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The Problem With Bullshit

June 26, 2011

    Is that Anno Domini or Before Common Era?

Among the absurdities of life in 2010 is this: despite an overabundance of information, scientific advancements and a wealth of knowledge accessible from anywhere, in nanoseconds, our world is just as ignorant as if it were 2010 BC.

Modern lives are ruled by myth, rumour, superstition and worship of false gods. In an extra twist of absurdity, this is especially true of teens and young adults, who have grown in an age of ersatz information. They don’t even have to leave their well-feathered beds to access a slew of wonderful, world-changing and once-esoteric information.

    What Century is This?

Yet, newspapers still run horoscopes. People buy weird jewelry, crystals and scented oils in the belief they will be protected from harm.

We get second-by-second accounts of celebrities’ shenanigans, but nothing about the latest archeological discovery, or where public money really goes. Even the most absurd rumour is given media credence, broadcast without context and converted to instant fact through repetition on social networking sites that are so easily commandeered by anti-social bullies.

    Just For Kicks?

From time to time, I’m asked what’s so wrong with astrology, aura-reading, amulets, dowsing cures, miracle water, magnetic-ionic-channeling vibrations and so on. What harm is there in brimstone prayer and psychic doctors?

How is anyone hurt by sending wishes to parents who live in the sky, or asking for protection from a piece of coloured glass? Can’t chakras and science just get along?

Here’s the problem with bullshit: It distracts us from reality and prevents us from making real improvements to our lives and our world.

    Pray For Rain While I Drill Over Here

Despite what the hucksters want us to believe, our brains really are only capable of so much, especially in the short-term.

On closer inspection, “multitasking” turns out to be so much nonsense, for example. You cannot tap out a text message and pay attention to traffic at the same time. You can’t fish and cut bait, and so on.

There’s only so much time to think and learn, to live and wonder. Only so much room in the front of our brains, where the day-to-day stuff gets done.

This fact, of our limited lobes and limited attention, means that if you cram your brain with bullshit, you’re losing out on the stuff that is real, that is useful, the stuff that could in fact save you — in real time, in this life and on this planet.

    A Loving God Told Me to Kill You

My gambit is that all bullshit is equal.

It always involves creating a problem, then telling you there is a solution to this instant problem, a solution that will cost you.

Generally, the price is money — an initial fee followed by lots and lots more money. Protection money, maintenance fees, call it what you will.

Sometimes other tasks must be accomplished, such as obedience, spreading the word/signing up others, sacrifices, self-mutilation and the like. But mostly it is money that leads to a cure for the problem you didn’t know you had.

    God Needs Money

Just like the new-fangled pyramid schemes that want to be called “multilevel marketing,” televangelists are selling some thing while being coy about what that thing really is. They pitch books, tapes, conferences and salvation with equal fervour.

Like so many charlatans over the millennia, televangelists claim to need money for their “missions,” uniformly vague good works in faraway, heathen-filled lands, apparently chock-a-block with souls at risk.

How is this different from life 500 or even 3,500 years ago, when rogues and hucksters passed themselves off as healers and heralds when they visited townsfolk?

    The Tao of Bullshit

Bullshit knows no borders. It is shameless. It is timeless. It moves at the speed of light. It is eternal, or seems so.

Bullshit distracts. It acts as a shill for the forces behind it, saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Look over here!”

If you ponder the private life of your favourite film star, you are taking time and energy away from your real relationships.

If you devote hours to praying for better health, those are hours not spent getting out for bike rides or walks to a local produce market, which would benefit your health.

If you pay $50 a bottle for water with a “homeopathic” label on it, you will not stop to wonder who’s making money from your sense of inadequacy.

If you base decisions on long-outdated “star charts” that claim distant stars control your life, you will not read up on astronomy, which is more intriguing than any nonsense astrology has to offer.

If you believe that an angry father who lives in the sky created all the perfectly designed creatures on Earth, you will never wonder how come our eyeballs have so many defects, and maybe think of ways to make them work better.

If bullshit clogs your mind, you won’t use your brain to make connections and discoveries.

If you decide that “God makes the tides” and “I’m a Taurus, so I am not good at math,” you won’t bother with any science experiments that may contradict your belief system.

    In the Name of Reason

Here’s my credo: With reason as my shepherd, I shall not fear the fear-mongers.

It’s not the truth that sets us free. It’s the absence of baseless fear.

If you know that there is no reward of eternal life coming your way, you will do the right thing for its own sake, and feel better about yourself for having moral values that go unseen by omniscient beings.

    Step Away From the Bullshit

This past week, as the annual god and goddess worship celebration hit my city in the form of the Toronto International Film Festival, I reached my bullshit saturation point early.

On the subway, where my fellow female passengers were largely engaged in reading celebrity gossip and fashion magazines, I passed from a state of despair to one of wonder. (Note that wonder was made possible by the fact that I was not preoccupied by bullshit)

What if… what if everyone all at once woke up, to see things for what they really are?

What if… everyone put down their women’s magazines and religious texts, removed their crosses, hijabs and ionic bracelets, lay down the Blackberries and game systems and spoke to one another about art, science, literature, economics — without fear of angering any higher being.

What if… all of humanity collectively pulled back the curtain to see the man at the controls for the ordinary, manipulative human that he is?

What would happen then?


Related post: The Devil You Say!

External link: A Field Guide to Bullshit

One Comment leave one →
  1. Peter White permalink
    September 14, 2010 10:38 am

    There is another, more harmful aspect to believing BS. Faith healers and those who believe in prayer over medicine cause the needless and death and suffering of many people. In the past 25 years in North America more than 300 children have died of easily treatable diseases. Their parents believed that prayer would cure them and watched as they died, in some cases in terrible agony.
    A recent case from Washington State had a teenage boy die of appendicitis while his parents watched. Washington has a law that permits parents who use an accredited Christian Science practitioner to be immune from prosecution. Some other states have similar laws.

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