Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lies, spin, bluffing, etc....

OK, I know I really shouldn't be either provocative or disrespectful given my distinguished audience for this blog...but it's still close enough to the vacation period for some of the light-heartedness to have leached into the working day. Forgive the language I am about to use.

One of the books I purchased using some amazon gift vouchers I got for Christmas is Prof Harry Frankfurt's (Prof of Philosophy at Princeton) litle monograph entitled "On Bullshit". It's beautifully produced in a small, hardback format that fits perfectly comfortably in my pocket (just behind my Moleskine notebook - the more sophisticated and battery free successor to a series of increasingly annoying PDAs). The content is a simple essay that looks at trying to develop an appropriate working definition of the concept and distinguishing it from "humbug", lying and bluffing. As the argument develops, Frankfurt manages to take a good (well deserved) swipe at some of the excesses of post-modernist relativism and makes a powerful case for his contention that bullshit is more ethically dangerous than out and out lying.

As he puts it
"Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He 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 the truth than lies are."

Entertaining and brief. However, I've found its small, elegant format most useful in meetings. I carry it around in my pocket, much as Hugo Chavez likes to keep his copy of the constitution in his shirt pocket. In some sessions for which I am not particularly inspired, I simply place the book on the top of my pile of papers, minutes etc, getting the message across in an understated way, saying nothing and allowing wandering eyes to note its title on the top or along the spine as their attention drifts from the speaker. Subversive, I know - but haven't you got to take a stand sometimes??

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