Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On the Theory and Practice of Bullshitting

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Bullshit has become such a pervasive form of political speech in the Trump world, it deserves attention as a specific rhetorical style. Most of us use the word to mean something is incorrect: "That's bullshit!" The first time I heard the term "bullshit artist" was in the 1971 film, Carnal Knowledge, where two college students, played by Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel, used it as a semi-complimentary exclamation after some amazing thing the other one said, the rough equivalent of "No way, dude!" But since American philosopher Harry Frankfurt published a short book, On Bullshit, in 2005, the term has been used to refer to a specific form of speech.

The staid and proper Fareed Zakaria talked about Frankfurt's book and about Trump as "bullshit artist" on CNN in August, 2016, during the heat of the presidential campaign and again a few days ago. They're both reasonably short and worth a listen.

Zakaria quotes Frankfurt's book to distinguish between lying and bullshitting. “Telling a lie," Frankfurt writes, "is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point." Bullshit, on the other hand, "is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false . . . [It] has spacious opportunities for improvisation, color and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art.” Frankfurt concludes that "bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

Trump is a legendary bullshit artist—he's been indulging in it throughout his adult life — who piles heaping helpings of narcissism and pathology on top. Our own Doug Ducey is a lower level practitioner, but skilled nonetheless. We see him practice his art regularly when he adopts the mantle of "friend of education." He never tires of complimenting himself for pushing Prop 123, without acknowledging that it resulted in schools getting a portion of what the state owed them by law, and mostly from the schools' own money, the state land trust fund, not the state budget. That makes him less antagonistic to public education than many of his Republican colleagues, but a friend of public education? Hardly. And he's in danger of doing himself injury as he pounds himself on the back for "supporting teachers" by adding a few hundred dollars to their yearly salaries. Both assertions are half true, half false and all bullshit.

Now Ducey is congratulating himself for throwing his support behind renewing Prop 301, which assured schools that they would receive the money that was stolen from them by the state and partially returned through Prop 123. Prop 301 expires in 2020.
“I’ve not worked as hard as I’ve worked on Prop 123 to get funding to K-12 education to let us fall off a cliff,” the governor said.
Good old Ducey, giving his all to keep us in 49th place in per student funding so we don't slip to number 50. Hell of a guy.

And why is anti-tax Ducey supporting the renewal of a six-tenths of a cent sales tax? Because it's not really a tax.
“This is a funding program,” he argued.
Using that logic, I can think of plenty of other "funding programs" I'd like to see the state undertake, especially if the "funding" comes from the people and corporations who can best afford to pay for them.

If Ducey was truly a friend of education, he'd support the education groups who are pushing to raise the Prop 301 renewal "funding" from six-tenths of a cent to a penny. Not gonna happen. But he claims he's "negotiating" with the education community about ways to improve the proposition—which, apparently, is news to members of the education community who say they have yet to be consulted.

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