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Biden’s confabulation


If you watch the video below from the 45 second to the 1:30 mark, you’ll see Joe Biden tell a story about an incident that took place when Biden was 17, in 1959 or 1960.

What are we to make of this story?

Possible explanations:

(1) The story is true. Probability: Approximately 0.0%

(2) The story is false and Biden knows it’s false. Probability: Low

(3) The story is false and Biden doesn’t care whether it’s true or false, or to use the technical term, he’s bullshitting, in the manner of Donald Trump when Trump speaks about any and every subject. Probability: Possibly somewhat higher than (2), but still quite low in my view

(3) The story is a confabulation. That is, the story is false, but Biden believes it’s true. I think this is much more probable than either (2) or (3). It seems quite likely to me that Biden is remembering an imaginary incident that’s more congruent with his current beliefs and identity. People do this all the time, of course, and elderly people are especially prone to engage in this kind of reconstruction of their past (Note that this purported incident took place 63 or 64 years ago). T

The specificity of the story, with one man going into the Dupont Building and the other going into the Hercules Building, is more reminiscent of confabulation than either off the cuff lying or bullshitting. Another thing that inclines me to accept the confabulation frame in this context is that Biden seems utterly oblivious to the fact that nobody is going to believe this obviously false story, in a way that again tracks with genuine belief on the part of the storyteller.

I’m interested in how other people interpret this, and also in whether this kind of thing is grounds for much concern. Biden has always had a tendency toward what again in my opinion is more likely confabulation than outright lying, but this seems like a really extreme and startling example of that tendency.

It should be unnecessary to add that nothing about this situation is relevant to whether Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee for president next year (he is), or whether there’s any possible question of whether any decent person should hesitate to vote for him, given the alternatives. (There isn’t).

But I still think the question is worth discussing, without regard to its lack of immediate pragmatic significance.

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