Calling Bullshit

UnknownCan it become a sort of bullshitting itself?

’Calling bullshit has a venerable intellectual pedigree. Plato first carved out a space for philosophy by distinguishing the philosopher’s search for knowledge from the persuasive speech of the sophists, the bullshit artists of antiquity. These wandering debate coaches instructed the Greek political class in the art of making the weaker argument the stronger. The rhetoric of the sophists is just fancy talk that creates the impression of wisdom, Plato tells us, but philosophy offers the genuine article.

In recent years, calling bullshit has become its own cottage industry. Debunkers like Michael Shermer and James Randi make a healthy living by exposing pseudoscience, and Harry Frankfurt scored an unlikely best seller when Princeton University Press managed to package his essay “On Bullshit” into a very small book. The mathematician Alan Sokal landed a blow against postmodern pretension by publishing a sham article in the journal Social Text in 1996, and when a more ambitious act of pomo-baiting surfaced about a month ago—a team of three pranksters had successfully submitted seven sham articles to journals peddling in what they derisively called “Grievance Studies”—the hoax came to be known as “Sokal Squared.”

Bullshitting has its obvious incentives and pleasures: you get all the kudos of saying interesting and important things without any of the work of actually thinking interesting and important things. As Frankfurt notes, there’s even an enjoyable play in concocting bullshit. Less obvious are the incentives and pleasures of calling bullshit. And yet they’re pretty much the same: you get all the kudos of asserting your intellectual superiority to the bullshitters, and it brings a certain aesthetic enjoyment with it as well. Just saying “bullshit” is deeply satisfying, its rich soup of consonants opening with an aggressive plosive and then sliding into the disdainful slurred hiss of “shit.” Where the bullshitter gets to bask in the glow of unearned wisdom, the bullshit-caller gets to strike the pose of the undeceived straight-talker bravely swimming against a rising tide of baloney.…’

Via The Point Magazine