Bella’s intro: I can’t think of anyone whose scholarship on the psychology of deception I admire more than Professor Maria Hartwig’s. Mark Fallon is a former Special Agent and has led some of the most important counterterrorism operations in modern history. He also wrote the book critiquing the U. S. government’s torture program. I am so grateful to them for writing this important guest post.

I could not share this with you as soon as they wrote it, though. It had to be reviewed by the United States government first. That’s ironic, because the authors are challenging the government’s sweeping pre-publication review process in this article. That challenge is part of their broader examination of the role of bullshit in the contemporary American political scene, and how it undermines freedom and democracy.

I posted the first part of this article on my blog at Psychology Today. If you have come here from there, you can start reading at Part II.

State-Sponsored Bullshit:

The Manipulation of American Minds, the Illusion of Freedom, and Why Truth Matters

By Maria Hartwig and Mark Fallon

If one has to capture contemporary political cultural in one phrase, ‘fake news’ certainly seems timely. Talking heads from all across the political spectrum hurl the term at each other, seemingly without reaching each other in any meaningful way.

Part I

So, what does it mean for news, or any piece of information for that matter, to be ‘fake’? For sure, the term indicates some sort of deviation from the truth. But what is truth, what is deception, and what does fake really mean, and why does it matter?

In some ways, the distinction between truths and non-truths is simple, and also, intuitively appealing. It is true that humans are mammals; it is true that the Earth orbits around the sun, it is true that the sun appears to rise in the morning even though we know such a thing is a function of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Furthermore, it is false that the Earth is flat, and that 1 + 1 = 3. Few people disagree with arithmetic, yet many people these days seem to question what truth means (and/or whether such a thing even exists). Worse, many people seem to neglect the price that society must pay for forgetting what is actually true.

The good news is that we are actually in familiar territory. History tells us that the state of political turbulence in the United States, which we face as we write this, is likely to pass. In some ways, we don’t have to be confused at all, nor do we have to be apocalyptic about our future. George Orwell, who is most well-known for his concise allegorical novels about derailed regimes, was at the core of his profession an investigative journalist. He reported from the front lines on the rise and fall of the three most salient fascist regimes in our times (all of which failed). Orwell’s keen eye always emphasizes the blurring of the distinction between truth and lies as an emblematic feature of an authoritarian system. Orwell’s respect for the actual truth echoes Kant’s classic argument against lies, which he defines as deprivation of a full understanding of the truth. In Kant’s view, this is tantamount to coercion, because it involves the deprivation of free choice.  

Let us return to the issue of the issue of truth. What seems to confuse people, in these so called ‘fake news’ times, is a distinction between what is factually true and what is stated. A closely related confusion is between truth, and truthfulness; and conversely, between false and falsehood. Let us explain these terms further: It is entirely possible for a person to state, due to ignorance or delusion, that the world is flat, when it is in fact round. The fact that this statement is false does not make it a falsehood. If a person happens to believe that the Earth is flat, and they state so, this is a truthful statement. Yes, the statement in itself is false, because all the facts point to the Earth being round. Truth corresponds to the facts.

In contrast, falsehoods, and the closely related concepts of lies and deception come into the picture when a person has the intention of distorting the belief system of another person. Let us pause here to consider that the key component in these domains are intentionality. A person who truly believes that the Earth is round, and intends to delude someone else into believing that it is flat engages in falsehood, and would be lying if they tried to convince someone else that the world is not round. Deception is by definition a deliberate attempt to create in another a belief which the communicator believes to be untrue. In other words, the deceiver thinks that the statement is untrue but spews it anyway. Lies are instruments of mind manipulation, ways of implanting beliefs in a way that fits the communicator’s agenda. In ordinary life, we lie to each other all the time; we also manipulate others in subtler ways; we comb our hair, look in the mirror before we leave our house; we consider the impressions others form of us, and we attempt to shape them, because the impressions of others is a powerful realm, a social realm which we benefit from controlling.

Deception then means deliberate, volitional deviation from the truth. If I do not know the fact of a given matter, I can tell neither lies nor truths. However, I could bullshit about it, pretending that I know the facts when I actually do not; pretending to be something that I am not – all the while making an impression on the listener. I could then engage in a fake act; pretending that I am transmitting a message, while in fact all I deliver is hot air.

