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Bullshit in political communication Definition of humbug and bullshit Indifference to truth – the essence of bullshit Replacing correctness with sincerity.

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Presentation on theme: "Bullshit in political communication Definition of humbug and bullshit Indifference to truth – the essence of bullshit Replacing correctness with sincerity."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bullshit in political communication Definition of humbug and bullshit Indifference to truth – the essence of bullshit Replacing correctness with sincerity Narrowing the concept Bullshit and sophism Bullshit and spin Endemic prevalence of bullshit in political speech Intrinsic necessity to bullshit in politics Irrationality of political leadership Political communication as enchantment

2 Humbug Max Black The Prevalence of Humbug (1983) F.G. Baily Humbuggery and Manipulation. The Art of Leadership (1988) HUMBUG: deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebodys own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes (Black 1983: 143) Conscious deception: when humbuggers say what they themselves disbelieve, evading the risks of lying while reaping its benefits, the gross discrepancy between utterance and actual belief (the speakers stance) […] I shall call such conscious deception first-order humbug (137-8) Self-deception: a self-humbugged humbugger producing what I shall call second-order humbug (138)

3 Humbuggery vs. lying Criteria of lying Truth Falsifiability of a claim Knowledge about factual untruth Deliberate intent to deceive about the truth Criteria of humbuggery Belief Impossibility to realize (or to define) a claim Disbelief of the speaker in his claim Deliberate intent to deceive (to generate an impression) about oneself

4 Bullshit and humbug Harry G. Frankfurt On Bullshit (2005) It is more polite, as well as less intense to say Humbug! than to say Bullshit!. For the sake of this discussion, I shall assume that there is no other important difference between the two. (5) Consider a Fourth of July orator who goes on bombastically about our great and blessed country, whose Founding Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind. This is surely humbug. (16) It is clear that what makes Fourth of July oration humbug is not fundamentally that the speaker regards his statements as false. Rather, just as Blacks account suggests, the orator intends these statements to convey a certain impression of himself. He is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history. What he cares about is what people think of him. He wants them to think of him as a patriot, as someone who has deep thoughts and feelings about the origins and mission of our country, who appreciates the importance of religion, who is sensitive to the greatness of our history, whose pride in that history is combined with humility before God, and so on. (17-8)

5 Defining bullshit It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are that I regard as of the essence of bullshit. (34-5) Hot air: Speech that has been emptied of all informative content (43) Bluff: bullshitting […] is closer to bluffing, surely, than to telling a lie. […] Unlike plain lying, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery (46-7) Lying is craft; particular, sporadic, designed under guidance of truth (52) Bullshitting is art; panoramic, a program, serial, expansive What he [the bullshitter] 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 (54)

6 The worst enemy of truth What combines the bullshitter with the liar is That both represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that (54) What divides them is A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it (55-6) The bullshitter does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose (56) Bullshitting is relativistic with regard to truth Through habitual and deliberative ignorance towards truth, the bullshitter undermines the foundations of reasoned debate

7 Proliferation of bullshit No systematic evidence about relative or absolute amount of bullshit in public communication, or about the rise or decline of it over time Reasons to believe that bullshit is on the rise Bullshit unavoidable when speaker required to talk about matters he has no knowledge/expertise about Rise of punditry in journalism (especially in US), requires opinionated debate without required expertise Complexity of economic, social, political world requires (a)Simplification for public presentation (b)Breadth of party political programmes superseding expertise of staff (c)Appointments to office are political, not based on policy expertise (d)Recruitment of celebrities for political causes

8 Sincerity Deeper source of current proliferation of bullshit Skepticism, anti-realism; questioning whether the reality has any inherent nature Retreat from discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness To discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity (65) Being true to oneself Assumes that our human nature is more determinate than the object world Pretending that truth about ourselves easier to know than truth about anything else Sincerity itself is bullshit (67)

9 Bullshit and the art of crap-detection Neil Postman (1969) Taxonomy of bullshit Pomposity Bigotry Eichmannism that form of bullshit which accepts as its starting and ending point official definitions, rules and categories without regard for the realities of particular situations Inanity ignorance presented in the cloak of sincerity Superstition ignorance presented in the cloak of authority

10 Bullshit in political speech The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who – with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth – dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right (Frankfurt, On Bullshit, p.23) The nation's hopes are in our hands. People's hopes. Your hopes. My hopes. In eight days' time I will be forty years old. I have so much to look forward to. My young family. They have so much to look forward to. The world I want for them is the world I want for every family and every community. If you want to know what I'm all about, I can explain it one word. That word is optimism. I am optimistic about human nature. That's why I will trust people to do the right thing. Labour are pessimists. They think that without their guidance, people will do the wrong thing. That's why they want to regulate and control. So let us show clearly which side we are on. Let optimism beat pessimism. Let sunshine win the day. (David Cameron, Conservative Party Conference (1/10/2006)

