You can always spot someone has no interest in considering an issue on the merits. No matter what the context, bullshitters have a bond in how they cling to the same patterns in issuing the patently absurd. As if using a Response Form template governed by the International Bunk Speak Organization (IBSO), he or she just spews out formulaic nonsense to fill in the blanks. Not an ounce of effort will be exerted in a quest for the truth — and in so doing the accuracy in one’s perception will be butchered beyond belief. Whatever energy is applied will be in the form incoherent arguments. The party in question will whitewash any actions on their part as they paint the accuser as the problem. Far and away, the most common pattern of all offenders is that they are hell-bent on heading down the path of least resistance. Much to our detriment we have fashioned a society in which “I say tomayto, you say tomahto” is all the authority required to have a “point of view” — illustrated by the all-too-common inanity below:
Well as I told you when you were up here I pretty much disagree with you in all of your thoughts on President Bush and the war but that’s the beauty of it we can disagree! Clearly you think my line of thinking is incorrect and I think yours is wrong also so I would have to say this is one of the spots where agreeing to disagree is appropriate. I know you don’t believe in that but I’m sure it’s safe to say that you aren’t going to change your mind on the President and either am I, BUT THAT IS Ok!
By that standard we could “agree to disagree” about the existence of gravity.
The minimum standard for a “line of thinking” is that you actually do some thinking. I was curious to see if I could find a good definition for it, and I think audioenglish.org does a nice job: “The process of using your mind to consider something carefully.”
But that would necessitate another old-fashioned idea of mine: That in debating our views we should have some inkling of understanding of what we are talking about — and if not, at least have an ounce of curiosity to listen and learn from those who do. After all, you entered the domain of the discussion of your own free will, so why not value that liberty in the interest of learning something? That is not to suggest that the informed cannot learn from the clueless — you would be surprised at what you can discover when you’re always on the lookout for even the smallest kernel of truth in any conversation.
I’ve spent a lifetime with the willingness to be wrong — showing genuine respect for all forms of intelligence in order to foster my own. I can’t say that process has always been pretty, but Einstein himself said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Unfortunately, I have seen for more of the exact opposite attitude, which is summed up in the blurb for philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt’s book On Bullshit:
Frankfurt, one of the world’s most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all.
Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner’s capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.