Lacey We are living in a post-truth era, which

Lacey Weidenfeller

Professor Dr. Christopher
Adair-Toteff

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Truth, Lies & BS

10 December 2017

The Threat
of Bullshit

The
book On Bullshit written by Harry G. Frankfurt,
a moral philosopher, discusses the complex concept of bullshit and lying. Frankfurt
meticulously analyzes, compares, defines and thoroughly breaks down the term bullshit
in order to understand its impartial meaning. Bullshit and lying are
ubiquitous; we are always in contact with them through advertising,
commercials, false news, political speeches and every day conversations.
Frankfurt argues that our society has a much greater tolerance for bullshit
than ever before and many people lack a lucid understanding of what it actually
is. Bullshit is an extremely important topic and is becoming a bigger problem
than ever before, especially in politics. We are constantly surrounded by it,
but many people simply can’t identify it. We are living in a post-truth era, which
means that unbiased and truthful facts are no longer as influential to
connecting with an audience as emotion and personal belief is. With this
information, the problem then becomes spotting the difference between a person
who truly wants to do good in the world and someone who is trying to put on a
persona in order to achieve their hidden ambition. Information and knowledge are truly powerful.
Ethos, pathos and logos are modes of persuasion through rhetorical
language that are used to sway the audience’s opinion about the speaker. Ethos
is persuasion through language, pathos stimulates emotion from the audience,
while logos influences an audience with reason and logic. The political ethos is now the premise of a strong
well-established society and a valued life. Due to this, it makes it difficult
for people to completely trust anything they read or hear, leaving them to latch
onto ideas in which they feel validity and purpose, thus threatening democracy
itself.

Knowing
the difference between a lie and a bullshit remark is the key to understanding
someone else’s mindset and underlying intention.  The definition is flexible, as Frankfurt
explains, but basically a bullshitter is defined as a person who has no regard
or knowledge of the truth and intentionally distracts someone from their
ignorance. In addition, this type of person cares a lot about what others think
and are more concerned with image than actuality. On the other hand, lying is
when a person knows the truth but deliberately deceives someone in order to
gain something for themselves. Furthermore, Frankfurt discusses, “Bullshit is a
greater enemy of the truth than lies are” (61). A fact can be proven wrong with
the help of sources and knowledge but for bullshit, it is very difficult to
prove that someone’s intentions are solely egotistical, corrupt, and the
indifference to truth. For this reason, bullshit is much more detrimental in
all forms. “However, it must not be assumed that bullshit always and
necessarily has pretentiousness as its motive” (7 Frankfurt).  A bullshitter doesn’t always strive to cause
deception and instead the person could just be talking without having knowledge
about the subject. When people feel they have to respond in a conversation when
they are not aware of the facts, they make things up in order to sound informed
and opinionated. Ethos is a persuasive strategy in language that influences an
audience to trust a speaker and their character, while logos connects to their
emotions. If we trust that someone is not intending to harm us, we are more
willing to listen and agree. In my opinion, I think the author should have
mentioned the ethos, pathos and logos language in his book. Politics, business,
news, and advertisements use ethos in order to convince the audience of
something in a sophistic way. The art of rhetoric language is similar to the
craft of bullshit because they both fall under the category of persuasion with
a purpose.  The post-truth era is also a
big advantage for bullshit because connecting with the peoples’ emotions is a
greater benefit, rather than proving a statement with facts and data. The
relationship between voting citizens and truth has proven the abandonment of tradition.
It used to be that using data and facts to prove a point kept you in the lead,
but now it is showing concern for everyone’s hardship and troubling livelihood.
Rhetoric language is powerful in the modern society to sway opinions and
perception with emotion and personal experience. Becoming aware of the
difference between bullshit and a true hearted person is essential for finding the
truth. It is easy to be manipulated by others, especially if they are speaking
about a topic one is fairly unfamiliar with and it is not unusual to follow someone
else’s idea if it seems to have validity.

