Monday, June 02, 2008

On Bullshit - book

Our server has been truly weird and pretty much useless of late. Sometimes we can get on the web, but much of the time we cannot. Usually at some point I am able to post a blog, but not always. Supposedly, when the snow finally melts on the mountain, they will get up there and install new and better equipment. We’ll see.

One of the few fairly faithful readers of this blog loaned me the two recent books by Harry G. Frankfurt: On Bullshit, and On Truth. I have only had time to peruse the first one, On Bullshit. Harry G. Frankfurt is a “renowned moral philosopher,” who is now an Emeritus Professor at Princeton University. As I understand it, he is attempting to determine the essence of bullshit. That is, as you doubtless know, one of the main things philosophers do, attempt to get at the essence of things. This is not a long book, but as it is philosophy, it is somewhat complicated. As I have seldom read much philosophy since my college days, long ago now, I found it somewhat difficult (of course, were it not difficult to follow, it would not be philosophy). Professor Frankfurt distinguishes between things like humbug and lies and tries to define bullshit as being somewhat different. In brief, if I have this right, the liar at least accepts the notion there is such a thing as truth that can be told by someone, and then opposes himself to it by telling a lie. The bullshitter is distinguished by the fact that he is not interested in either the truth or lying, thus what he says is simply bullshit, it is irrelevant whether it is true or false or has anything whatsoever to do with facts. He goes on to discuss why there is so much bullshit at the moment. First, he says, bullshit is unavoidable when people are required to talk about things they know nothing about (presumably there are many people nowadays required to do this, political pundits certainly come to mind). He also thinks that because many these days deny there even is any objective reality, they cannot do anything but bullshit. Thus, convinced that reality has no “inherent nature,” people try to be true to their own nature. That is, to be “sincere.” But as we cannot truly know our own nature, sincerity is itself simply bullshit. As bullshit results from people talking about things they know nothing about, and as the quest of philosophy is to discover the essence of things we, by definition, know little or nothing about (why else would we be philosophizing about them), one would have to conclude that philosophers are the greatest bullshitters of all. And, as I know nothing about any of this, it is fair to conclude that I, too, am a great bullshitter. I am hoping that the second book, On Truth, will help me understand things better. In the meanwhile I am getting a bumper sticker: “Why be Happy, Philosophize”). But I do appreciate the loan of these two fine books. I knew there was a reason I did not major in philosophy, it’s just too difficult. I gave up psychology because I didn’t like lab rats shitting in my hands. Sociology was boring. As I was hopeless at math and pretty much everything else I turned to anthropology where I found a home with the rest of the homeless.

If you don’t believe there was sexism involved in the nomination battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, there is a video on AlterNet that will demonstrate just how widespread and insidious it was (is). Chris Matthews is particularly oblivious to just how sexist he is, but he is hardly alone. He is so oblivious I doubt that he even believes he is a sexist. Anyway, I don’t believe that sexism is the primary reason Clinton lost, although it probably played some part in it. It is difficult to see how sexism was much worse than racism in this particular contest. If Clinton had been running against the usual middle-aged white male it might have been much more of a factor. I don’t know how anyone would be able to calculate the influences of sexism and racism, but perhaps this experience will make such problems less of a problem in the future.

Katie, my elegant cat
I love you
sitting regally there
on your throne
of warm laundry


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They were not loans they are gifts. I believe that you got the essence of "On Bullshit". I have summarized it likewise.