The meaning of bullshit

Bullshit is a central concept in contemporary political culture. This loaded term of course has multiple meanings. Here, we take it to mean the particular form of falsehood articulated in the now classic essay by the prominent moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt. Frankfurt offers a definition of bullshit that has gained substantial traction, and that explains both the nature and danger of bullshit. He writes:

“Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essential someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing, too, is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony” (p. 46-47).

Frankfurt’s point regarding bullshit as not necessarily false but phony is useful to understand the difference between forms of deception. But, perhaps the most startling conclusion of his essay is that bullshit is a worse form of moral misconduct than lying. How can this be? In simple terms, Frankfurt argues that the liar knows what the truth is, and subsequently makes an intentional move at manipulating another to believe something different. In sharp contrast, the bullshitter does not care or might not even know what the facts are, as long as the bluff is successful. It is this fundamental disregard for the truth that leads Frankfurt to conclude that bullshit is a worse assault on truth than lies, which in turn connects him to the Orwellian theme of truth-muddling as an autocratic tactic.

If we accept Orwell’s respect for truth as a key feature of a democratic society, or buy into Kant’s seminal arguments against lies as a deprivation of volition, how is it that society can accept the onslaught of bullshit and lies that we face in the current American political climate? How can it be that this era of our history has been labeled ‘post-truth’? Shouldn’t there be any consideration of the notion that the howling about fake news is in fact itself fake or phony – to reinvoke Frankfurt, that the notion of fake news is actually bullshit? A piece of information, whether framed as news or not, is either factually true or false. Claiming news are ‘fake’ seems like a blatant act of bullshittery, designed to obfuscate reality and promote the bullshitter’s agenda.

We write this only months before the election of 2020, after a long summer of discontent in the United States, where discord, disaffection and the deconstruction of societal unity is upon us. Lives, and we would argue democracy, hang in the balance. Why is it then that segments of the population accept the bullshit and embrace the bullshitter(s)? How palatable is your mind – anyone’s mind – to manipulation and the management of your own perception? Do we live in a free society if the information surrounding us is so corrupted that we have stopped believing that truth even exists? After all, only the most absurd reasoning would have it that truth is not a legitimate thing – truth is indeed legitimate, and our core argument is that truth matters.

In Part II of our piece, we will continue to discuss the corrosive effect of lies and bullshit on society and its members, and its role in contemporary political life.

Part II

In the first part of our piece, we wrote about the forms of misrepresentation in our society, including bullshit and lies. Echoing Kant’s view of the coercive nature of lies, Harry Frankfurt reminds us in On Truth: “Lies are designed to damage our grasp or reality. So they are intended, in a very real way, to make us crazy. To the extent that we believe them, our minds are occupied and governed by fictions, fantasies, and illusions that have been concocted for us by the liar…A person who believes a lie is a constrained by it…Thus, the victim of the lie is, in the degree of his deprivation of truth, shut off from the world of common experience and isolated in an illusory realm to which there is no path that others might find or follow.”

In On Bullshit Frankfurt also reminds us: “The contemporary proliferating of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “antirealists” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry…Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representation of himself.

Bullshit and what we can term bullshittery is far from a new concept. While bullshit is actually detectable– through fact checking, investigation, thorough analysis and critical thinking – the proliferation of bullshittery seems to have become a manner of governance. So has the management of perceptions to believe the unbelievable, leaving people guessing about truths and what is true, much like in Orwell’s iconic novels.

Let us recall President Donald Trump’s May 31, 2017 Tweet, just after midnight: “Despite the constant press covfefe,” a tweet that was deleted around daybreak. Headlines in the NY Times read: “What’s a ‘Covfefe’? Trump Tweet Unites a Bewildered Nation.” In a January 13, 2019, article under the title “UNTHINKABLE,” The Atlantic wrote retrospectively in: “Six Hours and Three Minutes of Internet Chaos: In the annals of revelatory Trump tweets, ‘covfefe’ is the ultimate,” comparing Trump’s Tweets to the manner in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) “used the intimacy of radio and his flair for the dramatic to transmit ‘real news’, as he once put it, directly to the people.” It seems people accept as real whatever they believe. Perhaps Donald Trump didn’t invent “fake news,” he just perfected it. Or possibly we give him too much credit. Possibly, Trump meant to say “confefe,” which the Urban Dictionary describes as a “polite, yet humorous way to say BULL-SHIT.;” although politeness does not strike us to be one of Trump’s strong suits, while bullshittery does.

