Six Kinds of Bullshit

I wrote that there are six areas which one can find things which are unacceptable, i.e., which are  “bullshit.”  Expressed in neutral terms, they are —  without being exhaustive — the following:

1. Appraise importance, relevancy, and genuineness.

2. Appraise the truth value: factual falsity or logical inconsistency.

3. Appraise the worth of an argument.

4. Appraise the worth of an excuse or justification.

5. Appraise the meaningfulness of a piece of prose.

6. Appraise actions, practices, and institutions.

Let me illustrate each of these.

1.  What is and what isn’t important is, of course, relative to our goals and interests.  And since our goals and interests vary, so will the importance and relevancy of the means to achieve these goals.  But let’s be realistic. To do anything, you have to be alive and healthy; so, staying alive and healthy has an importance and priority over other goals and interests.  Now, consider a person who has to be self-sufficient — as an extreme, consider a person stranded on an island.  He can stay alive and healthy by using the resources available to him on the island.  What is important and relevant in his case is survival techniques, the sort Boy Scouts learn and Bear Grylls exhibits.  The city-dweller, by contrast, can buy everything he needs and desires, if he has the money. So, it is important for him to get money — to make a living.  

2.  To make his way either on the island or in the city, a person has to have knowledge, and knowledge is of the what is true.  If he is living in fictions, he will not survive either on the island or in the city. Take note of what Bear Grylls knows, and also knows how to do.

3.  Many things are known indirectly, either by hearsay, by induction, and by deduction — by circumstantial evidence, as lawyers say.  You should be able to judge accurately the worth of each.  If you don’t, you may wind up with fictions — with falsehoods. Since almost everything we know about the changing world comes by way of the news and editorials, it is important to have a keen sense of bullshit detection.

4.  People you rely on may not pan out.  And when confronted, they will offer a justification or an excuse for why they failed.  Some excuses may be genuine; others, not.  Can you distinguish between a genuine person and a bullshitter?   

5. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to lectures or tried reading articles and books, without being able to understand.  At first, I put the onus on myself, thinking that I was not familiar enough with the topic, or did not have a clear command of the English language, or that the topic was, as they say, “too deep” for me.  As I grew older, and more read, I realized that now I could make a distinction between what was intrinsically incomprehensible (or relatively so), and where I lacked the background knowledge.  There are such things as nonsense or meaningless sentences, contradictions, and a whole slew of unclarities due to ambiguity, vagueness, sloppy sentence constructions, highfalutin language, pomposity, needless verbiage and double talk.

6.  As to human institutions, this is like a garbage heap.  There are superstitions, religions, pseudo-science, stereotypes, prejudices, but most importantly bad political institutions, which control the nature of economics, i.e., the way one survives.  Here there is a division between those who want to preserve the status quo — the Conservatives or the Right; and those who want to change things for the benefit of the common people — the Left.  The conservatives are those who are successful in their economic status, or who have religious tribal allegiance. The left are mostly teachers and writers, but also those who are not economically successful.  Conservative like capitalism; leftists do not.

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