It occurs to me that the term “bullshit” has a very specific meaning when I use it, and it’s a meaning that’s surely not broadly understood. I suspect that many people see it as a mere expletive. I’m thinking of a very specific definition when I use the word. Harry Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit” was first published in 1986 and became an unexpected best seller in 2005. I read it at the time, and found valuable his definition of the term.
What I took away from this was my own definition of bullshit. In my view, in order to distinguish bullshit from a lie, a misrepresentation, a disagreement, etc., there are three elements that must be present:
- The assertion must be demonstrably false.
- The speaker must know that the assertion is false.
- The listener must know that the assertion is false.
(This definition is notably different than Frankfurt’s. In his view, bullshit is defined not by the statement, but by the speaker. Bullshit is a statement made without regard for the truth, a result of somebody who provides information without actually knowing the truth. (This is a problem common among politicians, who are routinely called upon to give answers on topics that they are not experts on. Few are willing to admit when they don’t know something, so most will simply give an answer anyway.) Whether the statement made by the bullshitter is true or false, in Frankfurt’s view, doesn’t matter — the important thing is that the speaker simply has no idea.)
When House Republicans claimed last year, and again this year, that providing video of their floor sessions would force the legislature to become full-time, that was not necessarily a lie or bullshit. It’s true that the Senate has provided live video of their sessions for years now and it’s had no apparent effect on the length of the General Assembly session. And it’s also true that they already stream video online, but only within the General Assembly’s network, so virtually no work and very little cost would be required to provide such video. But it was possible that House Republicans believed their own claims.
Now that House Republicans are running their own video blog, their position can now be seen clearly as bullshit. House Republicans’ belief that they know best which moments that the public should have access to — no need to trouble us peons with everything — does nothing to address their simultaneous claim that providing session video to the public would reduce decorum and lengthen sessions. So we can now see clearly that their assertion is false, that they must know that their assertion is false, and, of course, that we know that the assertion is false.
Thus House Republicans’ position on providing video of sessions can be known to be bullshit.