of a few “nutters” from large groups, for example the cross-thinkers’ movement, which consists of hundreds of thousands of people, and then take the entire movement hostage to the self-fabricated “bullshit,” declaring it to be anti-Semites, enemies of peace, whatever. Overall, they impute dishonest motives to the movement. The truth is not up for debate. That’s why it’s bullshit.

It is remarkable that governments, “quality newspapers” and affiliated NGOs have no problem at all acting as conduits for bullshit. Because bullshit remains bullshit – no matter who produced it. That bullshit is currently also perceptible in behavior can be seen in the measures that are being imposed indiscriminately and arbitrarily, nationally, regionally and communally, on the population. The 1.5-meter measure, the lockdowns, and the mask requirement: no measure is based on truth. No measure contributes anything to the claimed goals. There is not a single scientific study that shows they are effective. Yet obedience is demanded. It is bullshit behavior based on bullshit arguments.

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The article is based on the original text by Pieter Stuurman: “Gesond Verstand”, No. 4, 2020: https://gezondverstand.eu

The article first appeared on “Demokratischer Widerstand” No. 30

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Thanks to the author for the right to publish the article.

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Picture source: Olivier Le Moal/ shutterstock

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