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A Flood of BS
Louie, Tucker, Vivek, and a guy named Ray.
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At this point, it almost feels like piling on to note that our political conversation is being swamped with bullshit. But I mean this in the technical sense of the word, as defined by Harry Frankfurt in his magisterial classic, On Bullshit.
The renowned moral philosopher and Princeton professor opens his book by noting: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”
While bullshitting and lying have a lot in common, Frankfurt drew an important distinction between the two. “[The bullsh*tter] does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are.” He explained:
1) Both liars and bullshitters (bsers) want you to believe that they are telling the truth.
2) And both want to get away with something.
But, he argued:
Liars engage in a conscious act of deception.
Liars know the truth, but attempt to hide it.
Liars spread untruths, but they still accept the distinction between the truth and false.
Bullshitters, on the other hand:
Just don’t know or care about the truth.
Ignore or reject the distinction between truth and falsity altogether.
Obviously, there is a lot of overlap. There’s no shortage of bad-faith actors who spread falsehoods that they know perfectly well are lies. We are inundated with high profile liars who toggle back and forth between conscious deception and BS, often in the same cable TV appearance.
And then there are the merchants of pure merde.
ICYMI: Tim Miller’s report this weekend from the Louisiana GOP included a conversation he had with Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a man who once acknowledged that people perceived him to be the “dumbest member of Congress.”
Tim asked Louie why he was sticking with Trump and Gohmert himself recounted the exchange when he spoke to the crowd:
I was asked by a very polite person [editor’s note: Tim] out here moments ago, ya know, didn’t I think Trump should drop out . . . Let me say, be for whomever you wish but let me make sure you understand what’s really happening. . . .
It will not matter who the Republican nominee for president is, the DOJ is gonna make sure that they’ve got baggage. Even if they make it up. They are going to create court requirements for whomever our nominee is. So if your one prerequisite is we need a Republican nominee without any baggage, who doesn't have to go to court that’s not gonna happen and you need to wake up and be aware of it. They’re gonna come after whoever the nominee is.
Professor Frankfurt would have no difficulty identifying this as Bullshit in the Wild.
The DOJ did not charge Mike Pence over the missing docs. There are no investigations, grand juries, or special counsels looking at Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, or any other candidate.
Making allowance for the fact that Gohmert is, in fact, the dumbest member of Congress, he either doesn’t know or care about whether this is true or not. And, apparently neither did the crowd down in Lafeyette.
Same story with a guy named Raymond Arroyo, who titillated Laura Ingraham with some Deep Thoughts about how the Mug Shot will appeal to Black voters.
Is this true? Is it plausible? Who cares, right?
Then there’s Tucker, who does know the difference between truth and falsity, but just does not give a rat’s ass.
As he bathed his fascist-adjacent Hungarian hosts in praise, the ex-Fox Big declared that “They hate Hungary because it’s a Christian country.” And that is why “they” also hate Russia.”
(What Would Jesus Do? Bomb civilians, commit war crimes, and assassinate critics, apparently.)
David French remarked: “One of the best ways to tell when Tucker is just making crap up is when he says, “but it’s true.”
Jonah Goldberg: “No one hates Russia because it’s Christian. That’s amazingly stupid.”
TwitterX readers quickly provided some context: “Just 16% of Russians say that religion is very important to them and just 7% attend worship services weekly. Meanwhile less than 19% of Hungarians say that religion is very important to them and less than 19% attend worship services weekly.”
And there’s this awkward factoid:
Presumably Tucker knows this, but this is his shtick, and he fears neither fact-checkers nor his conscience. BS is his stock-in-trade.
Which brings us to Vivek, the Avatar of Our Political Moment.
Over the weekend, the new MAGA rockstar made the rounds of Sunday shows, predictably leaving a trail of steaming BS in his wake.
On Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd pressed Ramaswamy on whether he thought Mike Pence had done the right thing on January 6th when he refused to illegally overturn the presidential election.
Ramaswamy answered that Pence blew a chance he had to implement voting reforms like single day voting, paper ballots, and photo-ID requirements.
