In the last posting about “Lies and More Lies” Larry suggested that it wasn’t actual lies the Air Force was spreading, but bullshit as defined by Harry G. Frankfurt. Larry wrote:
Back in 2005 there was a little (and I do mean little) book published by a retired Princeton Philosophy professor—Harry Frankfurt. The book was titled “On Bullshit” (which I will hereafter abbreviate as “BS”). It purported to be the first scholarly treatment of the subject of BS, even though the term BS is commonly utilized by everyone speaking the English language. If you haven't read it already, I would recommend getting your hands on a copy.
One of the main ideas (and the relevance to this posting) is that BS is a category of behavior distinct from lying. In lying, there is at least respect for the distinction between truth and fiction. In BS, there is contempt for this distinction; the motive is to get the one receiving the BS to form a particular opinion about the one dispensing the BS in some way. This is why we often associate BS with, for example, politicians. It is a common perception that politicians will say anything to get elected. I think that the Air Force Blue Book operation was—technically speaking—BS. The whole idea was to get the public to believe the message: “we’re not worried folks—no national security issues here!” They would put forth any statement that advanced that meme—sometimes even the truth.
Which is an interesting position to take on all this. So I looked this paper up and found it on line at:
Although this is a somewhat esoteric argument to make, it seems that what is being said is that the Air Force wasn’t engaging in lying so much as it was engaged in bullshitting. Frankfurt wrote:
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensable distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
Or, when we look at what Hector Quintanilla said about certain UFO cases, or when he offered explanations that don’t seem to fit the facts, he wasn’t necessarily lying to us. He was bullshitting us. Frankfurt is telling us that Quintanilla’s (or any other UFO spokesman) aim is to impress us with words that are favorable to his position with no regard to the truth.
And what I find interesting in all this is that the person spreading the manure isn’t even worried about the tales remaining consistent with what they have said, what they are saying or what they might say in the future. He just doesn’t care about any of that. Quintanilla, when he offered multiple explanations, or when any of those in the Air Force offered multiple and sometime contradictory explanations, they didn’t care as long as there was an explanation floating around out there that someone would believe.
This little discussion gains us nothing in the long run. All we really have done is engage in semantics. Is the person lying to us or engaging in bullshit? In this particular case, that is the Air Force and UFO explanations, the ultimate purpose is to convince us to expend our time and effort in another arena and let the Air Force worry about UFOs… or to not worry about them as they would have us believe today.