Its tolerance for #Bullshit is slowly eating up the US’s once prodigious appetite for long term gains – Slugger O’Toole
Nothing is true; everything is allowed.
-Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
This is a US story with useful universal lessons attached. Congressman Elect George Santos fate may be sealed by the fact his defence of his lies has taken a Woody Allen-ish comedic turn. He now claims that rather being a Jew or Jewish, he’s Jew-ish.
As blogged here a long, long time ago, this is, quite literally, “Bullshit” [There’s a book on it! – Ed]. “Bullshit is trying to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression in a way that obscures the fact of the matter.”
Mr Santos is part of the Trump payload that did make its way past the voters in the midterm election in Peter King’s (R) old seat in New York. King was once described as the most bipartisan member of the congress until he gave up in 2013 after thirty years.
This is tricky for the GOP. The numbers are tight in the new Congress (due to sit in January). If they keep him for the numbers then they risk further reputational damage, but minority leader Kevin McCarthy must also keep Trumpian fringe on board.
So what about the wider implications? The US is certainly not alone in suffering an onslaught of Bullshit in its politics, even if most of the technologies that have given it more currency than ever before have originated from the American Republic.
One reason I gave up Twitter is not so much the personal downsides, but the fact that it was starting to crowd out space for the sorts of deliberation you need for societies to be able consider then plan for its own wellbeing. See the Burroughs top quote.
As my friend David Amerland notes in his recent book Intentional notes, “left to our own devices the ancient responses of our brain do not always work to our benefit. Often in today’s complex world they are likely to work against our own self interest”.
Even more disconcerting when challenged and in the face of overwhelming and frequently irrefutable logic and evidence, those who react in such a fashion will double-down on their response, shut down and refuse to listen and respond logically.
He describes a struggle between two reward systems, one “activated by short term goals and immediate gratification and the other by long term goals and deferred (or delayed) gratification”. The brain forces the two to compete and the winner takes all.
So lying about a college education he didn’t have, or a false ethnicity or a familial experience (escaping the holocaust) that’s completely made up worked in the sense that it got Santos the seat, but has in a few days earned him a record of huge notoriety.
Whatever the GOP decide to do, the real and abiding danger to US society is that the huge tolerance for Bullshit is slowly eating up its once prodigious appetite for long term gains. And if we think that somehow we’re immune, it’s time to think again.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty