by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2015
The results of the polls have come in. We asked which play by Shakespeare was their personal favorite out of:
2) The Runyon, or
3) The Beggars of Serendip
The overwhelming favorite was Mephistopheles.
Why? It sounds like a Shakespearean title. Never mind that Shakespeare never wrote any of the above.
This is the essence of bullshit. People want others to think they know what they are talking about.
Bullshit (also known as bullcrap and horseshit) is a common slang term meaning nonsense. It is always misleading, false, or disingenuous. The English sometimes call it bullocks.
Bullshit does not have to be completely false. It is often used by notable politicians to convince the public of a point which the politicians themselves know very little about. When an outright lie is inappropriate, bullshit serves to save face and makes the speaker appear to be knowledgeable.
We know the origin of bullshit. It is developed in the intestinal tract of a male bovine. The earliest mention of the slang term was in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary just after the turn of the 20th century.
T.S. Eliot wrote a poem between 1910 and 1916 called “The Triumph of Bullshit,” however the word “bullshit” does not appear in the text of the poem. Eliot never published the poem. It was not published until 1997. [Eliot, T. S. Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 (Harcourt, 1997) ISBN 0-15-100274-6.]
The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle
This scientific principle was formulated in January 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer. The Bullshit Asymmetry Principle (also known as Brandolini’s Law states that “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” Brandolini, Alberto. “Bullshit Asymmetry https://twitter.com/. Retrieved 1 March 2015.Retrieved 1 March 2015.
Society, in general, is overwhelmed with a vast abundance of bullshit. It is hardly possible to step into the street these days without running into vast gobs of it. It is printed on billboards and signs. It has infiltrated our media, influenced our artists, and completely overwhelmed our philosophical thoughts.
The poet wrote:
“The harvesting of dreams
Born in the fields of endeavor
Is like two fish that swim upriver
Against the tides of solitary imagination.
In the portals of time, you will find
Regulations take no prisoners,
Heal no illness and reap no consequence.”
This is all total bullshit. It is far too inherent in much modern poetry.
Harry Frankfurt’s Concept of Bullshit
In his essay On Bullshit (originally written in 1986), philosopher Harry Frankfurt tells us that bullshit is different from an outright lie. The liar, he says, knows about the truth, perhaps even cares about the truth, but deliberately misleads us. However, bullshit itself does not give a whit about the truth. It only seeks to impress us.
In order to lie, Frankfort says, a person must know the truth and falsify it. On the other hand, bullshitters cherry pick reality and make up the facts that suit their purposes.
The anti-science attitudes in modern society is a great breeding ground for total bullshit. With the advent of instant communication, people are expected to have opinions on almost everything when most people do not know their posterior from a pothole.
Gerald Cohen wrote an article called “Deeper into Bullshit.” In this work, he contrasted the kind of bullshit Frankfurt talked about with nonsense discourse that is disguised as being perfectly sensible. Bullshit can be produced either accidentally or deliberately, Cohen writes. While some deliberately produce bullshit, others can also attempt to relate the truth, but produce nonsense by mistake.
A person deceived by bullshit often repeats it without the intention of deceiving others. The results of this are often seen in political platforms and broadcast by the media round the clock.
In our glorious past, not so long ago, bullshit was spread upon the fields to fertilize and nourish the next generation of crops. With the demise of the agricultural society, we have transformed this useful product into something that now only fails to nourish but actually maims our world.