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An awful lot of folks were up in arms over John Kerry’s implication that the troops in Iraq are a bit lacking in cerebral matter. Poor John. Seems like he’s always being misunderstood. It’s probably the reason he wears a perpetual frown.
Nevertheless, because of my forgiving nature, I give John a pass on that one. After all, the man has a right to say what he believes. What I don’t give him a pass on, however, is his bull-slinging – claiming that his remark wasn’t really aimed at U.S. troops, but at the instigator of most of the world’s evils, George Bush.
But, again, misunderstood John gets too much of the blame. He’s hardly alone when it comes to bull-slinging. The nauseating campaigns for the mid-term elections were clear evidence of that.
Marveling at this tidal wave of political dishonesty got me to thinking about how saturated our culture is with B.S. So much so that a number of books have been written about the subject.
One that has gotten a lot of attention is a little 67-pager titled “On Bulls–t,” written by Harry Frankfurt, a former philosophy professor at Princeton University. Another candid tome on this intellectual topic is “Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bulls–t,” by Laura Penny. Publishers have correctly assumed that B.S. is a subject of great interest to many people.
Professor Frankfurt’s book is not meant to be a spoof. Though it contains some humor, he is deadly serious about his viewpoint on the subject. Frankfurt explains that the person who engages in this national pastime “does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bulls–t is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”
But, enough of this, er … bulls–t. In the name of civility, from this point on I will use the more respectable term B.S. It doesn’t have quite the same laser-like clarity as the longer version, but it goes down much easier. (Hmm … maybe not such a great choice of words.)
From O. J. Simpson’s acquittal to the droning acceptance speeches at the Oscars … from television advertising to Barry Bonds’ claim that he used steroids “unknowingly” … from Clinton’s finger-waving to virtually everything that comes out of Jimmy Carter’s mouth – we are literally drowning in B.S.
Of course, if you didn’t already know everything I’ve just said, you probably believe that Katie Couric is a sweet young lady, Dan Rather didn’t know that his story about George Bush’s military record was based on forged documents, and David Letterman is a comedic genius.
Unfortunately, when you’re young and inexperienced, you don’t exercise a great deal of discretion when it comes to deciding whether or not to accept people’s words at face value. Even in my 20s, I probably would have bought a used car from Bill Clinton. I can just hear him telling me, “I guarantee you that I did not have sexual relations with that car.” And, just like that, I probably would have driven off the lot with a pregnant Chevy.
However, as you mature, you’d like to think that you become more adept at differentiating between whom to trust and whom to distrust. Experience is important, because most of the information we act on is based on our faith in the providers of such information.
So, how do you protect yourself from drowning in the tsunami of B.S. that relentlessly comes at you each day? The first and most important way is to make a sincere and ongoing effort to curb your own B.S. Knowingly or unknowingly, we’re all guilty of slinging a bit of B.S. at times, but that doesn’t mean you have to make a religion out of it.
Second, you should make a concerted effort to steer clear of those who have demonstrated they have mastered the art of disseminating B.S. This requires that you get in the habit of paying more attention to what people do as opposed to what they say.
You might liken the millions of words that appear every day in newspapers, magazines, books and on the Internet to a giant information buffet from which you can pick and choose as you please. The trick, of course, is to choose wisely – which is not an easy task, given the number of scoundrels in public office and other positions of power.
Above all, if you really want to protect yourself from the ravaging effects of the B.S. tsunami that perpetually threatens to drown you, don’t be naive. If your mother says she loves you, check it out!