Category: Education

Piano teacher tries hard not to be a dick

NEW YORK—After doing some soul searching, a piano teacher resolves to be less of a dick. “There’s a fine line between being firm and being a total dick,” says Richard Foster, 32. “I’m trying harder not to be a dick now, but god is it hard to suppress my dickishness when my students sound like crap.”

Foster, an alum of the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University, fails to understand why every student he has taught in the past 20 years has been untalented, thankless, indolent pieces of mediocrity who can at best create elevator music. “I remember this student once,” he said. “What was his face? Kenny G was his name. God, why on earth did he choose music? He can’t play to save his life. And then he started playing sax and sucks even more at that.”

The weary pedagogue sighed while rolling his eyes, then he confessed: “I don’t want to be a dick anymore. I’ll try to be nice to these little assholes. But, fuck, how hard is it to improvise on the octatonic scale, transcribe some Chick Corea, play a bit of Liszt, and then jam to Ligeti’s opera before playing for the local philharmonic?

“I’ll try to be nice. I’ll wait another five minutes for them to figure out their goddamn do-re-mi’s before I say something sarcastic. They’re just like Beethoven, I guess: Deaf.”

A student who wishes to remain anonymous stated, “Mr. Foster is not just a dick. He is a gaping asshole. He makes me feel like a pile of shit that’s been funneled out of his tight sphincter every week. And then he accuses me of not practicing and then flushes me out without cleaning up the mess that he made.”

Then the student added, “Well, to be fair, I never, um, practice.”

Professor masters art of filling bookshelf with books he will never read

EVANSTON, IL—A preeminent philosopher at an elite university has perfected the art of haphazardly filling his bookshelf with books he will never read.

Jacques Johnson, 63, said, “I have everything here. Like, everything. I’ve got Kant, Locke, Leibniz, Plato, Aristotle, the Presocratics, Russell, Kripke, Anscombe, Searle, Ryle, Ayer, Grice, Frege, and dozens of people who are still alive like Michael Huemer and whoever as well as Derrida. My pretheoretical intuition is that I will never read Derrida, since I know Derrida is full of shit even though I’ve never read his works and don’t ever want to. Well, I don’t think I’ll read any of the other stuff either.”

While his colleagues specialize in topics ranging from noncognitivism to meta-meta-logic, Johnson spends much of his time studying the philosophy of action and normative ethics, with a special focus on procrastination and bullshit. He explained: “To be honest, I haven’t really got around to reading Plato’s Republic, though I know it’s been assigned to me around a dozen times since college. My true passion, however, lies in arranging and rearranging my bookshelf in such a way that gives people, even scholars, the illusion that I know everything under the sun.”

Students reportedly asked Johnson if other philosophers ever accuse him of bullshitting. “I never bullshit. I bluff and lie and mislead and hoodwink and steal and rip off. But I don’t bullshit. Never. That’s an infamia,” he said, wagging an index finger.

Johnson pointed out that filling one’s bookshelf with books one does not intend to read is a habit shared by students and professors alike, with the most preeminent shelf-filler being Socrates. “I don’t think there’ s a greater philosopher than old Mr. Soccer Tease,” said Johnson. “He was the inimitable shelf-filler. It was both an art and a science to him, the way he amassed his books and displayed them like a modern art masterpiece. He was really ahead of his time.”

Johnson continues to fill his shelf with books he will never read. Sources confirmed that his latest writings will be published in top philosophical journals such as Mind and Noûs.

 

 

A sophomoric introduction to bullshit

In college, my adviser introduced me to elementary logic and opened my eyes to the beauty of academic philosophy, at once dispelling popular misconceptions of philosophy as mere intellectual masturbation and adumbrating the hows and whys of the bullshitty things that give philosophy a bad name. It’s been many years since I wrote my last paper on bullshit, and my life has taken numerous strange and shocking turns in the past year alone. Nevertheless, metaphysical and moral questions concerning bullshit still occasionally vex me, and if you are at all concerned about the current state of the world, then they should vex you too.

Here is the first paper I wrote on the topic way back when I first began to give a shit. This is also my first non-satirical blog post. I encourage all of you to earnestly discuss the phenomenon of bullshit and to write thoughtful blog posts about it.

A Handful of Bullshit and an Explanation of its Varieties

Perspectives on Bullshit

In common parlance, the term “bullshit” is frequently uttered, but usage of the term varies widely across situations. Sometimes, the term “bullshit” carries a connotation of insincerity (e.g., “There is so much bullshit in D.C.” or “Don’t bullshit me!”). Sometimes, the term is a pejorative dismissal of nonsense or deficiency in empirical evidence (e.g., “That’s pseudoscientific bullshit.”). Mild doses of bullshit can evoke chuckles. Large amounts of well-crafted, goal-directed bullshit, however, can be dangerous.

In this essay, I will first introduce Harry Frankfurt’s concept of bullshit. I will then contrast Frankfurt’s concept of bullshit with that of G.A. Cohen. I will explain “goal-oriented” bullshit and provide one case of how such seemingly innocuous bullshit, when abused, can be so powerfully destructive.

