This little 4 by 6 inch, 67 page, hardbound book is an essay by Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, of Princeton University. It purports to be a serious effort to "begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit."
Watching the 60 Minutes piece and reading the book was epiphanic for me. I finally understood what had perplexed me so many times before. I know a consummate bullshitter and have never understood, why, when armed with perfectly valid facts, he chooses to spout total BS instead. Now I know that bullshitters don't care to make any determination about the facts. The facts hold no meaning for them. It's all about the presentation and getting the desired response. Facts be damned.
One who is concerned to report or to conceal facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference. Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are, but that cannot be anything except bullshit.
Frankfurt also seems to believe that BS is more insidious than outright lying:
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 truth, as a liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is the greater enemy of truth than lies are.
It seems like a very long time ago that I read about BookCrossing. The concept was intriguing, but I didn't get involved.
A few weeks ago, I had a long layover in the Oakland airport. I noticed a book, seemingly abandoned, on a chair with no one near. When it was still there, undisturbed, over 2 hours later, I borrowed it.
After I finally read it, I hunted down the BookCrossing site and set the book free.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The other day, while chasing the answer to some question I don't recall, I ran across a weblog entry by DJ Adams.
DJ is the author of Programming Jabber which has a prominent place on the bookshelf behind my computer desk. So, when I read his comments about a book he was reading, I went right out and picked up a copy at the local Barnes and Noble.
If I ever author a book, I'd love for someone to say about it what DJ said about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:
The writing is simple. Straightforward. It reflects the exact, black and white reasoning of this autistic child. Sad and funny at the same time. And as I read each sentence, I feel that a lot of work has gone into every one of them. Exactly the right words, the right number, and the right punctuation. It's almost as if the words on the page, at a level above the story, tell a story themselves.
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