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Is bullshit sustainable?

RL calls, so I can't work this out in detail, but I've talked to several people about it, and the ideas seem sound.

The system of bullshit and lies that sustains Versailles is extremely expensive to maintain: Public relations firms, political strategerists, the stenographers of the press, K street lobbyists, think tank "scholars", law firms, AstroTurf organizations, corporate marketing departments, entire news and entertainment networks, and career opportunities in all these -- all must be funded.* And all these persons (whether natural, or artificial) have vested interests not merely in maintaining the system as such, but in maintaining the precise forms of bullshit that have become identified with their personal branding (whether the person be natural or artificial); the memes, the catchphrases, the snowclones, the talking points, the expertise, the ideologies. (The "Laffer Curve" is a perfect example of this idea.) And so the bullshit is remarkably tenacious, as shown by The Howler, daily, the DFHs, who are never listened to, the Cassandras, who are never listened to.** As are its carriers tenacious.

Now, it seems to me that much of the progressive attack on Versailles has been premised on the idea that it's possible to adopt the system of bullshit, and use it for good ends ("Of all the works of Sauron, the only fair"). I would argue that's what Lakoff's "framing" concept is all about. Exhibit A: "public option", whose advocates seem to be trying to create their own reality by bullshitting themselves, and others, into believing that public option will be like Medicare, when the legislation on offer clearly isn't.

But, as I said, maintaining the system of bullshit and lies takes a lot of money. And the right is always going to have more money than the left. (Hence, the FKDP.) So for the left to adopt the same tactics as the right means that the left is always going to lose, because we're fighting on their turf.

The truth, by contrast, is cheaper to maintain; you don't have to remember what you told whom.

By the same token, however, there's very little money to be made -- although, perhaps, enough to live -- by telling the truth. For one thing, people expect that the truth will be free, and they're right! After all, a person paid to tell the truth might just as well have been paid to tell a lie.

I keep coming back to this quote from Wampum:

Rather than try to re-create what we enjoyed for several years, and failed to keep, we should try for something we can create. Something that hasn't been co-opted, yet, and perhaps can be retained for as long, or longer. After all, once burned and all that.

This takes me back to 2003, when blogging was still fresh and new, and I had the feeling that we were all in it together -- and I think, then, that we still were. Ideas were freely evolved and shared, links too, and I think, although I cannot prove, that we structured the discourse at least effectively enough to contribute to the famous victory of 2006, when the Dems took control of the legislative branch. That was fun, and effective; a life worth living.

How to "re-create what we enjoyed"? Clearly not by adapting the bullshit to our own ends. That can't be done. Only [the quest for] truth is sustainable.***

NOTE * And all this is before we even consider advertising and marketing for products.

NOTE ** We've seen this process twice, now: First, with Iraq, but also with financial crisis. Doubtless, there are other examples.

NOTE *** This is why I regard "any stick to beat a dog" argumentation as so pernicious. Adopting those tactics may win a battle, but must lose the war, if you will forgive the military metaphor.

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Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

I differ with you slightly on Lakoff's "framing" concept. Some in the progressive blogosphere may want to use it that way— "framing" as a good (or "progressive") version of "spin"—but that's not what it is.

Appropriate framing illuminates and reveals the truth about something. You do it appropriately all the time—"pissant public option," "shit sausage." "Means test + subsidy = welfare"—and it works because it effectively illuminates and reveals the truth about what's going on. In fact, it's so effective, there's no effective substantive counter-response to it, really—at best, just a sort of weak "[shrug] well, that's the best we can do."

I would agree completely if you had said "I would argue that's what the progressive's obsession with/misappropriation of Lakoff's "framing" concept is all about. "

Submitted by lambert on

Yes, misappropriation -- and assuming that the energy, the drive, comes from framing. It's like they imagine framing is both necessary and sufficient -- as, in the creative [cough] class, I imagine it is.