Thursday, January 31, 2008

An Ever-Expanding Moebius Strip of Metabullshit

We recently came across a transcript of a talk that is credited to the late Neil Postman. It's called "Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection," and was supposedly delivered nearly 40 years ago at a conference for English teachers.
Just on the face of it, it seems like the sort of thing that you'd expect to find on blogs by people who enjoy thinking of themselves as learned... A respected scholar slips into the vernacular, and we can all have a smug laugh about it amongst our scholarly selves. Tee-hee.
And indeed, such is the case. This essay pops up all over the Interwebs on any number of blogs -- posing as "scholarly" -- that gleefully repost "Neil Postman's classic essay." We first came across it on a blog called "CriticaliThinkingiSnippets."
This, by the way, strikes us as more than a bit ironic. Because if there were some actual critical thinking going on, someone might have determined that "Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection," is probably... well... bullshit.
Now, when you have bullshit that's about bullshit, that's what we at Radio Zero call "Metabullshit." And when you have bullshit about bullshit proliferating on the web the way this piece seems to have, that is what we call: "An Ever-Expanding Moebius Strip of Metabullshit."
We're not hardcore Postman scholars by any stretch. But we have read enough of his work to know that, even though he has a great sense of humor, it's NBL (not bloody likely) that Postman authored a paper about bullshit.
The closest thing we've found so far is Postman's The Educationist As Painkiller, where the word "bullshit" makes a cameo in a fleeting moment of levity before the author announces he'll settle on the less offensive "balderdash" to illustrate his points.
Otherwise, a quick search through a number of online sources that review Postman's literature more thoroughly (sources which do not include Wikipedia, by the way) don't list the "Bullshit" paper at all.
On the other hand, there seems to be no definite statement that "Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection" is a hoax, either. Until such time, we'll just go out on a limb and claim that "Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection" was probably written by a pinhead grad student researching yet another study on how cultural memes proliferate via internet, or the nature of truth in the information age, or blah blah frickin' blah.
We'd love to be proven wrong.

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