Caring for Words, III: Worse than a Lie?

To call contemporary political discourse “a culture of lies” may be giving politicians, promoters, and pundits too much credit. When words, whether by choice or convention, are detached from shared experience or verifiable reality, speech devolves into amusing games and struggles for power. Wisdom yields to sophistry, knowledge to opinion, arguments prefer ad hominem to evidence. In this environment, to knowingly lie becomes, in a strange, inverted way, a moral achievement.

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

  • -Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit
  • “Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

  • -T S Eliot, Choruses from The Rock
  • Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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