10 March 2015

Harry G. Frankfurt

     Harry G. Frankfurt is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton.  He has written a number of essays, one of which was published as a small tome called "On Bullshit".  That essay's first sentence is a statement of indisputable fact:  "One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit."  What I do dispute about the statement, however, is the inference that our culture is unique in the amount of bullshit.  Bullshit is endemic and it seems to me to be the result of thoughtlessness.  Thoughtlessness and bullshit are inseparable.  If one were to give a specific statement, idea, notion, or proposition some thought, i. e. analyze it, the bullshit inherent in the statement, idea, notion, or proposition would rise to the surface and be recognizable for what it is:  bullshit.

     In that bullshit is prevalent to our culture, which includes my profession--the legal profession and specifically criminal defense--it is a proper subject of discussion.  For instance, our sex offender registry statutes are premised on bullshit.  If you ask me whether I would rather have a burglar or a sex offender living next to me, I will pick a sex offender every time.  But no sex offender can live next to me because somewhere within 2,000 feet is a daycare or some such thing; the idea being of course that a) a sex offender will likely kidnap and abuse a child and b) "a" will not occur if the offender is required to live at least 2,000 feet from a daycare.  Neither "a" nor "b" are probable and very nearly impossible, however the probability of something occurring is not relevant and therefore within the realm of bullshit.

     Of course, the prime example of bullshit in my profession are the drug laws.  Thousands of people are serving most of their lives in prison because the state (federal and state) have pronounced drugs as destroying lives.  Apparently serving 20 years in prison does not constitute a destroyed life, but sniffing a little meth does.  Since there is no rationale for our criminal drug laws, they constitute bullshit.  One of Iowa's legislators when asked if he would support decriminalization of marijuana practically yelled no, that he wanted our children protected from illegal drugs which is of course complete bullshit.