Hemingway recommended that everyone needed a functional crap detector built-in, automatic, and shockproof. Hemmingway was right!
Brené Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, has an interesting chapter entitled “Speaking Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.” She has helped me understand much of what is happening in today’s political scene in the United States. Here are some of my take-aways from reading Brown:
- There is a functional difference between lying and BS. Liars defies the truth; BSers dismiss (discount) it.
- We often lie to cover up something we have done that we know is wrong. When we BS, we are often covering up our lack of knowledge and/or experience.
- BS is ultimately based on giving up objective inquiry. If situations are too complicated for me to understand, I can easily shift my focus to what I believe (or want to believe) and declare it to be true. “That’s good enough for me!”
- BS assumes that you are wrong (no matter how many “facts” you have amassed) and I am right (because my beliefs make more sense to me than your “facts”).
- “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate measures are often fertilized with bullshit.” (page 106)
- It is extremely difficult to set and maintain civil boundaries and personal integrity when “knee-deep in BS” because BS is based on the abandonment of reality.
It does not take a very sophisticated crap-detector to spot BS in the current political climate. We know we are in trouble when politicians and religious leaders are willing to support a candidate running for the U.S. Senate because he would vote right, even though he is accused of molesting teen-age girls on multiple occasions. As Neil Postman suggests, “all ideologies are saturated with bullshit.” Ideology is destroying our political, religious, and social institutions.
Bullshit can’t be defeated by more bullshit. That only piles it higher and deeper. So, where does one draw the line? When do you confront BS; when do you ignore it. Brown suggest the line is “etched from dignity”—your dignity and the dignity of others.
Postman suggests that honing our crap-detection systems is part of the answer:
So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings.
For me, becoming that certain type of person means not giving up our integrity in order to belong. It means learning from those who have developed a spiritually-integrated wholeness in their lives—Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Dalai Lama, Pope Francis. Learning from these spiritual masters, however, may mean using your crap-detector on the systems that have grown up around them.
Unfortunately, too many of our political, religious, and social leaders believe their ideological systems, rather than the persons, actions, and values that were replaced by the ideologies.
On the political scene, I think we have a two-fold problem. On the one hand, our President is the BSer-in-chief. He is in over his head. His chief skill is his BS-ability. On the other hand, we have Senators and Congressional Representatives who daily use BS as a subterfuge to cover up their ideological lies. The line between Republicans and Democrats is not etched from dignity.
Too much contemporary political, religious, and social commentary is an attempt to speak BS to bullshit. My previous post was about the Boston Declaration. It is one of the few things I have seen that truly speaks truth to bullshit. It draws the line at a dignity for human life etched, not in political expediency, but in the dignity of life itself—life drawn from the well-being of all, in society.