The differences between lies, post-truth and bullshit become increasingly necessary to understand as we see our political leaders indulging frequently.
Brexit guru Boris Johnson is one of those people who thinks that you can make your own truth as long as you believe hard enough in yourself. 2016 was a good year for those politicians who occult the real truth and make up their own, with Donald Trump leading the way for overt lies, post-truth and bullshit.
We all have come to accept politicians who go back on their word, but God forbid that a democratically elected servant of his/her country should make up his/her own truth.
For London, leaving the EU is the best thing for the UK since sliced bread. For Brussels, the EU is sliced bread.
In fact, for the UK and Europe, 2016 can be considered as the first “post-truth-Brexit year,” if you’ll put up with the complicated terminology. The Oxford English Dictionary made “post-truth” its word of the year, whilst “Brexit” featured in the top Google searches concerning news events, way in front of Toblerone. The two were just made for each other. The truth, as seen by London, is that leaving the EU is the best thing for the UK since sliced bread. For Brussels, the EU is sliced bread, full stop. That was one (post)-truth too many, it seems.
Post-truth is defined as, “relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts.”
In order to understand the true meaning of post-truth, it is necessary to define what the word “truth” actually means. What is truth and how can something that is so ubiquitous in our daily lives be so difficult to define? If we think of the word “tree,” we have an immediate corresponding image of what the word represents. For the word “truth,” we have no such correlation, which makes the whole notion of truth an easy target for liers and deniers who have ego’s big enough to create their own truths.
One of the functions of the human brain to have evolved over time is its ability to amass information from the world that surrounds us. Most of this information is processed by our brain unconsciously and the opinion we have on the outside world will be defined by what information we have been subjected to and our sensorial experience of it.
The opinion we have concerning information we receive is equivalent to the throw of a dart at a target. Hitting the bull’s-eye is synonymous with a total acceptance of what is being presented to us as the truth – or rather what we think to be the truth. Undecided minds as to whether something is true or not will have thrown the dart somewhere between the bull’s-eye and the outer rim of the target. Those who do not believe the truth have missed the target completely. Certain politicians are experts at moving the darts board in such a way that we cannot miss the centre of the target.
For those who indulge in post-truth, the notion of truth disappears from the equation and we thus obtain a minimalist’s version of the truth – “believing that p is true” is transformed into just “believing that p.” The notion of, “it is true that…” is absent and, in its place we have a direct appeal to the listener’s emotions and beliefs.
Making people believe that something is true when it’s not, relies on power of persuasion and a lot of self-belief. These are the same two qualities that make you, as an individual, surpass your limits to reach those goals that you thought were impossible to attain. Norman Vincent Peale was an American Protestant preacher and author of a best-seller entitled, “The Power Of Positive Thinking,” published in 1952. He basically said that believing in God and convincing yourself that you are good at doing anything, if you put your mind to it, are prerequisite to achieving any goal that you set yourself as long as you are serious enough about God and crazy enough about yourself.
You are a child of God, created in His image. Not born to lose, born to win.
You can if you think you can! – Norman Vincent Peale
Whilst I agree that you are not helped if you have no confidence in yourself, the notion that anything goes so long as you believe in Jesus and yourself is both fallacious and dangerous. It is fallacious because it gives you, more often than not, false hope about what you can achieve. It is dangerous because it can distort the truth that will affect others.
At least politicians who lie about the truth, or deny it, know what the real truth is. There is, however, another form of deceit that is neither lies or post-truth. It is substantially more colourful than simple lying but also infinitely more dangerous – “bullshitting.”
Bullshit is defined as, “insolent, foolish talk.” Its proponents not only ignore a truth they know nothing about, but couldn’t care less about it either. Post-truth thus differs from bullshit by deliberately concealing, ignoring or distorting a known truth. Bullshitters do not know the truth or care about it. They rely on their over-inflated ego and performance to bring over false ideas and convince their audience that their vision of the world represents the truth. For American philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, you have to be inventive to be able to bullshit successfully. It’s not the true value of the ideas that count but the words you use in order to convince your audience that this is not the world as you see it, but this is the only world.
Bullshiting is not a matter of concealing the truth, it’s a matter of trying to manipulate the listener. – Harry Frankfurt
If, as is likely, Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, the UK will have as its leader a politician who can lie and bullshit with great ease. If he knew the true figures, his referendum slogan promising that by leaving the EU, the UK would receive millions of pounds a week to put into the NHS, was clearly a lie bordering on post-truth. If on the other hand, Boris Johnson had no idea of the amount of money that could be given to the NHS after Brexit and had no intention of researching the matter, his slogan was pure bullshit.
However, his present attitude towards the upcoming Brexit deadline of October 31st is nothing but bullshit, with the sole objective of persuading everybody that he can guide the UK through a process he knows nothing about. He now promises either to get Brussels to give in to the UK demands, or leave the EU without a deal by the agreed deadline. If it works, it’s fine! If it doesn’t work, it’s also fine!
If the truth will do, it’s fine! If the truth won’t do, it’s also fine! – Harry Frankfurt
Boris Johnson’s view on the Irish border and the backstop agreed between London and Brussels is evading the truth in such a way that what he says is difficult to identify as being objectionable. It represents classic bullshit that has become so acceptable in present-day politics.
There’s no border between Camden and Westminster. I was Mayor of London and we anaesthetically, invisibly, took hundreds of millions of pounds from the accounts of people travelling between the two boroughs without the need for any border checks whatsoever. – Boris Johnson
It is a dangerous state of affairs because substituting the truth with bullshit inconspicuously undermines the very importance of the truth and diminishes its value – and that’s the plain truth of the matter. No bullshiting!
George is a British/French national. He has a passion for oral microbiology (obtained a PhD in Lyon, France) and a passion for philosophy and politics.