Bullshit has probably been part of the political landscape since the manipulation of public opinion became necessary for those seeking to attain and retain power in a democracy. From FDR’s fireside chats to Donald Trump’s Twitter spats, technological advancements have altered the manner in which messages are conveyed, disseminated and received. As noted on the WhiteHouse.Gov web page: ‘Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped the American people regain faith in themselves. He brought hope as he promised prompt, vigorous action, and asserted in his Inaugural Address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”’ Apart from the quasi-optimism of the slogan to “Make America Great Again”, it seems that the 45th President is less optimistic in tone and delivery. In addition, there has been no shortage of bullshit slung by those seeking to quench their thirst for power and to propagate their versions of truth with their own brand of bullshittery. Along with the propagation of fear, these have been and will continue to be a theme of the administration’s communication tactics, along with President Trump’s self-affirming proclamations of his own “stable genius.”

In Edward Bernays’s treatise on “Propaganda”, he defines the concept as “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses in an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” The administration’s bullshit is a form of propaganda, and so is the chronic complaint from President Trump that unfavorable news is fake. Again, muddling the people’s belief in facts, and even undermining their belief that the truth is both real and important is a classic propaganda tactic, and we should recognize it as a deliberate attempt to disempower the people.

State-sponsored censorship

In 2017, the Department of Defense issued instruction DoDD 5122.05, stating that “[a] free flow of general and military information will be made available, without censorship or propaganda, to the Service members and their dependents” and  that information “will not be classified or otherwise withheld to protect the U.S. Government from criticism or embarrassment.” The instruction also states that the “sole purpose of such activity is to expedite the flow of information to the public; propaganda has no place in DoD public affairs programs.” For the purposes of distinguishing between what is truth and what might be manipulation of perception and outright bullshittery, it might be instructive to ask the following question: Under what conditions, and under which authority does the Pentagon, or other entities of the state, seek to control or alter perceptions by censoring the data necessary for informed opinions?

In Pentagon Joint Publication 3-61 it reflects that military public affairs function to support the military commander in achieving mission objectives, including integrating public affairs into operational planning processes, and that public affairs professionals “will lead communication synchronization to maximize alignment.” The instruction notes that “Perceptions Can Become Reality” and that “First impressions influence perceptions and judgements, which bias how individuals process subsequent information.” The Pentagon defines propaganda as “any form of communication misleading in nature designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes or behavior of any group to benefit the sponsor.” We could make the argument that, paradoxically, the Pentagon’s own anti-propaganda policy is propaganda.

In fact, these very words that you are reading have been subjected to a governmental review prior to publication, which the Government had to approve, after circulating to determine if any of the material would be censored. This restraint on free speech and control of the public’s knowledge about the facts is a hallmark of any autocracy and a tool of tyrants. In On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder reflects on the collapse of European democracies with emergence of tyrannical regimes of authorities and fascism in the 1920’s and ‘30s and how Plato believed that demagogues exploit free speech to install themselves as tyrants. It seems that the proliferation of calculated, premeditated and targeted bullshit is consistent with Snyder’s proposition that fascists “reject reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claim to give voice to the people.”

The Founding Fathers’ system of checks and balances, where separate, but equal branches of the government wielded power, was designed to counter the autocratic tendencies of those seeking to explore their despotic fantasies. An independent judiciary, a Congress with the “power of the purse” and oversight authority, as well as a free press and speech were the foundation of the US experiment in democracy.

