Tuesday 15 October 2019

Achtung Bono! Try studying works of Professor Frankfurt

U2 frontman entertained the EU elite this week with his brand of bullshit, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Have you met Professor Frankfurt? No? Well, let me introduce him. Professor Harry Frankfurt was born in 1929, graduated from Johns Hopkins University and taught moral philosophy at Yale, with a sideline in 17th Century rationalism. He later taught at Princeton University, where he's now, at the age of 84, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy.

Among Prof Frankfurt's works is a slim volume published in 2005 by Princeton University Press, titled On Bullshit. It's a philosophical examination of the preponderance in modern life of that form of bluster termed bullshit.

Speaking of which, we'll get to Bono later.

Professor Frankfurt is a real person – look him up – for years I've been one of his fans.

Last week, as the government PR machine went into overdrive, Richard Boyd-Barrett popped up in the Dail and described the propaganda as "bullshit". He was immediately reprimanded ("there are children in the public gallery") and he apologised. In the Dail, as elsewhere, the word "bullshit" is too often dismissed as a mere term of abuse. As Professor Frankfurt has shown, this is not so. Bullshit is a distinct and harmful element in modern discourse.

Some of the characteristics of bullshit include: obscuring the truth; yet stopping short of direct lying.

The bullshitter, Professor Frankfurt says, "does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose . . . He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

In short, it's about saying whatever works. The bullshitter merely has to create a plausible story, unhindered by any obligation to reality. It merely has to look like it might be true. And, when the alternative is a more complex, more difficult narrative, the bullshitter wins hands down. Faced with two apparently plausible stories, people will always – always – choose the simpler, less demanding and more hopeful one.

Let's see how this applies to this Government, its record over three years and what it's up to now.

The bullshit scenario they and their predecessors created is one in which the citizens "partied" (Fianna Fail) or "went mad" (Fine Gael). And ran up gigantic debts. And had to be "bailed out" by our EU friends. By virtue of skilful management, Enda and Eamon allowed the citizens to "exit the bailout". And it worked, we're told. The economy is on the mend. There's some way to go yet, but – as the headline put it last week: "Jobless figures below 400,000 as economy picks up pace".

If we stay the course, say Enda and Eamon, it can only get better.

The problem for most of us is a lack of economic expertise. We need reliable experts – not employed by the Government or by the financial business – who understand the economics and the statistics. And they're thin on the ground. Here are some figures from Michael Taft, of Unite trade union, whose analysis has been consistently based on statistics produced by mainstream sources but scarcely mentioned by mainstream analysts.

The fall in unemployment in 2011-2013 was 74,100. Recession-related emigration was 116,100.

Add on those forced off the unemployment register into cheap and free labour schemes (29,000) and you have a figure of 145,100. So, unemployment came down by about half the numbers forced off the register by emigration and cheap labour schemes.

We are, as Taft put it, purging ourselves of our young, with a disproportionate number of those in the 15-29 age bracket leaving.

Irish citizens were made to take on 40 per cent of all bank debt imposed on European governments. Right across the EU, every man, woman and child is being forced to bail out the gamblers, to the tune of an average of €200 each. In Ireland, we've been stung for €9,000 a head.

General government debt is 120 per cent of GDP, and 150 per cent of GNP. Fianna Fail generously took on the gambling debts of Irish bankers. The EU said, "What a good idea! Now, you can also absorb the debts of the German, UK and French gamblers who got into your property bubble." (Oh, and the American bankers, too, said Mr Obama's top economics man, Tim Geithner.)

FF said, "Yes, sir". FG and Labour said this was obscene, fought an election on that basis – won, and immediately followed the same policies.

All of this is written out of Enda and Eamon's bullshit scenario. Not lies, you note, just presenting a hopeful story devoid of inconvenient facts. The emigration, with huge personal, social and economic consequences, is written out. As is the forced acceptance of over €64bn in private gambling debt.

Now, Enda and Eamon promise tax cuts. Whoopie. Nice of them. But, as a study by Social Justice Ireland shows, a €205m tax cut can benefit all equally or – in one example – a single earner on €50,000 would gain by €172, while the same person on €125,000 would gain by €922. Guess which one Mr Noonan's department favours?

During the 2011 election, I was present when comedian Eamon Gilmore uttered his immortal catchphrase: "It's Labour's way or Frankfurt's way". Most people thought he was saying he would stick up for the Old Labour tradition of defending the citizens against the elites – as so many young, idealistic Labour members at the time demanded. And he would oppose the destructive policies coming out of the European Central bank in Frankfurt.

However, Soapbox can now reveal the truth. Eamon was thinking aloud, explaining that he personally faced a dilemma – adopt the traditions of Old Labour or take "Frankfurt's way", as outlined in Professor Frankfurt's classic work, On Bullshit. And, as we soon found out, Eamon chose to slide into office. On Bullshit.

Eamon is a pro, a man within reach of pension age. Government service meant implementing the Fianna Fail policies he condemned – but at that age you have to think ahead. Same goes for Pat and Joan and the rest of the comrades. What's Bono's excuse?

Last week, there was a gathering in Dublin of the elites of Europe's right-wing parties – the parties that colluded in imposing over €60bn of rich people's debt on to Irish citizens. Bono, the eminent back-slapper and official chin-tickler to the powerful, turned up to entertain them.

Bono praised our "dignity", the patronising gobshite. He told them the Troika didn't bail us out, Irish citizens bailed themselves out. As good an example of truth-avoiding bullshit as you can get.

We weren't bailed out, old chap. We were used to bail out the rich. Which turned a difficult but sustainable public debt into a crushing one. He's well-intentioned, many say, and I used to think that, but my tolerance is flagging.

This man can't be unaware of reality. I'm increasingly inclined to believe that, as a millionaire, Mr Bono is quite aware of his own economic interests. Therefore his inclination to speak comfort to power.

Professor Frankfurt, bless him, has this covered. In his book, he remarks that a certain level of bullshit "is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the bullshit artist."

Sunday Independent

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