Lying? Stupid? just untrustworthy

We still find ourselves debating whether an obviously false statement is due to lying or stupidity. I hoped this question would become less relevant with the end of the Bush administration but I was over-optimistic, as the recent health care “debate” has shown.

But trying to make this distinction only helps those uttering the obvious falsehoods. They don’t care about informing us, have no real interest in what’s true or false. Their statements fit Harry Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit.

So let’s just call these people “untrustworthy”. It doesn’t matter if they are lying or stupid. It doesn’t matter why they say these things. We can’t trust them to guide us or inform us. We should pay them as little attention as possible.

Untrustworthy — and unworthy of our regard.

2 Responses to “Lying? Stupid? just untrustworthy

  1. Leo
    January 8th, 2010 | 12:44 am

    Thank you. To the point. Now I’m just wondering if I’d be insulting someone untrustworthy I have to think of if I’d send them the URL of this post. But maybe that would be exactly the attention we shouldn’t pay them.

  2. Jed
    January 8th, 2010 | 9:18 am

    You could send it anonymously :-)

    More seriously, I don’t think there’s a problem unless you get others to pay more attention to them. Quiet backchannels shouldn’t have any negative impact at all.

    Unfortunately a public fight gets lots of attention, and it is usually hard to tell at first glance “who started it”. So we have to develop ways of agreeing to reject untrustworthy people, and agreeing who’s untrustworthy, but avoid a public back and forth.

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