Yet those holding the power of the state – in this case the United States – wield power in secret, and establish rules, regulations and laws to prevent others from knowing about their activities. While it is clear that some national security information should be protected and that some secrets are necessary, history is replete with evidence that various official secret acts and processes are used to protect policy decisions, as well as illegal activity. Notoriously, not long after the peak of the Civil Rights’ movement in the 1960s, the Church Committee (https://www.senate.gov/about/powers-procedures/investigations/church-committee.htm) revealed that the FBI had engaged in a massive, far-reaching enterprise of unauthorized intelligence collection under the code name COINTELPRO. This spying on United States citizens sought to destroy individual(s) and disrupt movements perceived to be threats. A chief target of COINTELPRO was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose social and political power the FBI sought to undermine, as he was seen as a potential “messiah” who could “unify and electrify” the “black nationalist movement.” The declassified portion of the Church Committee’s records consists of more than 50,000 pages on COINTELPRO, revealing jaw-dropping facts about the FBI’s illegal attempts to undermine and discredit Dr. King, including smear campaigns that continued after his assassination.

Along with acts of commission to mislead the public with propaganda to achieve objectives, over classification of information to avoid scrutiny or embarrassment; there are also acts of omission and reshaping the ability of a receiver to fully comprehend the meaning, intention and understanding of messages. These can take the form or redactions, threats of sanctions for disclosure of undesirable information, and the chilling effect such governmental intrusions may have in suppressing critical thinking.

As Snyder reminds us about professional ethics: “It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges. Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.” In spite of the state’s intentions to maintain control, hold their workforces in check to preserve the sanctity of the secrets that oil the machine of the political agenda, and shape the information that seeps into the public domain, there are those who will challenge such measures.

Those that pray at the altar of a false god – the bullshitter – with exulted claims of their own greatness — or the bullshit notion that they too can bask in the bliss by buying into bombastic claims of greatness, are victims of their own making. We again turn to On Tyranny and the urge to believe in truth: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding light.” The gravest threat to democracy itself comes when this bullshittery moves from the campaign trail, where bullshit has become accepted and practiced as an art form, to the menace to freedom when it becomes a manner of governance. When instruments of the state can remove checks and balances with a subversion of truth to further “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, sever economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of the opposition – or what Merriam-Webster defines as fascism. Snyder warns: “Fascists despise the small truths of daily existence, loved slogans that resonated like a new religion, and preferred creative myths to history or journalism. They used media…to create a drumbeat of propaganda that aroused feelings before people had the time to ascertain facts…Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

In our third and final part, we will describe the role of bullshit and lies in society, in particular as they relate to fascist regimes.  

Part III

The world seems to love a bullshitter, with amazing tales of lure allowing the target of bullshit to bathe in bombastic babble and become part of the sometimes-bedazzling script of a storyteller. What bullshittery seems to do is befuddle the bullshitted where the lines of fantasy and reality are blurred, bent and broken. Thus, the lure of the boob tube and big screen, where scriptwriters bend the imagination and the watcher becomes part of the story, identifying with their favorite hero or villain. The viewer, listener, reader or Tweeter becomes the expert, while lacking any experience or academic portfolio. Perhaps this is the manner in which the snake oil salesmen have been able to scam and swindle suckers with carefully crafted sales pitches promising outlandish results.

Grifters, hucksters, fraudsters, cheaters, and chiselers sometimes take the form of snake oil salesmen, sell a magic elixir with their bullshittery and become profiteers of phony fabrications that the bullshitted fixate on. There are times when this bullshittery leads to individual victimization, such as with Trump University, which was not a university at all; or on a larger scale where the taxpayer is victimized, like in the US rendition, detention and interrogation program (RDI), where psychologists with no legitimate experience whatsoever in interrogation nor counter-terrorism were paid over $80M for developing, implementing, running – and, bizarrely, evaluating – the notorious Torture Program.

In these examples, we argue that there was both a suspension of critical thinking and a failure to engage experts and those with expertise in either the competencies necessary to either invest in real estate, as in the case of Trump University, or to elicit accurate and reliable information from a person in custody, as under the RDI program. For these elaborate scams to succeed, those with legitimate scholarship and practice in both fields had to be discounted and/or ignored and the emerging bullshittery had to be instead adopted. Richard Hofstadter was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for shedding light on the shunning of intellect in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. More recently, in The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, Thomas Nichols expands on how lay people now seem to believe they are an expert on any topic of their choosing.

