Bullshit in Politics

Bullshit in Politics
Photo : Ravi Dev

ROAR of Ravi Dev (3-1)

About a decade or so ago, the Philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s book, with the seemingly most non-philosophically sounding title, “On Bullshit”, became a NYTimes bestseller. The blurb to Frankfurt’s slim book - which was originally just an article-summarized the concept of “bullshit”: “He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all. 

“Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms (like in our rum-shop gyaafs), excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not.

“Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.” This last feature of bullshit is what makes bullshit so dangerous: very soon truth becomes irrelevant.

Against this background, what can we say about the PNC’s statements on the No-confidence motion subsequent to its passage on Dec 21, last year but that it’s been all Frankfurtian bullshit spewed onto the Guyanese people?? On the night in question, against plaintive cries of “No Charandass, No!” the AFC MP replied with three firm “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and the PNC-led coalition fell like Humpy Dumpty. After a quick huddle, the grim faced PM Nagamootoo, and PNC Chairman Volda Lawrence faced reporters.

Nagamootoo said, “We want our supporters in particular…to understand that we are going back to the polls…Guyanese must understand that the democratic process is sometimes unpredictable. You may have results that are not planned for… but the outcome has to be accepted…It is like cricket in some sense. What happened here today, a game of glorious uncertainty. There was a robust debate involving speakers from both sides and the parliamentary democracy in a sense triumphed that after the robust debate a vote was called for and one member of the government voted with the opposition.”

The next morning, President Granger issued a statement: “We will do everything necessary to facilitate the smooth functioning of General and Regional Elections bearing in mind the need for normal governmental functions to continue uninterrupted.” And that was when the truth stopped and the bullshit began to flow in an uninterrupted stream to this day. And it is bullshit because what they said was so reckless that it clearly didn’t matter when they were later shown to be “wrong” - what mattered was that their supporters believed them.  Bullshitters are basically speaking to those with similar mindsets who then are predisposed to accepting their claims.

A ridiculous assertion that the 33 who voted for the NCM was not the majority in the 65 member-National Assembly was picked up by the PNC-led coalition that had been installed into government by just that number! Any primary school student knew that such a claim was bullshit – but it didn’t matter to the PNC – who now ate their words and passed them out as pure bullshit. They went back to the Assembly and asked the Speaker to reverse his ruling on their BS claim, but he flatly refused. They then took their BS to the High Courts where the Chief Justice threw them out on their ears as the rest of the Caribbean once again snickered at how far the PNC would go to stay in power.

But even to them, their BS must have started to smell after the international community politely reminded them about the norms of democracy. Still insisting that the President and his Cabinet did not have to resign according to Art 106 (6), they began to refer to their meetings as a “plenary” and a “Caucus”. More BS. This spread to the PNC-controlled GECOM Commission, which pretended not to notice that they were constitutionally bound to prepare for elections by March 19. Suddenly they declared they needed more time.

And this brings us to the BS about the two letters from President Granger to GECOM – the second obviously meant to delay immediate elections which the first had called for. A long time ago, Walter Scott had bemoaned “what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”.

It is even more tangled when woven with bullshit.