The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides…is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it.
Smarm, on the other hand, is never a force for good. A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all. It is a civilization that says “Don’t Be Evil,” rather than making sure it does not do evil.
Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself…the moral and intellectual teachings of Walt Disney, in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
- is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance.
- is concerned with appropriateness and with tone.
- …aspires to smother opposition or criticism, to cover everything over with an artificial, oily gloss.
- should be understood as a type of bullshit, then—it expresses one agenda, while actually pursuing a different one. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection.
- Its genuine purposes lie beneath the greased-over surface
Here we have the major themes or attitudes of smarm: the scolding, the gestures at inclusiveness, the appeal to virtue and maturity.
Falsity and hypocrisy are important to this, but they are pieces of something larger…Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection…Bullshit, was defined by the bullshitter’s indifference to truth:
The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
….We have popular names now for the rhetorical tools these flacks are deploying: the straw-man attack, the fake umbrage, the concern-trolling. Why are those tools so familiar? It is because they are essential parts of the smarmer’s tool kit…
Smarm offers a quick schema of superiority. The authority that smarm invokes is an ersatz one, but the appearance of authority is usually enough to get by with.
The practice of cynicism is smarm…What carries contemporary American political campaigns along is a thick flow of opaque smarm.
The evasion of disputes is a defining tactic of smarm. Smarm, whether political or literary, insists that the audience accept the priors it has been given. Debate begins where the important parts of the debate have ended…Through smarm, the “centrists” have cut themselves off from the language of actual dispute. In smarm is power
Talk about something else, smarm says. Talk about anything else. This young man is in possession of secret official computer files that document the routine lawlessness and boundless intrusiveness of the American surveillance state. An unaccountable power is monitoring the entire global flow of information—which amounts, in contemporary practice, to monitoring thought itself. Illegally.
Anger is upsetting to smarm—real anger, not umbrage. But so is humor and confidence. Smarm, with its fixation on respect and respectability, has trouble handling it when the start clowning around.
Smarm is particularly well-suited, as a rhetorical and emotional register, to outright frauds…Whether a work is true or lasting or any good is beside the point; smarm makes sure to put it beside the point…It is nearly impossible to keep smarm values at bay. Even well-meaning people fall into them.
Market reasoning is deeply, essentially smarmy. We live, it insists, in a world that is optimized by the invisible hand. The conditions under which we live have been created by rational needs and preferences, producing an economicist Panglossianism: What thrives deserves to thrive, be it Nike or sprawl or the finance industry or Upworthy; what fails deserves to have failed.
Immense fortunes have bloomed in Silicon Valley on the most ephemeral and stupid windborne seeds of concepts…Of course this is tyrannical. Of course this is false. Everyone is aware that market judgments are foolish and unfair. But what can you do about it?
The critics are haters, smarm says.