Oldthinkers Unbellyfeel Ingsoc

Contemporary politico-corporate bullshitters have weaponized their discourse…

Harry Frankfurt’s Reflections on B. S. (1986), like Corinne Purtill’s recent essay “The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck,” does a nice job of distilling the differences, nuances and attendant dangers in an overlooked lexicon.  But there’s more, piled higher and deeper.

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 16.50.40Like the differences between “shitshow,” “clusterfuck” and Snafu eloquently described by Purtill and discussed in an earlier post, there’s also a crucial difference between bullshitting and lying. As Frankfurt notes, the difference concerns truth value: one must believe that one knows the truth, in order to conceal it, to lie; whereas, the bullshitter has no necessary relation to truth.

Frankfurt notes that we have all dipped our toe in the swelling tide of bullshit (if not, er, stepped in it); and, like art, we all think we know it when we see it. Often, as the advice a father gives his son makes clear in Eric Ambler’s Dirty Story, we regard one as preferable to the other: “Never tell a lie when you can bullshit your way through,” says the father.ambler

So, is bullshitting preferable to lying?

I would say that now, 30-plus years on from Reflections’ first printing, it’s the wrong question: in the corporate and political realm, bullshit and lying have become the same thing. Indeed, now, it’s lying by bullshitting.

Journalist Timothy Egan weighs in on a related subject with a NY Times piece this past week on euphemism: “The most egregious of political language fraud,” Egan writes, “as George Orwell noted in his seminal essay on the subject, is used for ‘the defense of the indefensible.’ To that end, the Trump administration has been a fount of criminal circumlocution.”

politics-engl-orwellThough Egan quotes from ‘Politics and the English Language,’ he may indeed be guilty of euphemism himself when he fails to call Trump’s “criminal circumlocution” what it is: bullshit.

Frankfurt’s notion of “truth value” evokes an image in which a lie erects a wall concealing the truth, while bullshit merely litters the pasture. Today, however, contemporary politico-corporate bullshitters have weaponized their discourse, and the most adept practitioners (Mark Zuckerberg, the current president,the Senate majority leader, Lindsay Graham spring to mind) now make the wall out of bullshit to hide or obscure the truth.

“Ah, they’re just bullshitting,” we say of the politician or the corporate flack, and so they often are.  And we stop listening. More to the point, we may grow weary and stop paying attention. In either case, we’ve come no nearer to truth or accountability.

The misidentification of and our winking attitude toward bullshit carries dire consequences. In George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” (1946), he equates bad prose with oppressive ideologies, and he’s not wrong. Language exists to convey and reveal thought, and when it’s used to do the opposite, we should be concerned.

“Some comfortable professor defending Russian totalitarianism,” writes Orwell, can’t say outright: “‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.’” People would be aghast. And rightly so. To get there, you would need to hide behind opaque, obtuse language, disguising what you’re saying (perhaps even from yourself), as:

“While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods…”

The above is a species of euphemism; and it might succeed as rhetorical pabulum precisely because it conjures no concrete images, and shades its meaning with ponderous, sonorous dependent clauses, but that’s not what rhetoric does today.

I part company with Egan’s euphemism diagnosis because it sounds like “spin,” an older form of deception.  While it seeks to disguise, spin can at least be decoded by reading between lines. Bullshit in its contemporary guise, by contrast, is about overwhelming. It seeks to shift so much bullshit on everyone and anything that there is nowhere to step. If there were lines to read between, they’ve been buried under steaming mounds.

Trump-emgTrump’s speech this past Friday invoking emergency powers to build a border wall is the apotheosis (or nadir) of bullshit, and it differs from earlier bullshit only in degree. During his speech, if it can be called that, after a series of dismaying, unrelated digressions, after using the word “invasion” seven times; after flinging the bullshit every which way he can, he states that his emergency declaration isn’t actually urgent at all, but an expedient. And yet, admitting that, he will go forward.  Because….ya know.

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 16.43.43The only truth attached to this administration was scrawled on the back of the First Lady’s jacket: “I really don’t care. Do you?”

Which is the administration’s surprisingly consistent message behind all the bullshit.

 

 

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

The Correct Word(s) Makes all the Difference

The recent publication of Corinne Purtill’s “The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck,” on QZ.com, underscores the need for nuance in thinking, action, and in writing. Purtill’s essay does a nice job of distilling the differences, nuances and attendant dangers.

blog.SnafuThe three main contributors to a clusterfuck are “illusion, impatience and incompetence,” according to Purtill, and I can’t disagree. A clusterfuck is distinguished from a Snafu, for instance, in that a Snafu “refers to the functionally messy state” of many bureaucracies; whereas a clusterfuck is the result of poorly taken, badly executed decisions.

“Shitshow” can be distinguished from Clusterfuck in that the shitshow is the result of a clusterfuck, and therefore describes an end state—and this is important—is not, like Snafu, intransitive. A resultant shitshow describes a moment in time, whereas Snafu continues through time. Thus, the shitshow, resulting from a clusterfuck, may contribute to an overarching bureaucratic Snafu malaise, or it may lead to FUBAR (f’d up beyond all repair).

