We’re publishing an original essay today by regular contributor James Alexander, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey. In this piece, he surveys the academic literature on bullshit – yes, there is a substantial body of work – and concludes that there is a strong strain of bullshit in the response by governments around the world to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is an extract:
Bullshit is obviously essential to politics. Consider the following description, in effect, of a politician: “The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristics is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to”. The consequence of the existence of bullshit, of this trading in truth or perhaps untruth in a careless but extremely purposeful manner, is that it creates a bullshit world. Truth has never mattered much in politics. Much is symbol, or magic, or illusion. Consider ‘representation’ for instance: it is nothing but symbol, magic and illusion. Consider crown, unction, sceptre, sword, wig, robe, and the ultimate English bullshit of the phrase ‘My right honourable friend’. Voltaire famously said that the Holy Roman Empire was not holy, not Roman and not an empire. In the same way, our ‘right honourable friend’ is not right, not honourable and not our friend. I jest, so let us quote Frankfurt again: “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” Again, and in the spirit of being generous to politicians, this is eminently political. For politics, certainly parliamentary and deliberative and consultative and counselling politics, involves everyone talking about things they know nothing about: the future, or the facts. Bertrand de Jouvenel brilliantly defined politics as being whatever is left over when the engineers, technocrats and experts have solved all our problems. He defined politics as being composed of problems which cannot be solved but only settled, through compromise and accommodation, and, we might add, in a less decorous age than Jouvenel’s, by bluster, balderdash and bullshit.
Worth reading in full.