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Bronze-level articleBullshit

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BS redirects here. For an article about a person with the (ironic) initials BS, please see Ben Stein.
Bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Harry Frankfurt

Bullshit (also known as bollocks in the UK), often shortened to BS to convey the meaning with fewer letters, is the art of deceit through obfuscation. There's a lot of it, and it's generally an indicator that someone is trying to mislead and/or they don't know what they are talking about.


[edit] Bullshitting

If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit!

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.

A BA in English can essentially be a BA in Bullshit. English majors are quite adept with the application of bullshit in daily discourse. As Sir Phillip Sidney said in The Defence of Poesy regarding nature, "Her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden." In other words, English majors can not only partake in a bullshit interpretation of reality, but they can also turn that bullshit to gold.[1]

[edit] Bullshit and philosophy

"What work do you do?"

"I'm a standup philosopher."
"Oh. A bullshit artist."
"Did you bullshit anyone this week?"
"Did you try to bullshit anyone this week?"

—Mel Brooks, History of the World, Pt. 1, at an unemployment office

The 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.

Of course, bullshit can be used by those anywhere on the political spectrum, fielding claims of this sort:

The following sentence employs racist language: "Her car has a bumpersticker that says, 'Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.'"[3]

This use of bullshit is what made such things as the Sokal affair possible. In a similar vein, as the far-right increasingly uses bullshit instead of lies in its propaganda, Poe's Law has become a point of discussion.

[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 instance, with the episodes "Prostitution" and "Drugs" as well as their poor fact-checking, for instance, misquoting Thomas Jefferson.[4] 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. It's still fun to watch, although nothing is funnier than an angry fat man and a mute doing magic tricks.

[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 persuasion. 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.

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

[edit] Recommended reading

  • Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit by Laura Penny, Crown, 2005, ISBN 1400081033.
  • Frankfurt, Harry G., On Bullshit, Princeton University Press, 2005, ISBN 0691122946.

[edit] See also

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

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

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