Bronze-level articleBullshit

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Bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
—Harry Frankfurt

Bullshit (also known as bollocks in the UK, Ireland and Australia) often shortened to BS, is nonsensical claptrap, or words without any particular connection to reality. Bullshit may be used as a means of obfuscation, or it may simply be a way to pass time or fill space on a page. There's a lot of it, and it is often an indicator that someone is trying to mislead and/or they don't know what they are talking about.

According to programmer Alberto Brandolini, "The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it."[1]

Contents

[edit] Bullshitting

If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit!
—W. C. Fields, accomplished bullshitter

Bullshitting is, in a way, an art form. It's not exactly lying as when you're bullshitting you may in fact be telling the truth in a completely slanted or useless form, or you may simply be saying nothing at all.

Bullshitting on the Internet is becoming easier due to the prevalence of Google and Wikipedia. Someone posting on the internet has more than enough time between posts to type whatever they want to talk about into Google or Wikipedia and appear as an immediate genius to others reading the post. The drawback to this, is that everyone can do it, so someone with a genuine knowledge of a subject can still tend to win out.

[edit] Bullshit and philosophy

"What work do you do?"

"I'm a standup philosopher."
"Oh. A bullshit artist."
"*Grumble*"
"Did you bullshit anyone this week?"
"No."
"Did you try to bullshit anyone this week?"

"Yes."
—Mel Brooks, History of the World, Part I, at a Roman unemployment office

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt, in his essay On Bullshit, attempts a rigorous philosophical definition of bullshit. For Frankfurt, this consists of drawing a sharp distinction between a bullshitter and a liar; the difference being that a liar cares enough about the truth to state known falsehoods, whereas a bullshitter does not care because some other goal is paramount. "Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."[2]

An illustrative example of Frankfurt's distinction between lies and bullshit is the methodology of various currents of political extremism. Historically, the rhetoric of the far-right has relied primarily on lies (e.g., conspiracy theories involving Illuminati, Jews, the Red Scare, New World Order, etc.), while the rhetoric of the far-left has relied primarily on bullshit (e.g., postmodernism, politicized New Age natterings). This makes it much easier to discredit the right-wing extremists than the left-wing ones, although their statements generally contain identical amounts of truth. Although this is not so much the case now with the latest methodological shifts among conservatives who tend to align with the Religious Right — of particular note is the replacement of evidentialist with presuppositionalist creationism, which is bullshit combined with lies and added denial on top.

Consider the following examples. A common claim among neo-Nazis is that the Holocaust never happened, that many millions of people purportedly killed in Eastern Europe were in fact not killed, that this massacre was a fabrication of Allied propagandists. Now this is a factual claim, of which demonstrating the truth value is quite possible. And, it being demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that these people actually were killed, neo-Nazis have become roundly recognized as liars when it comes to this topic.

[edit] Bullshit!

Penn & Teller: Bullshit! is a skeptical television show on the Showtime network hosted by magicians Penn & Teller. The original series concentrated on debunking crank ideas from ESP to alternative medicine. While generally well-received by the skeptical community, it has been criticized for the presenters' tendency to let their libertarian politics interfere with their rationalist message, for example, with the episodes "Prostitution" and "Drugs" as well as their poor fact-checking, for instance, misquoting Thomas Jefferson.[3] Later series concentrated less on actual crank practices, and more on concepts such as "family values" or "profanity," although some basic crank-refuting remained, such as episodes on cryptozoology and New Age "Medicine."

[edit] -isms

There are bullshit terms tossed around by those who don't like the way reality actually works. These are generally terms which have a real base word, but adds the suffix "-ism" to express that the idea must be a philosophical or religious notion. Such isms include "scientism," "Darwinism," and "evolutionism." When someone starts using such terms over mainstream scholarship, they are usually full of bullshit.

[edit] Real bullshit

Bullshit is also the solid waste material from Bos taurus (cattle) of the male gender. It is not nice to step in, but makes good fertilizer. It is often compared to money in that it can be beneficial to spread it thinly over a large area, but highly toxic (not to mention disgusting) when too much is concentrated in one place. This usage differs from the metaphorical usage discussed above in that metaphorical bullshit, while toxic in high concentrations, is toxic in low concentrations as well. Genuine bovine bullshit figures prominently as an ingredient, reagent, and fuel in Ayurvedic medicine as well.

"Bovine feces" is a really nice euphemism for bullshit, in any sense. So is "bovine excrement".

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about shit.
Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Bullshit.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  • Frankfurt, Harry G., On Bullshit, Princeton University Press, 2005, ISBN 0691122946.
  • Law, Stephen. Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole, Prometheus, 2011, ISBN 1616144114.
  • Penny Laura.Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit, Crown, 2005, ISBN 1400081033.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The 'bullshit asymmetry' (The original referrer of the concept is unknown, but it alludes to Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. Mike the Mad Biologist made note of an "asymmetric advantage of bullshit" in 2009, while an Italian blogger also postulated the so-called "teoria della montagna di merda" — which in turn sounds very similar to Bullshit Mountain. Brandolini considers it a corollary of the contributions of Daniel Kahneman.)
  2. Description of On Bullshit at Princeton University Press
  3. As seen here
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