The May 23, 2007
The body politic is finally acknowledging three things that almost everyone has
almost always known:
- global warming is undeniable;
- the Bible is mostly lies;
- bullshit is more valuable than, well, bullshit.
Religion and the environment have been the stuff of college bull sessions since
before the Almanack's freshman year (much more than a generation ago), which
sort of ties all 3 topics into a nice bundle. Perhaps it's the cumulative
weight of 35 sophomore classes tipping the scales toward Conventional Wisdom,
or maybe the boomers have actually made some intellectual contributions. The
wonder is that it took so long: we are, after all, a huge class of humans, in
numbers (76mm, US) as well as volume (30% of us are immensely fat), not to
mention resources (USD 1.7b paid to the top hedge fund manager).
The thing is, we spent our Vietnam years, and a good portion of our post-
Vietnam years, practicing bullshit, first on each other, then taking it on the
road. We got really good at it, in political demonstrations that were about
righteousness (not about saving our asses from getting shot in a rice paddy),
and then in marketing campaigns (and self-marketing campaigns) that became
info-mercials, full of truthiness, and hell-bent-for-persuasion that we're
selling a healthy cigarette, then a safe gun, and now a green SUV.
And we knew all along that pollution was really bad health but really good
business, that nobody really believes what they say on Sunday, and that we knew
the other two things because of the bullshit we all shared. Either the
sophomores of 1969 are finally running things (they are), or science has found
the grains of truth in the wild-ass guesses of our collective youth (it has).
So the Almanack has decided to essay in praise of bullshit. If the Times can
devote a special-section cover to how narrative shapes personality, we can have
a good word for the upperclassmen who browbeat us with conspiracy theories
about the Man: who was poisoning us, who was getting us killed for the sake of
the Economy, who was scaring us with the Bomb, and lying about nearly
everything. We also give a nod to the 6th-graders who graphically informed us
wide-eyed 3rd-graders that the priests at St Dominics did awful things to the
altar boys. And a mention to the friends-brother-home-from-college who taught
us how to get a girl drunk and stay sober, and hotwire a car.
Of course it was bullshit, all of it. There was absolutely no foundation for
any of the bloviating, otherwise it would've been in the papers and on the
news, not whispered on the playground.
What's funny is that so much of it turned out to be true in spite of its
origins: the nuclear arms race was a deliberate long-term strategy of the US;
priests and frat boys are nominally celibate and sexually rampant, for very
good biologic reasons; if you drink beer after you're already drunk on liquor,
you will dehydrate quickly.
Bullshit scooped these stories, and hundreds more. If you listen closely,
there is a certain tone to bullshit when the substrate is solid - it 'rings
true'. Admittedly, there is a lot more of the indefensibly soft variety than
of the hard, ringing truth, but the next time you hear something dismissed as
bullshit, think of 'Unsafe at Any Speed', 'Silent Spring', or 'All the
President's Men', all bullshit in their day, and think of 'The Greatest Story
Ever Sold', 'The God Delusion', 'An Inconvenient Truth', and 'I am Charlotte
Simmons', all bullshit to some people today.
Please add a comment.