What is bullshit and can you recognise it when you hear it?
Prof. Harry Frankfurt, from Princeton University, suggests that we do not know what it is, and wouldn't be smart enough to avoid it anyway. He has applied his magnificent philosophical brain to the word bullshit, coming up with an excellent definition of the word.
I recommend you view his video at this link. You will need to select how you want to view it. I found it informative and hilarious at the same time.
As regards the book review below, some religious folk may find some of the author's remarks offensive. However if you are at this site I am sure you are open minded enough to get the point.
On Bullshit was inspired by author Harry G. Frankfurt's concern with what he sees as an abundance of utter bullshit in our society. The book represents his attempt to explain exactly what it is and why it exists. The trouble, he says, is that the phenomenon of rampant bullshit has gone almost completely unstudied because most of us are confident that we recognize it when we hear it and so are smart enough to avoid it, which is a mistake. In my opinion, the popularity of FOX News and the (sigh) re-election of President Bush should be enough to demonstrate that perhaps even a majority of the population falls somewhere between autistic and legally retarded, remaining totally oblivious to the proliferation of bullshit from our political pundits. (Sound familiar? - Ed.)
Our society has been so saturated with huge, steaming, pungent piles of bullshit that it requires an above average intelligence and an open mind to distinguish between a thought-provoking treatise on current events and a mindless, pompous, self-indulgent, vitriolic, propaganda-laced Ann Coulter book. Of course, the fact that we still have a majority of the population worshipping an invisible bearded man in the sky who really hates science and homosexuals is evidence that the bullshitters will continue making the New York Times Bestsellers list indefinitely.
On Bullshit is not merely one of the million works of bullshit nonfiction out there right now. It is written by a Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University and represents a philosopher's serious attempt to understand this disturbing phenomenon in our society. It reads more like a journal essay than a book but is written specifically for the layman. Coming in at 67 very short pages, one good trip to the bathroom and you will have read it twice. Like a true philosopher, Frankfurt reveals his assumptions and considers the meanings of the terms he deals with in an attempt to learn something about the derogative nature of the term bullshit.
Frankfurt determines that there are some conclusions we can draw regarding bullshitting. It is short of lying. It entails the bullshitter misrepresenting himself in some way. The bullshitter is trying to get away with something. Basically, an indifference to how things really are is what Frankfurt calls the essence of bullshit. From this, we may freely include priests among the worst of our modern bullshitters, who reside in the dung heap among thousands of pundits from the left and the right, all of our politicians, and President Bush's Minister of Propaganda, Scott McClellan.
On Bullshit notes that "Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about." (Eish - Ed.) This can include Mbeki on how it is going in Zimbabwe, or Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on the treatment of AIDS. (Italics added by Ed.) The book argues that bullshitters are even worse than liars. Those who tell the truth and those who lie have the same benchmark from which to tell their tale; the truth. Those who bullshit have no reference point whatsoever, completely disregarding what is true and what is false, concerned only with one thing; getting their way. (...and therein lies the rub folks - Ed.) Whether their statements are true or false make no difference to them. They are more interested in winning arguments than engaging in an honest pursuit of the truth.
For Bill O'Reilly, this means turning a guest's microphone off so that he can avoid losing a debate on screen. For President Bush, this means repeating the same tired phrases ad nauseum. For Ann Coulter, this means attacking her enemies like a total bitch instead of engaging them in serious debate. For Donald Rumsfield, this means giving conflicting reports and equivocating every time he talks to the press. For Sean Hannity, it means being referring to those who disagree with him as evil terrorists. For Michael Moore, it means a mixture of bending the truth and lying in his films. The book points out that there is no way to know if there is a greater proportion of bullshit now than there used to be, but given the all-star cast of bullshitters on the national scene today, it is hard to imagine it's ever been this bad.