Monday, January 01, 2007

Defining Bullshit: Piercing The Mundane With Unusual Words

from Slate: "We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production," observes Laura Penny, author of "Your Call Is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit." But what is bullshit, exactly? By which I mean: What are its defining characteristics? What is its Platonic essence? How does bullshit differ from such precursors as humbug, poppycock, tommyrot, hooey, twaddle, balderdash, claptrap, palaver, hogwash, buncombe (or "bunk"), hokum, drivel, flapdoodle, bullpucky, and all the other pejoratives* favored by H.L. Mencken and his many imitators? The scholar who answers the question, "What is bullshit?" bids boldly to define the spirit of the present age.
Enter Harry G. Frankfurt. In the fall 1986 issue of Raritan, Frankfurt, a retired professor of philosophy at Princeton, took a whack at it in an essay titled "On Bullshit." Frankfurt reprinted the essay two years later in his book The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Last month he republished it a second time as a very small book. Frankfurt's conclusion, which I caught up with in its latest repackaging, is that bullshit is defined not so much by the end product as by the process by which it is created.......
Bullshit, Frankfurt notes, is an inevitable byproduct of public life, "where people are frequently impelled—whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant." But politics is not a creation of the modern era; it's been around for centuries.
Why should bullshit be so prevalent now? The obvious answer is the communications revolution. Cable television and the Internet have created an unending demand for information, and there simply isn't enough truth to go around. So, we get bullshit instead. Indeed, there are some troubling signs that the consumer has come to prefer bullshit. In choosing guests to appear on cable news, bookers will almost always choose a glib ignoramus over an expert who can't talk in clipped sentences. In his underappreciated book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline, Richard Posner found a negative correlation between media mentions and scholarly citations for the 100 public intellectuals most mentioned in the media—and these 100 accounted for 67.5 percent of all media mentions!

Personally, I subscribe to a definition of bullshit that is more in line with a previous post I made about jargon. To summarize, people need to feel better than others and when all else fails you create a fake language that you are master of and others aren't and walla! you feel better. It helps when you control the means of language dissemination.
Now, let's take education. I don't think it's rocket science. Really, the best teachers are forceful personalities. They know how to sell a product by making it entertaining. Some can quiet crowds of unruly teens with fear, but you need a personality to do that. A lot of administrators were once great teachers, but a lot of them weren't. Those that weren't were smart enough to know that they better get out of the classroom as quickly as possible before their failings are exposed. Once they do that they hide behind big bullshit barriers. Also, they usually don't leave their offices. Groups of them then get together and crank out some finely honed bullshit. Their organizations help support convention centers, hotels and airlines as they travel all over the world, on the public's dime, attending conferences to hear the masters of bullshit. Once there the secret language is fine tuned and everyone learns the requisite secret handshakes. Plans are then made for post retirement golden parachute jobs.
The folks above are some of the masters. Sense and Fullan may actually be OK guys, but they are used because of the era's heavy requirements for bullshit. The guy on the extreme left is supposedly Klein's chief bullshit manufacturer. He's British, the accent sells the bullshit even better. The logo on the extreme right is from Broad Center Management which has The Broad Superintendent's Academy. They're a heavy duty (doody) organizational education bullshit supplier. In my brief time serving in educational management bullshit circles I was forced to hear and suffer Wellman (4th from left) for 2 days (I think he and his partner got $5000 a day, plus room and board-and that was several years ago). Thankfully, collective pleas for "release" were heard and a third day was cancelled. The crazy thing about the experience is that my superintendent wasn't entirely to blame for the experience. Providing PD for CSD staff was something the hire-ups wanted. Wellman's bullshit must have been on the bullshit approved list (read NCSD) Here's something I found online that Wellman did in Colorado recently
"Bruce Wellman, a co-director of MiraVia LLC, facilitated an insightful two-day workshop on June 20 & 21 in Vail, Colorado. An array of Colorado educators including: four PTD partnership institutions:
Each participant was captivated by Bruce in this highly interactive and engrossing workshop focused on developing and enhancing facilitation, presentation, and communication skills. Learning-focused conversations with supervisors, administrators, teachers and higher Ed educators worked in groups, a true Colorado collaborative experience.
Many came away with new enthusiasm and a renewed belief in the potential of schools to achieve the goals stating: “Bruce is so masterful at his craft, the connections between content model and application are seamless, what an incredible experience!!”
Here's a pdf of some his high level bullshit, unbelievable!
More to come on bullshit

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