From OLIVER BURKEMAN
There’s truth and there are lies – but we need a third category entirely to understand this malodorous presidential campaign…
How did Mitt Romney first find out about the 9/11 attacks? As Buzzfeed notes, he’s told two versions of this tale: in one, he’s giving a radio interview when a host interrupts to tell him the news; in the other, someone rushes into his office to inform him. Just to be explicit: this really doesn’t matter very much. As with so much about Willard, it’s a little weird, since most people can remember exactly where they were. (I was at my desk in London, researching an article about Bob the Builder, since you asked.) But as an example of his complicated relationship with the truth, it was minor, and quickly dwarfed by his campaign’s attempt to argue that a statement issued by the US embassy in Cairo, prior to yesterday’s violence, was actually a response to it.
Still, the 9/11 discrepancy helped clarify something I’d been finding especially aggravating about this election campaign so far. We’ve heard much talk about truth and lies and the “post-truth campaign”, fuelled by the controversial role of fact-checking operations like Politifact and FactCheck.org. (Here on CiF, last week, Bob Garfield argued that the Republicans are increasingly taking refuge in the “medium lie”, too inconsequential to cause a fuss.) But something’s missing from this conversation. What this campaign has been especially full of, so far, is bullshit.
In his 2005 bestseller, On Bullshit, the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt made a crucial distinction between lies and bullshit. To lie is to intentionally deceive, by saying what you know (or believe) isn’t the truth. Romney does this all the time. To bullshit, though, is to talk without regard for the truth, one way or the other. The liar and the truth-teller, writes Frankfurt, “are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game”; the bullshitter, by contrast, refuses to play. “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.”
Frankfurt has much more to say