Did you know that a politician who lies isn’t the worst of the lot? No, really. Anyone who lies also knows the truth. And they want to hide the truth from you because they know truth is valuable.
A worse political animal is someone who really doesn’t care about any complicated, even an unethical, relationship with the truth.
This kind of politician doesn’t trade in lying. They simply speak bulls***. Bulls*** isn’t true or false; it simply aims to impress an audience.
A bulls****er isn’t scared of the possibility of being shown up to have lied because that fear only works on people who value truth.
A bull****er won’t even flinch in the face of a demonstrable truth. Fact-checking doesn’t scare them.
This neat little distinction between lies and bulls*** has become a classic in modern philosophy courtesy of the work of philosopher Harry G Frankfurt who wrote On Bulls***.
And so it was with philosophical delight that I came across an argument by Jeet Heer last December in support of the view that Donald Trump isn’t a liar but, worse than that, a bulls*** artist, drawing on the distinction from Frankfurt.
You see, Trump simply doesn’t value truth at all. So showing him up for untruths about anything from his false claim that 81 percent of whites who are murdered are killed by blacks or his unproven claim of a video existing showing “thousands and thousands” of Muslim Americans in Jersey City cheering 9/11 won’t score you easy political victories. Because Trump will simply continue bulls****ing full speed ahead.
So that, if you’re Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, in a weird way you’d have a tougher, or stranger, presidential debate opponent in Donald Trump than you would in Ted Cruz. Cruz, trained in competitive debate, has a more regular relationship with truth. Like all of us, he is capable of both white lies and bigger lies.
But in healthy epistemic agents, there is a general desire to have true beliefs, and to utter statements in the public realm that are true.
Preparing to debate someone who values truth, and who would be hugely discredited and know it and feel it, if they are shown to have violated basic evidential standards of cogent reasoning about the world, is easier than preparing to debate a bulls****er.
I took for granted that facing a bulls****er like Trump in a debate must be easier than, say, Cruz.
But I now think the imagined seal clubbing of Trump in a debate is just that. The normal rules of engagement are impotent when wrestling an opponent who doesn’t share your commitment to truth. And that’s why bulls****ers are particularly dangerous.
Which brings me to the state of South African politics. Or, to be less shy about who triggered this column, rather than indicting all of our politicians unfairly, one John Jeffery, the deputy minister of Justice and Constitutional Development.
Last week, sadly, Jeffery started sliding from lying to bulls****ing.
It is undarn believable that someone with a history of evidence-sensitive reasoning, and commitment to analytic debate, could walk to a podium and, not only try to lie, but be willing to simply bulls*** us.
Jeffery insisted that President Zuma did not violate the constitution. He insisted that the president did not, furthermore, commit any serious legal wrong.
The unsubtle conclusion of these two assertions being that all the president in fact did was to innocently act inconsistently with the constitution, which is not the same as violating the constitution.
Jeffery knows that these are untruths. I say so baldly because he is smart, he is trained in the law, and has proven himself in many public and private exchanges to know what it means to respect truth.
Until last week when he clearly made the choice to abandon a commitment to truth in needless support of a president who has violated the constitution of our country. Quite apart from the unforgivable tragedy of a deputy minister of Justice p***ing on the principle of constitutional supremacy, I was saddened by the realisation that he had perhaps thereby also started the slide towards bulls****ing, a worse prospect than merely lying.
I say so because Jeffery has since been responded to by many legal minds, and ordinary citizens alike, after speaking falsehoods about what the Constitutional Court judgment states, and means.
And he is not moved by truth being held up to his face.
This means that Jeffery is willing to practise abandoning a commitment to truth.
Once Jeffrey, and others who are doing the same, have practised abandoning truth often enough, we will then arrive in a society of political bulls****ers of the Trump variety.
As if lying politicians aren’t a horrible menace already, active citizens must now also watch out for the bulls****ers masquerading as mere liars.
They are the most dangerous.
* Eusebius McKaiser is the best-selling author of A Bantu In My Bathroom and Could I Vote DA? A Voter’s Dilemma. His new book – Run, Racist, Run: Journeys Into The Heart Of Racism – is now available nationwide, and online through Amazon.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.