The immortal words of W. C. Fields, who also said, “Whilst travelling through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. Had to live on food and water for several days.”
But when you look around the weight of bullshit has increased almost exponentially over recent years. What’s the purpose?
Some of it is professional. The last thing the members of a profession need is for those outside the profession to suddenly understand the system. After all, if we were all fluent in law or tax accountancy (to take two examples) then we’d not need to hire lawyers or accountants. But gaining professional fluency takes time, I’ve noted that lawyers tend to hire accountants, and in need, accountants hire lawyers. Life it probably too short to master too many jargons or argots.
On the other hand a good professional jargon can be a disguise, a distraction, to conceal from the people who fund the profession that the professionals haven’t got a clue and are desperately hoping we don’t notice. It’s a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes, where the Emperor suspects we might have noticed and tries to keep his hands moving rapidly enough to avoid embarrassment.
On top of having a good incomprehensible professional jargon, you also need to move the goalposts occasionally. The last thing you want is to keep things measurable; otherwise some clown will measure things and show you’ve failed.
Hence governments constantly tinker with how they measure things like cost of living, which ensures that the new figures are not comparable with the old figures but strangely enough always show whatever it is government wishes to show.
Another example is teaching where at one point, when I was in the system, we had first years, second years etc.
Now we have year 1, year 2 etc, and on top of that, in case somebody worked out an easy way to compare one to the other, we now have ‘key stages’ where you have things like key stage 1 and key stage 2.
If you’re part of the system then of course you know what they mean and it’s so obvious. But if you’re just somebody listening to a radio report over breakfast but the time you’ve converted things in your head to work out what exactly they’re talking about, the conversation is over and you never did find out what was going wrong.
Thanks to the internet this sort of thing has proliferated even more. The level of what W. C. Fields might have described as bullshit has hit whole new levels. But now it isn’t merely camouflaging failure, it’s actively trying to deceive.
So a photo of Turkish football fans arriving at an unidentifiable European airport is described as an army of refugees and asks where their women and children are.
As a lad I was told, ‘Believe nowt you read and only half of what you see.’ It struck me as good advice then, and I’d recommend it to you.
On the other hand if you fancy a read I’ll recommend two books. If you can find it
Darrell Huff, ‘How to Lie with Statistics.’
A classic work, slim, easy to read, and great fun.
Also if I may, another classic work which is also slim, easy to read and great fun