Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Cut the Crap

Bullshit. We should all know it when we hear it, and if you don't, then there is nothing I can recommend more than tuning up your bullshit detector. (See my earlier post on rhetorical analysis for some ideas on how to do this.)

Lately, I feel as though the world is awash in bullshit. It is all I hear on the news, on the radio, from most people I know casually. People have forgotten, or have never learned, how to speak directly.

I've been reading Walden, and Thoreau, though wordy, is not bullshitting. He is unafraid to say what he wants ("to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life") or what he observes ("the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation"). I read a work like this, and it only further highlights the difference between what is direct and true, and what passes for the same these days.

Mostly, this tsunami of bullshit has been perpetrated through language, through the corruption of words and their meanings. As a writer, this disturbs me to no end. As of late, I feel as though my tools are damaged, dirty and, often, dangerous. (Consider the word "dangerous." Everything is "dangerous" now. That medium-rare burger. The dog down the street. Freaking carbon dioxide.)

As of late, I have wanted to say less, and to say it directly. And yet, that is not the straightforward task it would seem to be. Because corrupted words do not uncorrupt depending on who is making use of them. The magic of words is that they contain layer upon layer of meaning, yet take such a compact form. But of course, these layers are applied over time by many, and cannot be removed easily, if ever. ("Villain," once a word for a simple farmer.)

So, it is harder than ever to communicate, especially as we retreat into our own righteous sects, certain we know what it means to be (insert label here). We spit out words without thinking, redefining them to suit our purposes, accepting redefinitions from others intent on their own shaping of public opinion.

And all this time, hardly anyone is thinking, analyzing. Instead, we're just readying the next load of bullshit.

Maybe you know a person who doesn't speak very often, because he is mostly listening. And people often ignore him, because of course he's not clamoring for the spotlight, hoping to have his ego stroked, to have his mean little jokes laughed at. And then, after a long silence, he speaks, and everyone is astounded. Not just that he has spoken, but that what he has said is very incisive, is amazingly considered.

My blog is about finding bliss, that's true. But honesty is essential to bliss, and even if others insist on lying to you, you don't have to 1) lie to yourself, 2) accept the lies of others.

It will take concentration, and some degree of fearlessness, but I exhort you to be more like that person I described above, and to do what you can to reduce the amount of bullshit you either generate or are exposed to in life. Whether it's from the nightly news or from a friend hardly matters. What matters is that there you are, striving for honesty.

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