Blowing the whistle on bullshit

History is replete with examples of how demagoguery fictionalizes truth, denies facts, dismisses science and demands adherence, not to the rule of law, but to the will of the ruler – risking the continuity of operations of the government itself — when political agenda supplants the will of the people in liberal democracies. Yet some refuse to be blinded or to bask in the warmth of hot steamy bullshit. Once such example was the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force” and the release of the “Pentagon Papers” by military strategist Daniel Ellsberg, a former United States Marine Corps officer and Harvard educated Ph.D. working for the RAND Corporation, showing how the public had been misled about the Vietnam war. Secretary of Defense McNamara wanted academics to provide an independent analysis. Those truths swayed public opinion against the war, and Ellsberg was charged with espionage; however, the charges against Ellsberg were dismissed due to governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering.

 A free press, and insiders like Ellsberg have always been a threat to power, as they can sway public opinion against the bullshittery of the state. Those wielding power use instruments of that power, sometimes to their own unraveling. President Nixon’s clandestine “Special Investigative Unit” – “The Plumbers” – was established to “fix” leaks, breaking into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and later into the Watergate. In the infamous “Watergate tapes” reveal that in discussions about the treasonous nature of the Pentagon Papers, J.R. Halderman was recorded saying: “But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: {unclear} you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgement; and the – the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong.”

On those tapes, Halderman cut through the bullshit disclosing what was really at stake; exposing truths and allowing the public to form their own opinions based on facts, rather than the propaganda of the state. Members of that Nixon administration included Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who later emerged as central figures in the administration of President George W. Bush, who used fabricated information obtained through torture as propaganda to go to war with Iraq. We will leave it to the reader to determine if the “insider threat” comes from disgruntled actors, as seems to be the propaganda of the state whenever secrets – or truths – are revealed; or whether those whistleblowers are simply better able to detect the bullshit and can no longer tolerate state-sponsored bullshittery – cover for political action – generally deeming those acts as illegal, immoral of an affront to common decency.

Autocrats practice demagoguery by denouncing what the people view as legitimate media, information, truth – with their own version of reality – propaganda and bullshit. These were the methods of Stalin’s Russia and the Fascist and Nazi regimes that drove the world to war. Modern political history has seen a long list of whistleblowers, including Ellsberg, former NYPD detective Frank Serpico, former FBI deputy director Mark Felt (Deep Throat), Edward Snowden, former CIA analyst Frank Snepp, former Department of Justice lawyer Jesselyn Radack, Joseph Wilson, Joe Darby, John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and scores of others, like the anonymous whistleblower who filed a 2019 whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community Inspector General concerning a promise Donald Trump made with a foreign leader, which helped lead to his impeachment. We leave it to the reader to determine to extent to which each of these people were truly “disgruntled,” as state-sponsored propagandists would like to shape our minds to believe, or if their actions were those of benign actors in a democracy; engaged in “good trouble – necessary trouble” in standing up for what they truly believe in, and in acting on the belief that the truth matters.

While we will leave it to the reader to form their own opinion regarding whistleblower intent, what is beyond refute – at least we would argue so — is the draconian measures the state in power will utilize to suppress speech that does not conform to their bullshittery. The Church and Pike committees, the Senate Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees and the Senate Torture Report reveal the lengths those in power will go through to classify, hide, redact, or otherwise manipulate the perceptions of the public.

As we have reminded the reader about the Pentagon Papers and the impact those truths had on ending the Vietnam War, there are lesser known, but equally chilling measures being taken to shape the public narrative, like those involving Frank Snepp, who worked for the CIA in Vietnam as an interrogator, debriefer, counterintelligence officer and strategic analyst in Saigon, rocked the CIA with insider revelations in his 1977 memoir Decent Interval: An Insider’s Account of Saigon’s Indecent End Told by the CIA’s Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam. While the President Jimmy Carter administration did not charge Snepp with violating any espionage laws, the CIA sued Snepp for violating his non-disclosure agreement upon entering government service, claiming “irreparable harm” to national security due to creating an appearance of a breakdown of discipline in the CIA. Snepp lost his case against the CIA in a divided decision before the US Supreme Court, forfeiting all royalties and subsequently became an award winning journalist. Snepp believes it is vital to expose the truth, no matter the personal cost, calling “information as an instrument of change” and “If we don’t have whistleblowers who are willing to stand up, we’re in trouble. But you’ll get trashed. No one loves a whistleblower.”