The
growth of communication has increased along with the desire and ability for
people to have and share their opinion on topics they are familiar and unfamiliar
with. It seems when people do not express personal stance, their silence
implies dissent and disregard for the problems in the world. Social media
spreads news fast and a lot of that news is inaccurate. I have asked myself the
same question as Frankfurt, “Why is there so much bullshit?” (30). In order to
thoroughly understand and answer this question, I think we need to look deeper
into communication and where their information is coming from. When someone reads
information on Facebook, Instagram, or any random news site, they often assume
it is true without checking for other fact sources to confirm its validity.
Even with a lack of understanding about the topic, people continue to state
their viewpoints. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require
someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about” (30).  This quote explains a big conundrum in the
modern society.  In
my own experience using Facebook, I have seen many of my friends, some are not
usually verbally opinionated, posting long messages explaining their personal
views on complex topics such as politics and current events.  First of all, it really surprised me to see so
many posts from friends that are usually more kept to themselves but secondly,
a lot of the statements they made are simply untrue. I am not sure if it is
where they get their news from, or if they merely believe everything they hear.
Even with wrong facts, other users were commenting saying they agree with his
argument and continued to reply in support of his post.  Frankfurt substantiates that, “Closely related
instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of
a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least
everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs” (32). This
quote perfectly sums up the dynamic of both the pressure from democracy and
feeling it is our responsibility to acquire a personal opinion on everything. I
think the reason there is so much bullshit is because everyone yearns to feel knowledgeable
and have a sense of purpose in the world.  However, knowledge and purpose doesn’t come
from acting as if they know what they are talking about because if anything
that is ill informing others who are not informed. The way to become
knowledgeable is to have good news resources, and to find an unbiased truth
about what is really going on in the world. From there, you find purpose by
explaining a point on a Facebook post by informing others of how they might
have been deceived. Overall, the real problem is that this doesn’t just occur
with the average person posting bullshit online, but government officials and
role models to children and young adults are doing it too.

Donald Trump is the
representation of bullshit in the American political culture. Trump and his
cabinet justify his false statements by using the term alternative facts, which
inevitably means they are falsehoods.  His
fake facts help him gain support from ignorant people because many people do
not fact check, or follow unbiased news stations.  In addition, Trump took on the political
ethos of caring for our society and speaking about the differences he can make
in order to help us live better lives.  Trump
targeted white, lower class, poorly informed voters and he knew he could sway
their vote in his direction by using the political ethos as his weapon.  “What he does necessarily attempt to deceive
us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic
is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to” (55).  His true aim is egocentric and for that it
saddens me to see so many blind-sided supporters. Furthermore, false news threatens
democracy itself.  The way democracy
works is that people need to be informed about the issues so they can have a
debate and make a reasonable and logical decision. Furthermore, political trust
has gone downhill especially since Donald Trump became President of the United States.
 This environment of misinformation
disrupts public confidence in the government and the country itself. I read an
article on the voter turnout in the United States and it stated that there was
only a 58% voter turnout in the 2016 election. This low percentage has to do
with the mistrust in the United States governmental system and politics.  Our President, Donald Trump, a master of
manipulation who is constantly blabbering untrue remarks in which he states are
facts and bullshit claims in order to best serve only himself leads our strong
nation. Even if he is that, it is also our fault because we were deceived and
didn’t take in consideration that he wasn’t being honest. People continue to
believe anything and everything they hear on the news, online, and from
friends, which is the primary reason for the elected current President.  When I think of an ideal elected official in
office, they always have the characteristics of honesty, integrity, yearning to
do good and help the world. Politics used to be about making the world a better
place and fixing problems in communities but now it is about taking short cuts
in order to gain power, wealth and fame.  

In conclusion, bullshit is a very serious
problem and is continuing the get worse with the rapidly increasing platforms
of communication and the ideal political ethos.  We are always around by it, without knowledge
or recognition of its strong harmful existence.  Many individuals essentially can’t recognize
it or understand the seriousness of the problem.  The political ethos is now the premise of a strong
well-established society and a valued life. Due to this, it makes it difficult
for people to completely trust anything they read or hear, leaving them to
latch onto ideas they feel have validity and purpose, thus threatening
democracy itself. Information and knowledge is truly powerful. We can overcome
the post-truth era if more people are aware of the damage it causes and the misinformation
it represents. Having citizens that are informed, educated, and truly care will
assist our country in working the way it was intended to do so.