Friday, October 26, 2012

Lies or Bullshit?

In my critical thinking classes these past few weeks we have been reading and discussing Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit" (here is a link to an interview from The Daily Show where Frankfurt discusses his essay). In this essay he argues that lies and bullshit are different because a liar is concerned about the truth (so that he can more effectively deceive people) while the bullshitter has no concern for the truth (he just makes stuff up as he goes along). I was reminded of this when I saw the following clip of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) who is also Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee:

I was particularly struck by the fact that when she is asked about Obama's "secret" kill list, she claims that she has never heard of it, and has no idea what the interviewer is talking about. As Glenn Greenwald sees it, this is an example of stunning ignorance on the part of an elected figure:
Anyone who observes politics closely has a very low bar of expectations. It's almost inevitable to become cynical - even jaded - about just how inept and inane top Washington officials are. Still, even processing this through those lowly standards, I just find this staggering. Staggering and repellent. This is an elected official in Congress, the body that the Constitution designed to impose checks on the president's abuses of power, and she does not have the foggiest idea what is happening in the White House, and obviously does not care in the slightest, because the person doing it is part of the party she leads.
I, however, am not so convinced that Rep. Schulz is ignorant. I think the far more likely explanation is that she is simply lying. She knows the truth, she knows the issues involved here, but she pretends that she doesn't. As Greenwald documents, there is ample evidence for Obama's "secret" kill list in the media, not the least of which is this story from the New York Times published on May 29, 2012 with the headline, "Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will." This isn't bullshit as Frankfurt defines it because she isn't just making stuff up, and I think, she is genuinely concerned with the truth, she just wants to hide it. Given all the evidence its existence, it is unfathomable that a person in Rep. Schulz's position would be ignorant of Obama's kill list. It is certainly the case that most politicians are guilty of bullshit, but they also do lie and I believe that this is an excellent example of a politician lying to the face of an interviewer.

h/t to Isaac Russell

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