On the politics of bullshit, by Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu 

Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu
Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu

In 2005,  philosopher Harry G Frankfurt published a book, formerly a philosophical paper, he titled “On Bullshit” which tries to philosophically compare and contrast different types of cognitive dissonances and their relationship with how a political animal responds to reality with his own “truth”. The writer tried, according to another contemporary philosopher Bruce McComisky, to dissociate the people’s habit of bullshitting from the widely ascribed epistemological continuum.

To bullshit is to cherry-pick truths and not care about other truths or their fragments in front of you because they may help in destroying your truth. The word is not synonymous to lying for a liar knows truth and abandon it. Bull-shitter is controlled by cognitive biases and therefore sees nothing but the “half-truth” he likes even if it may not describe reality correctly. Democracy and its philosophical relativism help in making people enjoy bullshitting that lead them and other people suffering from either confirmation or disconfirmation biases astray.

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Unlike who relates bullshit to rhetorics, I personally believe it is more related to cognitive dissonance of the listener. Rhetorics affect listeners only when the speaker knows how to manipulate loopholes in the minds of the political animals. The main intent of bullshit is deceiving listeners who already don’t care about the truth. This is the reason why a long thread of tweets from presidency can deceive gullible minds that believe whatever President Buhari is doing is for the interests of the masses, even if it is going to London for his health.

He does some bullshits deliberately so that even if caught people will not react against him in the same way they do to liars. This is why one who professes the integrity of President Buhari may not receive the same menace as liars. He is just bullshitting. They are spreading half-truth and forgetting the other half. For what use is the integrity that lives with morally corrupt people and shouting “Say No To Corruption”? Buhari doesn’t like corrupt people, he wants them to help him “fight corruption”. Irony, isn’t it?

For us not to go deeper into philosophical or psychological root of bullshitting, let’s go directly to show why Nigerian politics is full of bull-shitters. I will only give examples from politicians on power because I don’t normally criticise political promises, we may find a messiah one day that can deliver them. By the way, why should I care about promises when the ones on power want to take us to the next level of empty promises and depend entirely on bullshits to turn away faces of people from these realities?

Readers should not confuse post-truth or alternative facts with bullshits. Even though there is no wide margin between the word and other related terms that have roots in cognitive dissonance, a deep look into the epistemological root of them would reveal their differences. In post-truth, the maxim is “I believe, therefore I’m right” and in bullshitting it is “I believe, therefore I choose my rights”.

In Nigeria where social media users blindly and voluntarily support actions of the politicians they support, the spread of bullshit by media aides of politicians find free support from the masses they stupefy. When a politician on power break order or disrespect rule of law you find many excuses not from him, but from volunteer media bull-shitters online. It is like how supporters of President Muhammad Buhari speak on his integrity and fighting corruption and don’t care about how he cherry-picks his war against the “enemies of APC”. They don’t care about this “bona fide democrat” who doesn’t respect rule of law or court orders unless if they are not against his personal whims.

I became very surprised when I read that President Buhari responded to the criticism against his suspension of CJN as unconstitutional by saying he was compiling to court order! Here is a man that the court has been asking to release Sheikh Ibrahim Elzakzaky and Sambo Dasuki for a long time, but turned his back saying he is respecting court order and bull-shitters are spreading the obvious contradiction!

Follow Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu on Twitter: @Aliyussufiy