Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Triumph of Bullshit

I haven’t heard anyone explain this small but crucial point about Donald Trump’s story about seeing people celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001:

At the time of the attack, did we know that it was planned and carried out by Osama bin Laden and his allies?  I don’t remember the blame being laid at his feet on that day, nor do I remember them taking credit for it at the time.  So how could Muslims in New Jersey or anyone “celebrate” the attacks that day if they didn’t know who caused it?

Mr. Trump said:

There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down… I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well-covered at the time.

The first World Trade Center collapsed at 9:59 a.m., less than an hour after the plane hit; the second tower fell a half hour later.  It wasn’t until the second tower was hit that we knew it was more than just an accident.  So how did the “large Arab population” know who did it and how did they coordinate their celebration to take place “as the World Trade Center came down”?  Maybe we should ask Mr. Trump about that.

But there really isn’t any point in doing that.  Calling him out for his lies is a waste of time because he knows exactly what he’s doing.

Jeet Heer in The New Republic:

… the increasingly frequent tendency of Trump’s critics to label him a liar is wrongheaded. Trump is something worse than a liar. He is a bullshit artist. In his 2005 book On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt, emeritus philosophy professor at Princeton University, makes an important distinction between lying and bullshitting—one that is extremely useful for understanding the pernicious impact that Trump has on public life. Frankfurt’s key observation is that the liar, even as he or she might spread untruth, inhabits a universe where the distinction between truth and falsehood still matters. The bullshitter, by contrast, does not care what is true or not. By his or her bluffing, dissimilation, and general dishonesty, the bullshit artist works to erase the very possibility of knowing the truth. For this reason, bullshit is more dangerous than lies, since it erodes even the possibility of truth existing and being found.

So there really isn’t any point in asking Mr. Trump to explain his glaring inconsistencies in his tales of terror or demand that he produce the non-existent footage of the celebrations he claims he saw.  He doesn’t care that what he says isn’t true, and as long as he can convince other people that not only did he see it happen, so did they, he will continue.

The triumph of bullshit has consequences far beyond the political realm, making society as a whole more credulous and willing to accept all sorts of irrational beliefs. A newly published article in the academic journal Judgment and Decision Making links “bullshit receptivity” to other forms of impaired thinking: “Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”

It’s no accident that Trump himself is receptive to bullshit ideas promulgated by the likes of anti-vaxxers. A President Trump, based on his own bullshit receptivity and his own bullshit contagiousness, would lead a country that is far more conspiratorial, far more confused, and far less able to grapple with problems in a rational way. Trump’s America would truly be a nation swimming in bullshit.

Pull up your pants; it’s too late to save your shoes.

6 barks and woofs on “The Triumph of Bullshit

  1. I have been sitting here pondering this article. So here goes and hope I say this right. I was staying at my camper and getting ready to move back to town when 9/11 happened. My neighbor Bunnie came by to see if I was up on the situation. We watched as the events unfolded and she asked if I knew who was behind this tragedy. I told her bin Laden and she said who? I repeated Osama bin Laden and that this was our generations Pearl Harbor. I knew who was responsible, and i am sure a lot of your readers knew. However some people will believe anything.Today, the Republican Party glosses over 9/ 11 like it never happened so why not add to this by adding the claims of cheering Muslims when the buildings came down; it might actually convince people that the event didn’t happen on their watch. I know what it means to resist a sales pitch and that is what is going on here. You might actually want to buy the product (Trump) with your vote.

  2. I rarely watch Morning Joe, but did today as I was making the beds. A long “conversation” ensued with back and forth as to why Trump’s numbers went up in November. One person said it’s because people hate Washington, another said those who support him are stupid, etc. etc. But the most convincing argument came from Gene Robinson who said the Republican party is reaping what they’ve sowed after the past 7 years. They constantly accuse Obama of being weak, wishy washy and indecisive and as happens when there’s chaos both here and abroad the voters, such as they are, blame the President. But no matter how offensive Trump is and no matter if he offers no ideas for the future he projects strength. And boy do his audiences eat it up.

    However Hillary’s numbers in the general election show she’d trample him handily. So bring it on Donald. You’re a gift that keeps on giving.

  3. The only way I can cope is to realize that the vast majority of the US electorate is actually sane. That, once past the breathlessness of the primaries that only attract the most hardened on either side, the rational majority will rise up at the time of the election and realize we’re talking about the commander-in-chief, the serious job of being President, and the leader of the free world. They will, as they have shown time and again, reject idiocy and get real.

    Selfishly, I hope the GOP does get screwed by the manipulation they have foisted on their base for the last decade in the form of Fox (and Limbaugh and Beck and Scarborough and …). I hope they do nominate Trump, because that will only insure Hillary wins. No rational person could look at those two and choose a bloviating orange person with a bad combover to be the leader of the free world. Choosing Rubio or Bush would be more problematic since it would offer the right-leaning middle-of-the-road voter a seemingly rational alternative.

  4. As I remember (from fourteen years ago) it was reported that there were Palestinians who were working in Saudi Arabia were happy about the attack and collapse of the World Trade Centers. I do hope Trump will be nominated because he will collapse before the Presidential elections.

  5. I don’t have as much faith in the U.S. voter as some do. We did have George W. Bush not long ago. How could any reasonable person listen to him and then vote for him? In the above story there is no mention of Building No. 7 which also came down in it’s own footprint despite not being hit by a plane. How did that happen?

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