Ms. Purtill has done a great service to writers, thinkers and planners.

A British friend, and devotee of The Thick of It on BBC, proposes “omnishambles” as a further adjective of Buro-Political disapprobation. It’s so vivid that I feel compelled to locate it along the spectrum.Thick-of-ItDVD

Initially, I was inclined to regard omnishambles as a synonym or cognate of shitshow, an end state; but its first appearance in 2009, as Malcolm Tucker speaks to a disastrous MP candidate (below) leads me to believe it should have its own spot on the spectrum:

“Not only have you got a fucking bent husband and a fucking daughter that gets taken to school in a fucking sedan chair, you’re also fucking mental. Jesus Christ, see you, you are a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are. You’re like that coffee machine, you know: from bean to cup, you fuck up.”

— Malcolm Tucker to Nicola Murray, “Series 3, Episode 1”, The Thick of It.

This coinage conjures images of a single, out-of-control Rube Goldberg machine indiscriminately slaughtering (hence the “shambles”) innocents, rather than a bureaucratic clusterfuck. It’s therefore outside of time, carrying its threat at a vector

To sum up:

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 16.01.15

 

 

 

 

I’m open to debate and discussion, though perhaps not with Malcolm Tucker…

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

Independent bookstores – shop small

Don’t make Shop Small Saturday be just once a year. The great buys, the rare finds—and the people who share your passion—are out there.

Local, independently owned shops are the heart of a community, and local, independent bookstores are its lifeblood. It’s a place to check in, catch up; to see what’s new, to waste time, or to get lost…and to buy books. The Shop Small Business Saturday that’s just passed was an excellent reminder of all we have.Indys-first

There are fads and pendulum swings, and fortunately, people seem to be rediscovering the pleasures and importance of independent, owner-operated stores, and that rarest of qualities—connection.

Growing up, I don’t think I considered the difference between independent and chain stores generally in any depth, beyond a vague sense that non-corporate shops seemed to have better quality and more focused (sometimes idiosyncratic) choices. And in small, local bookshops, I found a confluence of what I liked most about reading: like libraries, they had a fairly broad selection, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff—and yet they had books I could own. In those indy bookstores—then and now—you’re likely to get staff recommendations, find something quirky you may not have heard about. Your purchases are liable to elicit discussion (and follow-up reading!) when you’re checking out.

HempelYears ago (1985 or ’86), I ordered a copy of Amy Hempel’s short story collection Reasons to Live at my then-local bookshop, the University Bookstore because I’d read her short story “Going” in Vanity Fair, and I wanted to read more. When I went to collect the book, the woman at the pick up desk told me she’d glanced through my copy, been intrigued and ordered one for herself. Our paths crossed a month or so later, and we talked again about it and other books. I’d see her every so often, and she’d ask what else I was reading.

When I moved to a different part of town, I missed going to that bookshop, but fortunately I found another, a new-and-used bookstore called A Different Drummer (now gone). Though I was probably in the shop once a week, every 4-5 months I would bring in a box of paperbacks, get store credit and “buy” another 3 or 4 books with the credit, recommencing the process. It happened more than once that I would stop in and the owner would grab a book from behind the counter that he’d been holding for me, not because I’d ordered it, but because he knew my tastes and thought it was something I’d enjoy. He was often right.

Now I live in Philadelphia, and I’m spoiled for choice. There’s an excellent bookstore 5 blocks from our house (Headhouse Books), a fabulous, funky new-and-used bookstore 4 blocks beyond that, up from Headhouse on Bainbridge Street (Mostly Books). Just around the corner, Philly AIDS Thrift’s second floor has a mind-boggling used book selection. Further south, in the 9th Street Market, Molly’s Books & Records has some exquisite gems. West Philly has the fabulous Penn Book Center. And there are many, many more.

Don’t make Shop Small Saturday be just once a year. The great buys, the rare finds—and the people who share your passion—are out there.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

Mendacity

votingIn the Noirpolitik thriller Faithless Elector, the reason the faithless electors give for not voting as they pledged to vote (for switching) is presented as a vote of conscience. In the book, there were seeming irregularities in the Illinois vote count, allowing each faithless elector to say their switched vote was cast as a vote of conscience for the candidate who should have won the presidency.Illinois

It’s Imogen Trager’s enlightened, careful investigation and analysis that brings the surprising truth to light…and puts her in mortal danger.

I was intrigued by the notion of an anti-democratic power grab that exploited administrative and procedural weaknesses with deadly consequences. I was excited as the characters and the real story of how they try to oppose such a conspiracy took shape.

In the original draft of the book I chose Illinois as the site for the fictional malfeasance because I had in mind the disputed vote count there in the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy. Many contend the Daly machine rigged the vote. I hoped that setting the disputed votes in Illinois would give the novel some verisimilitude. As I’ve noted in other posts, readers will sooner believe the fantastic than they’ll accept the implausible.

FLA-hanging chadPerhaps I should have chosen Florida, particularly since the scandal, irrespective of the truth remains a volatile point of contention across both (now, all three) books and Florida is back in the news again…and likely, again.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com