On Bullshit

The German public radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur reminds us of Harry G. Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit” (pdf full text). The part I highlighted in my copy some years ago—that strikes me as increasingly relevant as of late—is this:

Why is there so much bullshit? […] Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled–whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others–to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.

The paragraph immediately thereafter seems to me at least as important as it addresses all of us instead of merely unloading the problem on them:

Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.

Now, let’s get (back) to work, fellow scientists!

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