Propagandizing narratives to suppress free speech

While this prepublication review process began with the establishment of the CIA as a clandestine service in 1947, around the same time the National Security Agency (NSA) did, after the Church and Pike Committees documented intelligence community abuses and former employees began writing about them, the CIA established a Prepublication Review Board. Today, sixteen US intelligence agencies, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) impose lifetime review requirements prior to publishing material without prior review and possible censorship. One of us (Mark Fallon) is a plaintiff, along with four former national security professionals from the ODNI, CIA and DOD legally challenging this process, believing it to be an abridgement of their First Amendment rights, citing the censor regiment as arbitrary, haphazard, inconsistent, and in some instances seemingly intended to protect the CIA (and others) from embarrassment. As if caught in a paradoxical parody, these criticisms of the CIA and prepublication review process have been submitted for review within that same process that is being legally challenged in the federal courts, in what we believe is prior restraints on free speech and problematic with respect to the principles of academic independence. Using co-author Fallon’s book Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon and US Government Conspired to Torture as an example, there were 113 redactions, including whole pages of text. Through this process, the state is able to review, delay, alter, impact timing and mutate the meaning of expression and intention of speech. It also serves as a mechanism to prepare the state for any intended criticism, enabling neutralizing or counter-messaging within the public domain. Propaganda can take many forms, including the disruption of free expression – or what we view as state-sponsored bullshit.

While prepublication review is more of a defensive censoring and propaganda process, there are more overt methods of state-sponsored bullshittery being perpetrated as an instrument of national power, by the President of the United States. Depending on the source, the false or misleading claims coming out of Donald Trump vary; however, what is quite apparent even to the most casual of observer, there is quite a bit of pure, unmitigated bullshit. As of July 13, 2020, the Washington Post “Fact Checker” site has documented over 20,000 false or misleading claims, averaging a dozen per day. Whether Trump’s boisterous behemoth bellowing are those of a bombastic bullshitter, or are part of a more calculated strategy of a Franco-like fetishism of fake news is open to further analysis. After all, while on the campaign trail Trump did state “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” While some may blow such bullshittery off as just Trump being Trump, Trump’s lawyers have since argued that the President could not be prosecuted for doing so.

Bullshit is designed to be a trap, but it is a trap one does fall not have to fall into. In fact, piercing through bullshit rather than wading through it merely demands critical thinking, fact-checking, and a familiarity with the concept – it demands a recognition of the age-old wisdom of Sun Tzu, to know thy enemy. Enemies evoke the notion of battle, of course – here, the battlespace is the mind. The battlespace of the mind entails a fight for freedom of thought; for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The United States’ national anthem proclaims that we are in the land of the free, and the home of the brave. Bravery means facing the facts, and telling them like they are, even if they are unpleasant – in the long run, unpleasant truths can be constructive rather than destructive. Freedom includes calling bullshit when it reaches a point of saturation; when it becomes intolerable, incessant; when the abnormality of bullshit drifts into the ordinary. We return to Orwell, who refused to accept bullshit democracy, and we share his fundamental credo that truth matters.

Notes: The government has mandated that co-author Mark Fallon’s written products be submitted to the mandatory Pre-publication Review Process by the United States Government (the very process we believe to constitute unlawful censorship). Further, as mandated by the United States Government, the reader is hereby notified that “The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s), and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government”. The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Department (DoD) of the linked websites, or the information, product, or services therein. The DoD does not exercise any editorial, security, or other control over the information you may find at these locations.

About the Authors

Maria Hartwig, PhD is a Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research focuses on the psychology of deception and truth, in particular in the criminal justice and national security space. Along with Mark Fallon, she is the Co-Founder of Project Aletheia, a not-for-profit platform aimed at bridging the gap between science and practice.

 

 

Mark Fallon is a former NCIS Special Agent, with expertise in criminal investigations, counterintelligence and counterterrorism spanning more than three decades. He has led some of the most significant counterterrorism operations in modern history, and is known as one of the most prolific advocates for human-rights based interrogation, opposing torture and proposing alternative methods that do not only comply with the law and common morality, but that also yield tangible information in the pursuit of justice.

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