WHAT IS 'BULLSHIT'?
Definition of the term 'bullshit' whenever used by John Cadogan
People erroneously conflate the term 'bullshit' with 'lies'. They are not the same thing. In using the term 'bullshit' in this website, I am certainly not accusing the alleged purveyors thereof, of lying.
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ACADEMIC DEFINITION OF BULLSHIT
The only academic treatise on bullshit of which I am aware is that of Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Princeton University, Harry G Frankfurt: On Bullshit. It's a 67-page dissertation on one of the most salient features of modern life, and well worth the read.
In a nutshell, Professor Frankfurt concludes that bullshit is independent of truth or falsehood. Rather, he says, bullshit is a representation of facts, issues or things that could be entirely true, or entirely false, or any intermediate proportion of truth or falsehood. The salient feature of bullshit is that it serves only to promote the underlying agenda of the bullshitter.
Professor Frankfurt says:
"What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers, nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even pretend to do so, either about the facts, or what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to do is deceive us about his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to."
Whenever used online by me on this website, the core definition proposed by Professor Frankfurt is what the term bullshit and its derivatives relate to. It's not a synonym for 'lies'.
Time to fess up: How do I get away with saying the things I say?
I get asked that question a lot. It’s my most common non-car question. A colleague fronted me just the other day. Viewers like you ask me all the time. Other less charitable viewers suggest I should be at least sued (or worse - sometimes, a lot worse) for the things I say. I don’t know why.
I’m John Cadogan, the personified offensively vulgar Australian garden gnome and founder of AutoExpert.com.au - the place where modern-day descendents of British working-class criminals - in other words, Australians - get the right advice and save thousands on their next new cars. And one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that ordinary people have simply had a gutfull of bullshit.
You know what I mean - those arseholes talking about ‘deliverables’. They’re not selling you something; they’re ‘providing you with solutions’. Maybe they’re empowering you. They’re not asking you to work harder - just do more with less. But don’t reinvent the wheel. (It is what it is.) We’re talking a ‘paradigm shift’ that - out of the box - redefines efficiency. Outsources everything, leverages ‘wow-factor’ and never drops the ball. Let’s meet up offline to ramp this up as a real game-changer.
I feel dirty just saying that shit.
Every time a CEO, a bureaucrat or a politician speaks, whatever they say is filtered by a thousand spin doctors, and carefully crafted to align perfectly with the required core messaging. Advertising gets a run only after a thousand edits and countless hours of focus group bullshit. Even the news is massaged. Reporters and anchors don’t say what they really think - that would be unthinkable. Communication is - at best - beige. Greyed out. It’s rhetoric with no substance. A Hugo Boss suit with nothing inside. The truth - authenticity - is on life support.
The result is a communicational tsunami of disingenuity. It tastes like bullshit because that is exactly what it is. I just decided to swim against this tide; to prosecute a jihad against the overload of automotive bullshit that threatens at times to swamp us all. This is the main reason why there seems to be a default presumption that I should be led off in handcuffs, or at least sued, for the things I say to you in these reports.
I know beyond reasonable doubt that a sinister clutch of car industry spin doctors got together behind closed doors last year and discussed what they could best sue me over, and the only avenue they could exploit, apparently after taking legal advice, was trademark infringement. Which is pretty friggin’ lame, even for them. And that’s a big call. So, while most car reviewers are busy seeing who can suck car industry cock most enthusiastically, I’ve become kind of the black sheep, at least in Australia. Like I care.
This is a storm in a teacup that plays out in two acts. The first act is all about conforming. To me, conforming is this giant black hole, with this immense gravitational pull. It’s so easy to conform in our society - and this probably plays out for you in your life just like it did for me. You can conform - you’ll fit right in if you do - or you can be yourself. It’s difficult to do both.
I actually conformed for most of my life - you don’t get a degree in engineering by being some maverick. You get one by solving the differential equations. Major TV networks - and I’ve worked for two of them - and talk radio stations - they don’t trust you to be live straight to the audience, unless they know you’re not going to go off the reservation. So, like the famous Regurgitator song from 20 years ago, I sucked a lot of cock to get where I was. Mr conformity.
