The Nature of Shifferbrains

Bart Nedelman

Bart Nedelman

Shifferbrains. Say it quickly.

“He acts like he has shifferbrains.” One word can say so much when properly applied. We all know a “shifferbrain” or “shifferbrainer” and we may have deserved the moniker, ourselves, a time or two, but we try not to make a habit of it as so many do, particularly in the political, religious, media, sports, and entertainment arenas.

What qualifies one as a shifferbrain is simply doing or saying something so outrageously or egregiously inane, stupid, hateful, deceitful, immoral, or dishonest that most people, even those with just the barest trace of a rudimentary conscience and sense of fair play, will either recoil at the wickedness of the act or laugh out loud at the unalloyed absurdity of it.

The mundane does not qualify; after all, how many times can you hear an athlete with a room temperature IQ in a pre-game interview predictably say, “We’re gonna’ give it a hunnert’ an’ ten percent,” and not laugh?

One the fastest routes to shifferbrain stardom is playing the Jesus Card. Take a look at the recent crop of come-to-Jesus 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls: Romney, Santorum, Bachman, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich. Trying to nail down the ultra right-wing, evangelical caucuses and primaries, these guys are wearing out so many decks of Jesus Cards their fingers will be nothing but bloody nubbins come the fall elections. Aside from their obsequious pandering to evangelical groups in order to appear religious and moral, what makes every one of them shifferbrains is that every one of them has looked us in the eye and told us over and over the most outrageous falsehoods  – and expected us to actually believe them.

The Crazey-Maker

There is one ubiquitous type of shifferbrain whom I call the “Crazy-Maker.” It’s quite simple: Crazy-Makers make you crazy. Don’t let anyone tell you psychology has to be complicated.   Crazy-Makers are the shifferbrainers in our lives who cross our boundaries but would have us believe that we crossed theirs. A simple example should suffice: your friend or lover or boss or spouse asks you to meet them at a specific time, doesn’t show, but later is accusatory and angry with you for not waiting longer than the one hour you did lounge about before pressing on with the rest of your life.

Shifferbrain behavior usually links two or more of the following : “double-think,” duplicity, crossing boundaries, and an unreserved sense of  an undeserved entitlement. Of course there are no end of things one can say or do to qualify as being a “shifferbrain.” One scores ever higher on the shifferbrain scale commensurate with the level the narcissistic behavior one displays. Politicians, entertainment figures, business “rock stars,” sports figures, and high-ranking religious figures are prone to suffer from this narcissistic affliction and almost incurable personality disorder. A large and adoring following or bank account does not offer complete immunity from one becoming, when viewed from a detached or objective perspective, a cartoon caricature or a buffoon of shifferbrain proportions.


Let’s be more concrete still: “shifferbraininess” describes the politician who looks us in the eye, say Newt Gringrich, and insults our intelligence by claiming the right, sway, and title to the moral high ground based upon his Christian family values… while having serially cheated his way through two marriages and is now into his third. This regrettable behavior (Newt lying to us [he didn’t cheat on us – marriage-wise]) not only crosses the boundaries of a reasonable expectation of honesty in public discourse, Newt Gingrich’s behavior simply fails to recognize that any boundary or responsibility for an honesty discourse exists. Newt’s behavior is also known by another name, as well: blatant artifice with absolutely no sense of shame.

Of course, with the least bit of thought we come to recognize that the Newtonian bedfellow of No-shame is No-remorse. Or shifferbrain behavior. Take your pick: you may choose any or all.

I make no judgments about any politician’s infidelity to his wife; that is his, her, or their problem, if indeed there is a problem. But I certainly will make judgments about a politician’s infidelity to the truth in statements he makes to me and to the public.

Rascals and Rogues

Every one of us have had unfortunate experiences with shifferbrains; they are not exclusive to our families, friends, work places, or church and social gatherings. Indeed, with the advances in communications, we are continually exposed, bombarded as it were, by the mean-spirited and egregious words and deeds of political hacks, rascals, and rogues; self-aggrandizing religious sharks and charlatans with quick fingers, dubious motives, and super-sized sexual appetites; and narcissistic entertainment figures with room temperature IQ’s, their words and deeds fed to us in tantalizing bite-sized,  digitized morsels in a cafeteria of national press, blogs, and entertainment and media channels.

A Shifferbrain Case Study

What Shifferbrains do to themselves is of no consequence and therefore of no interest to you or me.  When they perform their egregiously or incredibly inane, or stupid antics for the world to see, then they become fair game. Case in point: The married Governor Sanford of South Carolina not too long ago had an affair of the heart and nether regions with a beautiful lady, in Argentina I believe it was, and it made me laugh. Sanford:

  • appropriated expensive to own and operate state aircraft to wing his way with a throbbing heart and body parts to his mistress south of the border. You will agree, not very bright, but it gets better.
  • Sanford, a Tea Party leaning advocate, ran for election on a platform of fiscal responsibility. And better yet,
  • Sanford disappeared south of the border for an entire week for a tryst, but told everyone in South Carolina, including his wife, that he was going to be incommunicado while “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

You have to admit, “Appalachian Trail” is a strange pet name for your lover’s body; perhaps Sanford is a romantic at heart. Of course the silly man got caught. Seriously, now, just how far did the shifferbrain think he was going to get along the Appalachian Trail shuffling along with his pants around his ankles in Argentina?

Unquestionably, a shifferbrain of Sanford’s proportions deserves recognition for his loony antics, which didn’t stop there. Of course there’s more. After all this craziness, the shifferbrain played the “Jesus Card” to boot. Sanford didn’t resign his governorship for fraud and malfeasance because, as he said in so many words, he “got right with Jesus,” who, in turn, was going to make him a better leader in the bargain. The man has no shame.

I seriously doubt that Jesus is going to make Sanford a better leader (Sanford already screwed the pooch on that score), but Jesus just might make him a significantly more careful leader when cheating on his wife or girlfriends and using state aircraft while doing it. There are limits to what even Jesus can do with a shifferbrain, but I’m certain He was at least amused.

Now impossible as it sounds, but the story gets even better, still. When Sanford played the Jesus Card, the shifferbrains in South Carolina bought the story and didn’t impeach him for either malfeasance, hiking the Appalachian Trail with his bare bottom hanging out in breeze in Argentina, at the state’s expense, no less, or one criminal count of “general shifferbraininess.” The good people of South Carolina let him get away with it (South Carolina has to be full up on shifferbrains) and the shifferbrain Sanford remained their randy, but staunchly Republican, governor. Go figure………..


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