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On Bullshit, and What's the Matter With Kansas?

I took a trip to the Hutchinson library the other day and picked out a few books. I read the first one as soon as I got home. On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt, is a very small book. It is about the same size as my hand, and spans a mere 67 pages. The author, who happens to be Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University, makes some very astute observations regarding the subject mentioned in the title. At times, the book is hilarious; other times, the author made me put the book down and ponder what he said; still other things made me sad for the current state of some of today's politics and radio personalities. His conclusion is fascinating:

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 "antirealist" 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.

But is its preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial--notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.(64-67)

On Bullshit: A

The other book I picked up, What's the Matter With Kansas?, disappointed me greatly. The books is written by a very liberal person, Thomas Frank, who grew up in Kansas and has since wondered at why Kansans (and the rest of the Midwest) votes for Republican candidates. In the first chapter, he makes some very good points. However, after that chapter, he came through strongly as a moron. By the end of the second chapter, I had already made up my mind to stop reading the book, for it was a great waste of time. Frank ended up being a doom-and-gloom free market hater, mocking those he sneeringly calls the academia who support such preposterous things as capitalism. I'm surprised that the book didn't come with "Appendix A: The Communist Manifesto". Anyway, I was expecting better for all the hype I'd heard about the book.

What's the Matter With Kansas?: F

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