11 Bullshit in political speech (cont.) Our rising investment in every school, every pupil, every teacher, so that all our children get the best start in life. (Tony Blair, 5 April 2005) I believe that Britain has a great future within our reach. We are poised to embrace that future if we have the confidence and self belief to do it. (Tony Blair, 5 April 2005) I am deeply proud of being British – so I suspect are all of you here today. Were proud of our history, our traditions. Were proud of the contribution our country has made to the world. And were proud of that essential British value: fair play. Fair play is at the heart of what it means to be British.(Michael Howard, 15 April 2005) So the Liberal Democrats will fight this campaign based on real solutions to the real problems people face everyday. We're going to address people's hopes, not play on their fears. We're going to be the positive force for good in this general election. (Charles Kennedy, 5 April 2005) Our values are strong. Our mission is clear. Our vision is compelling. Civic pride based on a new age of civic power, not for some of the people, but for all of the people, all of the time. (David Miliband, Labour Party Centenary conference, 12 February 2006) New Labour is a party of ideas and ideals but not of outdated ideology. What counts is what works. The objectives are radical. The means will be modern. (Labour Election Manifesto, 1997) So let's build together a new generation of Conservatives. Let's switch a new generation on to Conservative ideas. Let's dream a new generation of Conservative dreams. (David Cameron, Conservative Party Conference 2005)

12 Bullshit and spin Putting a positive spin on some political event, process, outcome Show it in a desirable light Neglecting disadvantages/costs; emphasizing advantages/benefits Spin (doctoring) is a defensive form of bullshit Aim is to create a perception, irrespective of reality Secondary task, after the fact of policy making But policy making is instrumental activity for office seeking politicians; hence the emphasis lies on creating a beneficial perception of the policies made, rather than on generating beneficial policies Spin-doctoring mainly serves to hide potentially negative aspects or consequences of policy-making; it is hence engaged in to avoid lying (implying truth-awareness of the bullshitter)

13 Leadership requires humbuggery Bullshit/humbuggery is not just endemic in politics, but intrinsic to politics Politics is about providing leadership Essentially compromising enlightenment Admitting the unassailability of rational self-government Enlightenment project was originally about Freeing individuals from superstition and oppression Disenchantment of the world Leadership and political competition is enchantment Remedy amidst complexity of modern world Artificial differentiation of converging political platforms

14 Complexity, convergence and leadership Normative idea of legal/rational authority Reducing leadership to management function Representation assumed to be responsible, responsive, reflective of public demands and needs Complexity requires guidance and/or simplification The end of ideologies does not result in professionalization of politics as a quasi-bureaucratic function Political campaigns are not about disenchantment Not purely informational Not presenting with policy positions Need for enchantment, enthusing supporters, providing leadership, vision, direction Emphasising candidate qualities over product qualities (sincerity over correctness)

15 Leadership strategy and morality Strategies of leadership Numenical Emphasizing the exceptional (the divine) of the leader; that which sets him apart from followers, and other leadership contenders Familial Emphasizing familiarity with followers; either fraternising with or patronising followers Required strategy in the face of abject failure Leadership and deception Leader is by definition beyond conventions (morals, values, rationality) of society Leader is the main authority in restating/upholding morals, values Charisma is a display; it cannot be established as an objective occurrence; it is mediated; perceived charisma

16 Impression management and relativism Identity Not a material property of the individual But socially realized Impression management in job interviews Manipulation, deception forms of impression management may be authentic, that is, the applicant presents an identity that closely matches his or her self- image (Rosenfeld 1997)

17 Political impression management Realizing party identities Tony Blair (Labour Party conference, 2005) New Labour was never just a clever way to win; it was a fundamental recasting of progressive politics so that the values we believed in became relevant to the time we lived in. In the late 20th century, the world had changed, the aspirations of the people had changed; we had to change. We did. We won. And Britain is stronger, fairer, better than on 1st May David Cameron (Conservative Party conference, 2005) We have to change and modernise our culture and attitudes and identity. When I say change, I'm not talking about some slick rebranding exercise: what I'm talking about is fundamental change, so that when we fight the next election, street by street, house by house, flat by flat, we have a message that is relevant to people's lives today, that shows we're comfortable with modern Britain and that we believe our best days lie ahead.

18 Sophism and marketing Sophism Rejection of objective truth Purpose of debate not to find truth, but to win argument Not to prove truth of a cause, but its superiority Marketing Tendency towards oligopolistic markets in late 19 th /early 20 th century Marketing is a strategy of demand generation in the absence of self- regulating, perfect markets Models of buying behaviour and consumer psychology Dispensing with homo economicus

19 Political marketing theory Clinging to Downsian voter Assuming exogenous preferences Assuming that market research reveals rational preferences Adaptive and responsive party model suggestive of democracy-enhancing potential, towards more citizen input Prescriptive: recommending move from product-oriented through sales-oriented to market-oriented party

20 Simulating legitimacy Post-representative politics Decline of ideology Decline of partisanship Replacing representation of sectional interest which are organized into politics with CHOICE Politics of choice Choice requires information In absence of political information, use of cues (like ideology and partisanship) Disappearance of cues to substitute for information Simulation of cues: BRAND LOYALTY and PRODUCT DIFFERENTIATION

21 The bullshit of choice Representative politics functions through belief in ideology which creates legitimacy of political projects, manifesting in the form of (partisan) loyalty Choice politics simulates belief in the form of perceived policy matches (product differentiation) that is aimed to create potentially long-term, but conditional commitment (brand loyalty) Model of choice hides the fact that political system remains representative, only organizing narrower and fewer interests into politics, through lobbying and party funding

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