The most important sense of “bullshit”

I regard the use of the word “bullshit” as a ubiquitous term of rejection or condemnation.   And I regard the most important type of rejection, the rejection of the trivial and irrelevant — that which is not important or valuable.   I know that what is valuable or important is relative to what one is trying to achieve.  But to achieve anything, one has to be alive — and hopefully, healthy.  In other words, the necessary condition of doing anything is being alive.   So, even if you are willing to sacrifice your life for some cause such as the well being of your loved ones or your country, you must be alive.   So, as I see it, sustaining your life (for whatever cause), is most important, at least as a precondition for anything else.   And to talk of what is necessary for life is to talk about human needs (as contrasted with desires).

What everyone needs is air, water, food, shelter and anything which will maintain necessary body temperatures (e.g., clothes, fire, air conditioning).   We who live in cities, in houses, condominiums, or apartments know that necessities are bought with money, and so we invariably will think of the necessity of a job to get an income.  But is it true that a job is necessary?  And if you lose your job or can’t find one, you picture yourself in the plight of the homeless.  You imagine getting some kind of welfare, soup kitchen, begging, scrounging through garbage, and sleeping in some tunnel or make-shift shelter.

But for millennia,  people have lived off the land — either as hunter/gatherers or as farmers and herders.  And many still do.  So, the alternative to working for a wage is to live off the land.  And to do so one must have free access to land on which to hunt, fish, gather, farm or herd.  Does anyone have such free, legal access to land?

Thomas Skidmore, The Rights of Man to Property! Being a proposition to make it equal among the adults of the present generation: and to provide for its equal transmission to every individual of each succeeding generation, on arriving at the age of maturity, 1829.

Centralization of power is not beneficial to ordinary people; it is bullshit.


Leopold Kohr, The Breakdown of Nations, 1957, 1978.

Kohr proposed a breakdown of Europe into smaller chunks, and then federating them together; not unifying them through a central government.

A Europe of Little States:  This map shows approximately the genuine component parts of Europe, historically subdividing the great powers, products not of nature but of force. Being all equal in size they are ideally fit to form a successful federation. Thus Europe’s problem – as that of any federation – is one of division, not of union.


E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, 1973.

Bullshit as Unintelligibility

Saying that some claim is bullshit is to negatively appraise the claim. But to appraise or evaluate a claim presupposes that you understood what was claimed. But what is the situation when you don’t understand the claim? There are two possibilities: (1)either there is something amiss with you or (2) there is something amiss with the alleged communication.

Now I don’t know most foreign languages, and when I encounter situations in which people are speaking an unknown foreign language, I know that the problem lies with me. What is said is unintelligible to me because I do not know this language. A similar problem arises when I hear people talking, using a technical language with its jargon, as, for example, physicists or mycologists. (If you do not know what I am talking about, this is because you don’t know what a mycologist is. I have just used some technical vocabulary.) In both these cases, the problem is similar. You don’t understand the language; therefore, whatever is talked about, is, as we say, “Greek to me.” (It’s a foreign language that I don’t understand.)

On the other hand, there are situations in which the problem does not lie with you, but with the communication itself. And this can happen in different ways. One way is to think that someone is speaking in a foreign language — but what you are hearing only sounds like a foreign language — but it is not. Sid Caesar was great at making sounds which seemed like a foreign language — but it was meaningless. Here is an example:

There is also the phenomenon which is called “double-talk.”  Even though it seems to be normal English, it contains nonsense words and nonsensical combination of words.  Here is an example:


A famous nonsense poem is Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”  It sounds English because it is grammatically constructed, but some of the words are pure inventions. Here it is:

Sometimes after an allegedly philosophical lecture, a person may say “It was deep.  I am afraid it was too profound for me to understand.”  My reply could be: “You did not understand because it was intrinsically nonsensical.”

Then there is also the phenomenon of rambling: stringing together unconnected ideas and words. Here is Sarah Pahlin endorsing Donald Trump: