On April 8, 2011, Senator John Kyl of Arizona made a statement on the US Senate floor about Planned Parenthood. Over 90% of its activities, he said, were abortions. In 2009, Planned Parenthood reported that only 3% of its activities were abortion-related. When asked about the senator’s over-inflated statistic, his office reported that it was “not intended to be a factual statement.”
Language “not intended to be factual” can be categorized in another way: “bullsh*t.”
In a previous entry in this blog, I talked about Harry G. Frankfurter’s discussion of “bullsh*t.” It is, he determined, a statement where the difference between truth and falsity is irrelevant. A liar knows the truth, but wants to keep the listener from it; the bullsh*tter doesn’t care what the truth is.
As I noted at the time:
Frankfurter’s analysis is insightful, but he omits one important point, the bullsh*tter’s motivation. There is always an ulterior motive… people bullsh*t to get something from the listener.
Senator Kyl’s motivation is clear: he simply wanted to score a political point. It didn’t matter whether abortions amounted to 90%--or 3%--of Planned Parenthood’s activities. He wanted to appeal to his base, and the truth never entered the picture.
One of the practical applications of the humanities is awareness about how people use language. Bullsh*t is one such use. Senator Kyl simply provided us with yet another example of it.