Saturday, October 07, 2006

It's not lying; it's bullshit

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:05 PM |  

Just had a chance to read the Eric Black/Hugh Hewitt debate over Patty Wetterling’s “cover-up” ad and whether or not Patty lied and Black contrived to cut her some slack. Both make good cases for their positions; both miss the point.

My work here is not done. Wetterling did not lie in her ad. She dispensed bullshit.

In his interview of Black, Hewitt made the point that Wetterling’s statement about congressional leaders admitting there was a cover-up of the Mark Foley emails was false. Black admitted as much but said one couldn’t call that a “lie” without knowing the intent behind it. Both arguments miss the point.

The intent of the ad was to heighten the impression of wrong-doing on the part of Republicans and to the Wetterling camp, it didn’t matter whether statements in the ad were true or false, as long as they were plausible and might be accurate and created the correct impression, they were justified. That’s not lying, it’s bullshit -- and its more dangerous to the truth than is lying.

I wrote a series of columns on bullshit in the Pioneer Press some months back. Some excerpts that pertain to the Wetterling ad.
Bullsh*t, Frankfurt [Princeton professor Harry] says, is a misrepresentation short of an actual lie. To avoid the consequences of the truth, a liar makes a specific false statement, replacing truth with fabrication. A person cannot tell a lie unless he knows what the truth is and what its impact is. Bullsh*t, on the other hand, is indifferent to the truth. . . .

That is not to say slinging bull is morally superior to lying. It simply serves a different purpose. Lying hides the fact that the speaker is not telling the truth. Bullsh*t hides the fact that the truth is of no importance. It might contain fact, but the use of facts is meant to create an impression that is not necessarily connected with reality. The fault lies not in getting something wrong, says Frankfurt, but in not even trying to get it right. . . .

Frankfurt comes to a logical conclusion: Excessive indulgence in ignoring reality, making assertions only considering what it suits one to say, a person loses the habit of actually looking for the truth.
After reading the flurry of back and forth accusations on the Internet last week, I discover I must be one of the few bloggers on the Internet NOT being paid by a political campaign or organization. (Where did I go wrong?) If I were being paid by the GOP for my advice (which has been ignored thus far so I guess I answered my own question), I think there is hay to be made, not by calling Patty Wetterling a liar, but by pointing out that Wetterling’s campaign has reached the point where the truth is becoming totally irrelevant -- evidence the Foley ad and the Bachmann tax hike ad. The fault lies not that Wetterling got the facts wrong in these ads -- she didn’t even try to get them right.

Of course, there’s a problem with with the GOP using that tactic, isn't there?