“So, what would you have done as Mike Pence?,” asked Todd. “You would have not certified the election?”
Ramaswamy confirmed that he would have overturned the election…
“I would have done it very differently. I think that there was a historic opportunity that he missed to reunite this country in that window. What I would have said is, “This is a moment for a true national consensus,” where there’s two elements of what’s required for a functioning democracy in America.
One is secure elections, and the second is a peaceful transfer of power. When those things come into conflict, that’s an opportunity for heroism.
Here’s what I would have said, “We need single-day voting on Election Day. We need paper ballots, and we need government-issued ID matching the voter file. And if we achieve that, then we have achieved victory, and we should not have any further complaint about election integrity.”
This is beyond parody, but the twist here is Vivek himself actually knows this is rank BS. How do we know? He wrote a book about it. Here’s Todd again:
Throughout this entire book, you mock the entire January 6th aspect. You absolutely criticize Donald Trump for being a sore loser. You write about it in a way of making your point that you think we’ve become a nation of victims. And right now, on TV, you’re doing the exact opposite….
Let me go back to quoting you. “The Republican Party seems to be moving towards the position that any races it wins are legitimate and any it loses were stolen. It’s just the preferred conservative brand of victimhood, a knee-jerk kind of sore losing more common to playgrounds than great republics.”
Alas, Vivek was not done with his parade of bullshit.
On CNN, he was asked about the racist mass murder in Jacksonville, and blamed the “media and establishment and universities and politicians” — not white supremacy — for the killings.
Vivek Ramaswamy told CNN viewers Sunday that a “racialized culture” and “mental health deficiencies” were to blame for the slaying in the New Town neighborhood, by a killer who was initially thwarted from entering HBCU Edward Waters University.
The killer had written a manifesto and had a swastika on his AR-15, seemingly clarifying his intent for most observers, but not Ramaswamy, who blames environmental factors rather than the gunman.
“The reality is we’ve created such a racialized culture in this country in the last several years. That right, as the last few burning embers of racism were burning out, we have a culture in this country largely created by media and establishment and universities and politicians that throw kerosene on that racism,” Ramaswamy said on the “State of the Union” Sunday….
“I’ve been saying that for years and I think that is driving sadly a new wave of anti-Black and anti-Hispanic racism in this country,” Ramaswamy added, seemingly explaining away the gunman’s decision to drive from Clay County to commit murder by blaming the “media and establishment and universities and politicians.”
Let’s give Frankfurt the last word here. He explained why BS has become so prevalent in our culture:
Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.
These are the times we live in now.
BONUS: On Sunday, Vivek got the coveted endorsement of O.J. Simpson. Because, of course.
We Told You So
We were always going to get this first-of-its-kind presidential portrait. What else would you expect from a con man and a criminal? But this is because of the choices Trump made, and because the party has refused to take every single off-ramp.
If only they had been warned.
1. The Book Banners on the Left
Now, a major liberal institution that has championed freedom of expression for over a century—PEN America… has issued a lengthy report that strongly comes down on the side of taking illiberal progressivism seriously.
Booklash: Literary Freedom, Online Outrage, and the Language of Harm, written by the PEN America research team with a trenchant introduction by playwright Ayad Akhtar titled “In Defense of the Literary Imagination,” is a thorough examination of the chilly climate in publishing and the issues and controversies that have created it. Booklash is particularly valuable because PEN America really cannot be accused of having a right-leaning or even centrist bias: the organization enthusiastically champions racial and gender diversity and has strongly denounced censorship moves from the right, such as red-state policies facilitating school library book removals.
2. Here’s a Kind of Job-Training Program That Works
The good news is there are promising alternative approaches to job training that may make a significant difference in employment outcomes. One of the most important is sector-based training, which focuses on the skills needed for specific industries. Studies have shown that participants in sector-based training programs, such as Year Up and Per Scholas, see sustained employment and earnings benefits. The programs have had an especially marked effect on outcomes for disadvantaged and minority workers, who see large sustained increases in wages compared to similar workers who do not participate.
(Whispers: Sohrab Ahmari.)