That's the conclusion of an essay written by Princeton's Harry Frankfurt with the engaging title, "On Bullshit
Frankfurt, recognizing that our culture is redolent with it, attempts to develop a theory of bullshit, in particular, to determine -- using the tools of his philosophical training -- the difference between bullshit and the bullshitter and lies and the liar.
And in so doing he has, better than anyone else that I know of, created a theory for the life and times of George W. Bush.
Bush is never referred to, but consider this passage he cites from Ezra Pound's Canto LXXIV:
Hey Snag wots in the bibl’?
Wot are the books ov the bible?
Name ’em, don’t bullshit ME.
This is a call for the facts. The person addressed is evidently regarded as having in some way claimed to know the Bible, or as having claimed to care about it. The speaker suspects that this is just empty talk, and demands that the claim be supported with facts. He will not accept a mere report; he insists upon seeing the thing itself. In other words, he is calling the bluff. The connection between bullshit and bluff is affirmed explicitly in the definition with which the lines by Pound are associated:
As v. truns. and intr., to talk nonsense (to); … also, to bluff one’s way through (something) by talking nonsense.
It has often occured to me that Bush frequently cites his daily reading
of the Bible, but the only time he ever cites a passage from said Book is when he is delivering a speech written by Michael Gerson. Bush is, I believe, bluffing, and yet is never called on it. I would have thought by now that some enterprising journalist, evangelist or not, would have asked the President, "If the Bible is, as you've said, your favorite book, what's your favorite book in the Bible?"
As Frankfurter writes, "Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit."
Also consider the following, which sums up young George's career as well as anything I can think of:
In Eric Ambler’s novel Dirty Story, a character named Arthur Abdel Simpson recalls advice that he received as a child from his father:
Although I was only seven when my father was killed, I still remember him very well and some of the things he used to say. … One of the first things he taught me was, “Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through."
"Bullshitting your way through" should be on Bush's family seal. Whether it is the story of his Texas Air National Guard service, his "studies" at Harvard Bus. School, his career drilling dry holes in the Texas oil business, his "work" "running" the Texas Rangers, his "leadership" as governor of Texas, or his campaign against John McCain during the 2000 primary, "bullshit" was the key word for his endeavors.
But what really distinguishes Frankfurter's analysis, and what makes it such a trenchant analysis of George Bush's history, is the clarity with which he makes the connection between bullshit and unreality. A lie, he notes, is the opposite of what is true
; a lie, therefore, infers that there is a reality
upon which to posit the opposite. Bullshit denies the very existence of truth and reality.
This is a key, perhaps, to [Simpson's] preference. Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires. This freedom from the constraints to which the liar must submit does not necessarily mean, of course, that his task is easier than the task of the liar. But the mode of creativity upon which it relies is less analytical and less deliberative than that which is mobilized in lying. It is more expansive and independent, with [more] spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the “bullshit artist.” My guess is that the recommendation offered by Arthur Simpson’s father reflects the fact that he was more strongly drawn to this mode of creativity, regardless of its relative merit or effectiveness, than he was to the more austere and rigorous demands of lying.
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
Or, to put it more succinctly, the bullshitter is "unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are."
A Social Security "crisis."
Tax cuts: Needed to curb the surplus...er...needed to battle the deficit.
Iraq: Never really mattered if Saddam had WMD, al Qaeda connection, etc., or not. It was always about Iraq as a "beacon of freedom in the Middle East."
Examples are everywhere: "'Blue Skies'Initiative;" the existing stem cell lines available for research; more "studying" needed for climate change.
What Augustine calls “liars” and “real lies” are both rare and extraordinary. Everyone lies from time to time, but there are very few people to whom it would often (or even ever) occur to lie exclusively from a love of falsity or of deception. For most people, the fact that a statement is false constitutes in itself a reason, however weak and easily overridden, not to make the statement.
For St. Augustine’s pure liar it is, on the contrary, a reason in favor of making it. For the bullshitter it is in itself neither a reason in favor nor a reason against. Both in lying and in telling the truth people are guided by their beliefs concerning the way things are. These guide them as they endeavor either to describe the world correctly or to describe it deceitfully. For this reason, telling lies does not tend to unfit a person for telling the truth in the same way that bullshitting tends to. Through excessive indulgence in the latter activity, which involves making assertions without paying attention to anything except what it suits one to say, a person’s normal habit of attending to the ways things are may become attenuated or lost. 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 the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. [emphasis added]
That, in a nutshell, is what frustrates the "Reality-based Community." You can't argue with Bush the Bullshitter, because the terms of reality are of no concern to him. He doesn't care what "reality" is, because he doesn't believe a "reality" exists.
The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.
George is never more "steadfast" than he is on the stump. The more unscripted the situation, the more he revels in bullshit, and the more convincing he becomes for many. His strategy, moreover, to bypass the "filter" of the press, allows him to avoid accountability -- avoid "reality" encroaching on his bullshit.