More than a week ago, the United States installed a new President. Comparative photos showed a smaller than average turnout for the inauguration. The following day, the press secretary announced that “this was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
Shortly after, the counselor to the President responded to an interview: “You’re saying it’s falsehood, but (he) … gave alternative facts to that.” Besides, she continued, the statement made by the press secretary cannot be proven true or false.
The phrase “alternative facts” has been immediately compared to “newspeak.” Newspeak is a variation of English. It is “designed to diminish the range of thought.” Introduced in George Orwell’s 1984, it is a fictional language created and used by the authority to eliminate personal thought. In the novel, it “means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
In 2005, Princeton University published “On Bulls…t.” The author, Professor Harry Frankfurt, says “‘bulls . . . t’ is not simply false, but is crafted and communicated without concern for truth. Moreover, it is primarily for the purpose and interest of the ‘bulls . . . tter.’ However, bulls…t is not the same as lying. When someone tells a lie, he knows what the truth is and tries to conceal it. But a bullshi…tter may not necessarily know the truth, and even if he does, telling the truth may be a bad option. Thus, he comes up with statements that are extremely vague or meaningless and yet seemingly profound.
In 2016, Thomas Carson claims that an important kind of bulls…t was overlooked. At times, one finds himself pressured to answer a question one does not want to answer. This could be due to self-interest or in consideration of others. Thus, one produces bulls…t responses that do not directly answer the question.
Recently, a respected colleague was asked whether it was prudent to accept a “gift” of a laptop computer from a superior. The catch is, accepting the gift may oblige oneself to be at the beck and call of one’s superior 24/7. Perhaps being careful not to be quoted, he responded by enumerating a list of employee relation theories and their ethical underpinnings. He did not lie, but he did not answer the question either.
It seems like the bullsh…tter is attempting to deceive and make the listener think that he is trying to answer the question. However, there are also cases in which the listener is extremely knowledgeable that one’s bullsh..ting will be obvious. This kind of bullsh…tting is open and transparent.
A student taking an essay examination is an example. He did not study and cannot give a real answer to the question. However, he knows that the teacher will give partial credit for something. So, the student retrieves bits and pieces from memory, writes a long and winding paragraph of nonsense. With the effort, he will probably not get a zero.
In this case, one is rewarded for simply responding to questions and punished for not responding. At times, “one will benefit by responding and saying almost anything, however evasive and ridiculous, rather than by saying nothing.”
The “alternative facts” response can be considered as a form of bullsh…t. It is probably the best response to a Catch-22 situation. But… weren’t the photos already obvious? Why even ask?
This is just a lot of bull.
Real Carpio So lectures on strategy and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives can be accessed at realwalksonwater.wordpress.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.