On Bullshit

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory. I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.

Scholarly approach to the sociology and psychology of bullshit, it’s significance in American culture. Rather longish essay – and especially useful, I feel, in an election year.

Is the world ready for good news?

Yes it is, according to Bruno Giussani, European director for TED, the nonprofit organization that on Tuesday is beginning TEDGlobal 2010, its third conference in Oxford.

“Someone has written, in presenting the conference, that good news is a species that is becoming extinct. If you look at any newspaper … we are bombarded by bad news,” he said as attendees chatted at a welcome party at Keble College on Monday. “But if you dig, if you look under the surface and search, you will find a lot of new technology, new science, new art, new ways of thinking, politically, socially, philosophically that may give you, when you string them all together, a more optimistic view of the future…”

Giussani said part of the goal of the conference is to “inspire [people] to open up to new ideas and points of view, to act on those ideas and to engage.” He also described the conference as a “platform for new ideas. Some of those have legs, and some don’t. But those that have legs seem to have long legs and run very fast…”

TED began as a California-based conference in the 1980s named after its three initial subjects: technology, entertainment and design. It has expanded its subject matter and its geographical scope, holding conferences around the world and making videos of its speakers, so far more than 700, freely available at http://www.ted.com/. Volunteers translate talks into more than 70 languages. [CNN partners with TED to present a TEDTalk every week, with added content, on CNN.com]

Among the themes to be explored this year at the Oxford conference are how the brain works, how people make decisions and the brainlike functions of neurons in control centers in plants that enable them to process information and communicate with other plants.

Giussani said speakers will also spotlight the role of women in societies torn by conflict and disease, the potential of sustainable practices and organic farming to change agriculture and the restaurant business and the ways corporations and nongovernmental organizations can collaborate to protect workers in global supply chains.

So there really is some good news, he believes.

Newspapers filled with bad news reflects more than anything else the demented editorial belief that disaster and tragedy sells more product than happiness. It’s big in local TV and radio news. Significant in national TV and radio news. The whole genre of Talk Radio is founded upon the fear and impotence defining ethically-deficient right wingers and religious nutballs.

The style exists, it wavers, and, I think, continues to diminish before the inherently democratic feel of Web communications. Being able to participate on a large scale in opposition to the juggernaut corruption of Congress, the cowardice of our current White House – is barely measured by timorous pollsters.

But it grows. And that is good news. Conservatism has nothing like it to offer, after all.