Sunday, September 15, 2013

American Exceptionalism: Bullshit Of, By and For the Assholes

In his little essay entitled "On Bullshit," philosopher Harry Frankfurt makes this basic distinction between liars and bullshitters: liars know the truth but deliberately attempt to deceive in order to advance some particular interest (ranging from selfish to idealistic); bullshitters, on the other hand don't know and/or don't care about the truth, but are merely making stuff up in order to achieve some immediately satisfying result (which may be entirely frivolous but which may also be incredibly dangerous).  In other words, liars at least have an authentic relationship with the truth--since they actively defy it.  Bullshitters on the other hand are complete phonies:  what they say may (in fact) be either true or false (who cares?)--but any connection with the fact/truth is purely and irrelevantly coincidental. It's the story--and the impression it makes--that counts.

In another book I'm currently reading--Assholes: A Theory--philosopher Aaron James reflects upon a somewhat related phenomenon:  assholery.  An asshole, according to James, is essentially someone possessed of an entrenched sense of entitlement whereby he systematically accords himself special advantages, denying the moral equality of other human beings.

As James points out, this attitude of superior self-worth sometimes accompanies genuine talent and genius (Picasso, Hemingway)--and sometimes accompanies nothing but fatuous mediocrity (Donald Trump, Dick Cheney).  In any event, though, a certain kind of "bullshit" reasoning is required to sustain the assholery:  i.e., the actual truth--that human beings, regardless of inequalities in talent and intelligence, nonetheless have equal legitimacy and worth as human beings--is set aside in favor of a made-up bullshit notion (perhaps not even verbalized) that some "animals" are more equal than others. Assholes are the guys who automatically cut to the head of the line because, well, in their bullshit world, there is a special constitutional amendment--made up by them--just for them permitting them to take precedence. Bullshit of the asshole, by the asshole, for the asshole.

What saddens me, depresses me, angers me above all, is that this bullshit/asshole mentality so thoroughly permeates American politics, American politicians, American foreign policy and, alas, American citizenry in general--especially those uber patriots who babble endlessly about American "exceptionalism."

Listen!  Why does America have to be the guy who invariably cuts in line?  the guy who weaves through three lanes of traffic?  the loudmouth whose opinion cannot be questioned?

So, like Martin Luther (though he, too, was kind of an asshole, wasn't he?), I have to take a stand on this--just as I feel impelled to shout out when someone cuts me off in traffic:  American exceptionalism is an absolute bullshit notion--and those who espouse it are consummate assholes!  Here I stand. I can do no other. Assholes!

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