But inevitably, reality bites. I start to see exactly how some of the worst offenders in the car industry actually operate below the surface - the Fiat Chryslers, the Mercedes-Benzes, Volkswagens, Audis, Holdens, Fords. Disgraceful. And some of the individuals - complete sociopaths, in my honest personal opinion. How they corrupt the media, hide behind these immense facades of propriety and just generally comport themselves like fine upstanding bastards.
How they use the carrot and the stick with the press. The carrot: be nice to us, and we’ll fly you up the pointy end, and you’ll swan around in all of our cool cars. The stick: if you criticise us, we’ll have a temper tantrum with the publisher, and he’ll cut off your nuts after we threaten to pull our advertising. That, in particular, happened to me once too often. And I also saw so many car owners like you getting fucked over, royally. Disgracefully.
So, I found myself bound by this Faustian contract. Be nice, and it’s all good. Just ignore the truth, OK? Up front I have to say to you: there’s nothing wrong with conforming. Conforming works. It’s safe. If you can conform and look at yourself in the mirror, great. Do that. But if you have to betray yourself, every day, to conform, if you have to wage war against your own moral and ethical code, then it’s probably time to be yourself.
That is what happened to me. I decided to say what I really think. For a change. I decided to put you - the audience - first, and not give a shit what anyone in the industry thinks about it. And you have no idea how ultimately liberating that is. It was a big risk, emotionally and commercially. But it paid off. The whole concept here is: I pretend to be a news anchor, but I say what I really think - something that never occurs in the context of how conventional media works.
On a cautionary note, if you’re thinking about casting off the ties that bind you to conformity in your life, you have to be aware that there are feedback effects. Nobody ever gets promoted by telling the boss what they really think of him. If you’ve ever thought about becoming a creator on YouTube, or with a blog - whatever - I’m going to talk directly to you briefly, because you will need a suit of armour, psychologically. A bulletproof vest.
It can be confronting. If you’re intrinsically vulnerable, it could be extremely confronting. Because the one thing you have to be, in front of a camera particularly, is authentically yourself. The audience can smell fakery half a world away. You have to be yourself. And that’s hard for a lot of people to do, publicly.
If you cross this bridge, and channel yourself authentically, say what you really think, some people will take you on. Inevitably, you will have to deal with hate. Industry hate. Colleague hate. Audience hate. Not everyone in the industry, among your colleagues or in the audience, will hate you, but enough of them will. Frankly that doesn’t worry me. Working on TV and in talk radio was a pretty good vaccine against broad spectrum opprobrium.
Look at it like this: if you put yourself out there, some people will hate you. It’s inevitable. To me it’s less confronting to be hated than it would have been to continue to conform. But people in the industry, whose organisations or products you criticise: They’re going to hate you. Especially if your criticisms are valid. Because there’s no escape from that, right? If the criticisms are off target, they can just dismiss you as a nut. But if those criticisms are bang on - direct hits - surgical strikes - you will earn their opprobrium. Brace for impact.
That’s fair enough. Human nature. I accuse Holden, in particular, of betraying the Australian taxpayer. I accuse the Captiva of being one of the worst shitboxes on Australian roads. Ford’s betrayal of customers who bought dual-clutch Focus, Fiesta and EcoSport is also reprehensible. Volkswagen’s criminal cocksucker conduct is disgraceful. Mercedes-Benz is on the fast track to becoming little more than a widespread joke, by busily betraying its brand. And Fiat Chrysler takes the cake for crap customer care. I’m not asking them to like me for telling the truth about them.
And then there’s people like you - almost - members of the audience, only toxic: Some viewers are simply on the hunt for the next pathetic excuse to be outraged, or to spew hate at someone - anyone - because their own lives are so unfulfilling and tragic. If you’re one of the people whose blood pressure bounces off the limiter when I call a car the ‘Gay 180’ - that’s right, I’m talking about you. Please do be offended. It’s what you’ve been looking for. Happy to help.
