Proud Boys and Bullsh*tdozing

Sometimes, the message is merely "Coming through! Get out of my face!"

Posted Oct 01, 2020

The kid is in his room, playing video games. Mom calls to him that it's time to do chores and homework. 

The kid's head is in the game, a first-person shooter. He's in a tank mowing down everyone in his path. There's some heroic theme to the game, but the details don't matter. All he knows is he's on the side of everything right, righteous and mighty. It's his call of duty, and now his mom is saying duty calls. 

Still playing, he brays at his mom through his bedroom door, spouting whatever to get her to back off. He pouts, moans, whines, bleats, blasts, snarls, barks, scolds, preaches, condemns, threatens - to him, it's all just noise to keep his pathway clear – the airhorn of intransigence.

He brays it all with theatric earnestness to give the impression that his substantive arguments trump all other considerations, but really, all the braying means is, "I'm not budging." 

His mom is trying to teach conscientiousness by example. The kid's fake earnestness tugs at her, which plays to the kid's advantage. As she poses counter-arguments as though he's more than braying, the kid gets to keep on playing. 

In his 2005 bestseller, "On Bullshit," the philosopher Harry Frankfurt made an important distinction:  Lying is knowing you're not telling the truth. Bullshitting is not caring what's true. 

The kid doesn't care what's true. He's bullshitting to bulldoze through anything that thwarts him, in other words, bullsh*tdozing. It's working because his mother is lulled to sleep, dozed off on the bullshit. 

The term "bulldoze" originates in the 1860s as bull-dosing, intimidating by violence, whipping “with a dose fit for a bull”. It came to mean heavy-handed intransigence long before it was the name for a piece of heavy equipment machinery.

Now for a moment, please set aside your disdain, disgust, and hand-wringing about that kid and admit to this:

Like all of us, you'd prefer that reality accommodate you rather than you having to accommodate reality. You've got your momentum, and you don't want to be thwarted, stalled, or waylaid. You'd rather that other car lets you through first. You'd rather be proven right than have to rethink things. You'd rather reality conform to your habits, so you can avoid the hassle of conforming to reality. It's just easier.

There was at least a bit of that impetuous, impulsive petulance in you growing up, and there's no reason to assume it just disappears. We're not all egomaniacs or narcissists, but we do like to get our way by getting things out of our way. We all have a craving for intransigence. We'd rather others budge, so we needn't.

Some people, that craving gets so strong, and the excuses get so self-convincing that they just go all-in on intransigence. 

I have long suspected that people tend to mis-, and over-diagnose narcissism. More often than we notice, people just get fed up with accommodating others and reality itself. They're not self-infatuated though they act as though they are. They just become mindlessly and heartlessly oblivious to others so that they can plow through. If they get away with it, they keep doing it. 

If you suspect your partner or ex was a narcissist, I encourage you to consider the possibility that bullsh*t dozing simply became a path of less resistance for them. To the extent you try to understand what they're braying about, you were dosed on the bullsh*t and ended up enabling them like that mom enables the brat. 

We also tend to misdiagnose mass movements based on whatever braying happens to let them get away with things. Populist demagogue-led movements are rarely more than bullsh*tdozer. Their reasons why reality owes them total accommodation are as irrelevant as whatever arguments the video-gaming kid brays, and just as theatrically. 

Reality always pinches. It's been pinching more lately. A demagogue signals an un-pinched path through realty – the path of unflinching indomitability. "We shall not be moved" with no higher cause than that of a proud boy who just want to keep playing their games. 

Bullsh*tdozing alone explains the incoherence and hypocrisy of populous movements. It's all just animal grunting and territorial marking, the anthem rock bravado of "You change. We won't."

Sure, the incoherence is shifty, but that's because it's just the means to the end of shiftlessness, not wanting to shift, saying anything to keep from having to do anything.

The decent, civilized, and disastrous reaction is compassion, empathy, like the mom trying to reason with a bullsh*tdozer son plowing through everything in his path.

Whatever else MAGA might be about with its many conflicting messages, there is this underlying theme that can hardly be a coincidence: Everything it stands for demands that others accommodate the movement. The movement shall not be moved. It will correct the world; the world will never correct it.

Trump is the perfect embodiment of that proud stance and this week's debate was the first test of that stance in four years, Trump's first public moment in four years as an equal to others, not the dominant leader granting audience to respectful supplicating subordinates.

Bullsh*tdozing is the last refuge of a bullsh*tdozer. His best and only remaining strategy is simple: Continue to pose as indomitable; imply inevitable and absolute dominance with ever-louder dog-whistles. 

All he had to do was demonstrate continued unflappable dominance and he pulled it off brilliantly running roughshod over every social norm.  He didn't blow the debate; he nailed it. 

The message of all demagogues is the same: Bullsh*tdozers unite! Reality is whatever we say it is. We'll budge for no one, not even for reality itself. 

With time, adults wise up about their kid's intransigence. They figure out that it's all just braying. They stop reasoning with them and pull the plug. 


Frankfurt, Harry (2006) On Bullshit. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press