Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum is a text without meaning used by typesetters and desktop publishers to try a font or lay-out. It contains Latin looking words or parts of words. The first word, ‘lorem’ for instance, is not a proper Latin word at all. Probably it’s the last part of ‘dolorem’, the accusative case of ‘dolor’, which means ‘sorrow’. The story goes that this dummy or placeholder text has been used in the book printing industry for over 500 years and was, in its orginal form, written by the Roman philosopher Cicero in the first century BC. It has been changed afterwards to make it nonsensical.

So this text should be taken as nonsense or, to put it even stronger, bullshit. In this post-truth area, surrounded by fake news and disinformation, we’re inclined to look upon texts with suspicion. The American philosopher Harry Frankfurt starts his essay On Bullshit by concluding: ‘One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.’ He points out that people who use bullshit are indifferent to whether what they say is true or false. Their only concern is to create a certain impression of themselves. So bullshit is not a lie, it’s simply humbug or hot air. Bullshitters are not even trying to speak the truth or tell a lie, they simply do not care.

Computers are very good at producing bullshit. Maybe the simplest (and oldest?) program is the ‘nonsense generator’ by Måns Olson, that creates random sentences which are grammatically correct, but often lack any meaning. The funniest nonsense generator, at least in my opinion, is the ‘New Age Bullshit Generator’, created by the Australian webdeveloper Seb Pearce. By clicking the ‘Reionize electrons’ button at the top of the page, the program creates a full page of New Age text in the style of the Indian American self-help author Deepak Chopra, who wrote books like The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success or The Unconscious Quantum.

I never seriously read anything by Deepak Chopra so I cannot judge his writings. It looks like bullshit, but maybe it isn’t. For me, the one person that is the personification of bullshit in our times is the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump. When Harry Frankfurt wrote his essay on bullshit in 2005, Trump was not yet elected, but very much of the essay could be applied to him. By using the social medium ‘Twitter’ Trump is spreading phony and fake news around the globe while blaming others of spreading phony and fake news about him. Who could ever imagine that the president of America turned out to be the greatest bullshit generator of them all? Nowadays it is possible to create and share your own fake Trump tweets online with a ‘fake twitter generator’, but the thing is that nobody can tell the difference anymore between a Trump tweet and a false Trump tweet. And that’s an alarming conlusion.

References

The ‘Lorem ipsum’ text can be found on the multilingual website https://www.lipsum.com/.

Harry G. Frankfurt, On bullshit (Princeton and Oxford 2005). There’s an older version (1986) online: https://web.archive.org/web/20160208122556/http:/www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf.

The nonsense generator of Måns Olson: http://nonsense.x2d.org/.

The New Age Bullshit Generator: http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/. The code is on GitHub: https://github.com/sebpearce/bullshit.

Seb Pearce’s blog: http://sebpearce.com/blog/bullshit/.

Donald Trump on Twitter: https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump.

Create your own Trump tweet: https://faketrumptweet.com/.

All of the above websites were consulted on october 16, 2018.

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