Thursday, April 20, 2006

On Bill Stuffer Bullshit

Included with my bank statement this month was a bill stuffer informing me that “in an effort to serve you better, we have streamlined our consumer check card benefits... [and] will no longer provide Purchase Security, Warranty Manager, Concierge Services, Price Protection, Purchase Security and Extended Protection, or Travel Accident Insurance.”

Do the copywriters who churn out this sort of Orwellian corporate bullshit announcing the latest lap in the relentless race toward shittier and shittier service think they are doing great and meaningful work for society? Was this what they dreamed about when they signed up as English majors? Or do you need an M.B.A. to tell me that you are serving me better by taking away perks I already had and replacing them with nothing?

I am reminded of Princeton’s Harry G. Frankfurt, who writes in his monograph On Bullshit that the eponymous device may be defined as a statement “grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.”

And thus it is with my bill stuffer. Its authors care not a whit whether the bank’s actions were or were not taken in an effort to serve me better. Rather, their concern is only that I believe the bank to have my best interests at heart. For all they care it may be the truth—they profit no more from a clever deception than from communicating objective reality—but the point is that they are paid for the effect their copy has on me, with no premium on the words’ relationship to any external state of being. As Frankfurt puts it:

This is the crux of the distinction between [the bullshitter] and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it.

Not that I was using the “Concierge Services,” or any of that bullshit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

(You can comment here, or on the Holy Prepuce! Facebook page.)