I actually quite like the haters. They generally unwittingly validate the positions I take. See, people who come to YouTube without first working in conventional media think that it’s all about getting people to like you. That is simply untrue. You are not playing that game. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to engage an audience. They’re different propositions. If you stick your head out of the trench, publicly, on this insane quest to be liked, you’re going to get shot in the face.
Some people will like you, and they’re reasonably engaged. But haters are certainly engaged, too. And I’d suggest haters are even more emotionally engaged. This is the human condition. Hate is more powerful than love. Mills and Boon got this wrong. You cannot prosecute the opposing argument successfully. I like the people who enjoy the reports more, obviously. But I know that if you don’t have some people hating what you do, you’re not doing it properly. A bit of polarisation is actually a good thing.
To me, the second act in this two-part drama of getting away with saying what I really think is purely logistic. It’s knowing where the boundaries are, legally. Here in Australia, car companies - big companies generally - cannot sue you for defamation. Individuals within them can sue you - if you identify them, and I’m pretty sure the corporations themselves would pay for that legal action if served their agenda. Ie - to shut you up). So you need to be careful, and follow the rules.
But you know, even then, there are defences: Substantial truth is a defence. And it’s a bad way for the plaintiff to lose - it’d get reported all over the shop. An excellent way to amplify the original disputed message, and quite safe, then, to repeat ad nauseum, seeing as a court has ruled on it. So that’s a roll of the dice, for them, I guess.
The other thing people don’t understand is: Honest personal opinion is a defence as well. Free speech here in Australia gives you the right to voice your honest personal opinion. And here, it really doesn’t matter if your expressed views are extreme, or even wrong - you just have to present them as your opinion rather than as a fact, and it has to be a matter in the public interest.
So - I’m not a lawyer, and I would not presume to give you advice about what to say publicly. I’m just telling you how I play the game. And I certainly don’t know what the rules to the free speech game are in other countries.
What I will say is that there’s so much dishonesty, and so much selective honesty in car reviews - lies by omission - that it’s really doing car buyers like you a disservice. Most of the media is just an advertising delivery system. The reviews and reports are just the bait so that some advertiser can stick his hook in your beak. That’s how this works. It’s a business.
The single over-arching imperative for all content is: Don’t piss an advertiser off. It should be: Inform the reader honestly. Carmakers wield incredible power over what you get to watch and read, and it’s getting worse. For me, conforming in that environment is intolerable. I joke all the time in these ‘fake newsreader’ reports about my ‘jihad on bullshit’. Except … it’s not a joke. The jihad is real. It’s even important.
There is so much wonderfully crafted bullshit being so eloquently delivered through so many channels online at a time when more car buyers than ever are searching online to make informed sense of what car to buy next. It’s extremely confusing for anyone who’s not a car enthusiast. But for me that’s an opportunity to wage war on bullshit.
But I’m just a foot soldier. There are many great people who wage war on bullshit a lot more effectively than me. Like the late, great, Christopher Hitchens - definitely not a bullshitter. You knew where Christopher Hitchens stood. One of humanity’s best jihadis waging war against bullshit. Sam Harris - a brilliant critical thinker. Philosopher Alain de Botton - genius. Look these people up. If you made it here, essentially to the end of this report, these people would interest you.
Jon Stewart - hero. Turned a dipshit fake news show on a dipshit comedy cable channel into one of the most influential news and current affairs programs on television, anywhere. He did it by telling truths others were unwilling to tell, and doing it clever. Louis CK. The late George Carlin. If King Arthur was waging war on bullshit, these guys would all be knights with a seat at the round table.
For you, as a consumer of reports, reviews, information - the best thing I can recommend is to develop an accurate bullshit detector. If you’re reading reviews - of cars or anything else - look for significant, valid criticism. If that’s not there - run like hell. The reviewer isn’t presenting this information for you - he’s just busily conforming to keep some other interest happy. Probably advertisers.
I realise this report was a bit different to usual. Don’t worry: I’ll be back to slagging people off before you know it. Hit me up via the website if you’re an Aussie new car buyer and you’re sick of getting violated at the dealership. We’ve got a ‘paradigm shift’ for that - out of the box - which redefines efficiency, leverages ‘wow-factor’ and never drops the ball. We ramped it up offline, and now it’s a real game-changer...