Chris's Rants

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Kevin Drum:
This, I think, is a key characteristic of bullshit: not just that the bullshitter knows he's bullshitting, but that the bullshittee also knows it. He may know it for sure, or he may just suspect it deep in his heart, but part of the essence of bullshit is that both sides implictly recognize that the statement in question is, in fact, bullshit. In this way it acts like a compact between spewer and receiver, a shared secret that brings them closer together. Thus the piquancy of bullshit, as well as its popularity.
The post references an essay entitled "On Bullshit" by a Princeton philosophy professor which became a "classic". Reading this reminded me of a prank I pulled in the 9th grade on my American History teacher, Mr. Buttrick.

Mr. "Butt", as we referred to him behind his back, had developed his system over the years to the point that he was basically running on auto-pilot as a high school History teacher. He would assign his students a writing assignment every week; a 2-3 page essay on whatever happened to be the topic du jour (or more correctly; de la semaine). The assignment counted as a quiz grade.

The student lore that had developed over the years was that Mr. "Butt" didn't really read the papers, but instead assigned a grade commensuate with the student's average and class participation. This was based on anecdotal evidence that over the years, students had handed in half-hearted attempts yet still received a decent grade. Another aspect of his "system" was that he had one of his students grade the nightly homework assignments, rather than grade them himself.

Being the wise-ass that I was at age 15, I decided to put the hypothesis to the test; to prove that he never actually read the essays. I handed in a 2 1/2 page essay (I can't recall the topic now) in which the first and third page was just your basic bullshit high school essay. However, to prove the hypothesis that Mr. "Butt" never actually read the weekly essays, I filled the second page out with the word "bullshit" repeated to fill the page.

Needless to say, I got a B for my efforts and became a folk hero amongst my peers. (B for bullshit!:-)

I'd have to say that based on my own little experiment of the hypothesis; I agree with Kevin's conclusion; that the bullshitter knows he's bullshitting and doesn't care, and that the bullshittee either knows or suspects he's being bullshitted and doesn't care.