Frankfurt’s Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt provides an incisive analysis on bullshit in his essay, “On Bullshit”. The “essence of bullshit,” he asserts, is “a lack of connection to a concern with truth” (125)Consider Case 1:

(1) A college student must write a ten-page research paper on Latin American history, but he has only written nine pages’ worth of solid information. To meet the required page number, he changes the text font from Times New Roman to Arial, inserts a long quote by Fidel Castro, peppers his prose with space-consuming adjectives, and lengthens his title so that it covers two, instead of one, lines. He thereby satisfies the page requirement and turns in his work.

The college student in Case 1 exemplifies Frankfurt’s bullshit. Although the student has written a ten-page paper on Latin American history, he does not care about the truth or falsity of his essay’s content—he merely wants to impress his professor. To accomplish that goal, he inflates his paper. What is important here is not whether the content of the paper is flawed or unflawed, but that the student does not care about his work. The student’s attempt to hide his apathy does not necessarily render his work false ; his work is simply insincere. Frankfurt elucidates this distinction:

[…] the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony […] What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made.  This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. (128)

This distinction between falsity and phoniness allows us to understand another feature of Frankfurt’s bullshit: deceptiveness. One who detects Frankfurt’s phony bullshit may feel deceived, as if one has been lied to, but crucial to this issue is that Frankfurt’s bullshit is not the same as lying. Regarding this relationship between bullshit and lying, Frankfurt reasons that, while the liar attempts to deceive others about the reality (i.e., by reversing the truth value of a proposition), the bullshitter attempts to hide the fact that he does not care about the reality. The liar pays attention to the truth and defies it. The bullshitter does not care about the truth at all. By virtue of such apathy, what he utters is invariably bullshit (132).

Cohen’s Bullshit

In his essay, “Deeper into Bullshit,” G.A. Cohen explains the term “bullshit” as roughly synonymous with the term “nonsense” (332). Cohen proposes three distinguishing features of nonsensical bullshit: unclarifiable unclarity (i.e., hopelessly vague stuff), rubbish (i.e., “arguments that are grossly deficient in logic or sensitivity to empirical evidence”), and irretrievably speculative statements (Cohen quotes David Miller: “Of course, everyone spends much more time thinking about sex now than people did a hundred years ago”) (333).  Unlike Frankfurt, Cohen is less interested in the speaker’s mental state, but more in the product. By Cohen’s account, it is possible for a bullshitter to utter non-bullshit, and for a non-bullshitter to unwittingly utter bullshit (331). The latter is exemplified by Case 2:

(2) A man places his laptop on top of his lap. A child walks by. She stops. Horrified, she exclaims, “If you put that computer on your lap, the radiations will destroy your genitalia!”

 In this case, the young child utters empirically unverified bullshit about genitalia-destroying radiations. She speaks the proposition not because she is a bullshitter unconcerned about the truth, but simply because she does not know any better. By contrast, a deliberate bullshitter utters bullshit in this scenario:

(3) A cantankerous driver is stuck in traffic. Angry, the driver utters the proposition, “This traffic stinks,” followed by the conclusion, “All women are stupid.” The driver’s wife, an astute logician who happens to be in the car, asks her husband to justify his sexist proposition. The driver makes numerous specious and untenable arguments, all of which are defeated by his wife. They argue for two hours. The driver refuses to give in.

Case 3, by contrast, exemplifies a combination of Frankfurt’s and Cohen’s bullshit. The cantankerous driver has thoughtlessly uttered the proposition, “All women are stupid.” He acts like he believes in that proposition, but his wife suspects that he is bullshitting. The driver defends his arguments, which his wife obliterates. Without a tenable argument, the driver is left defending nonsense. Nevertheless, he continues to blabber. Indifferent to the authority of logic and truth, the driver is a Frankfurt-bullshitter. The product—his untenable nonsense—is Cohen’s bullshit.

Goal-oriented Bullshitters

(4) An attorney is defending his client, who is accused of murder. The attorney knows who the murderer is, so he knows that his client is not guilty. The attorney therefore wants to do everything in his power to help his client, but, at the same time, does not want to reveal the identity of the murderer. He thinks about bribing the jury, but that seems too risky. Instead, he gets several witnesses to testify in his client’s favor. He presents a great closing argument, which persuades the jury to acquit the defendant.

This case is slightly more complicated. The attorney seems to care about the truth, namely, that somebody else is the murderer, and his client is innocent. The case is not unclarifiable, illogical, empirically unverified, or irretrievably speculative nonsense—at least not from the judge’s perspective. The attorney therefore does not seem to be Frankfurt-bullshitting, nor does he seem to be producing Cohen’s bullshit. Nevertheless, I call him a bullshitter. Why?

We can decipher this scenario by heeding Cohen’s analysis on Frankfurt’s essay. Cohen notes that Frankfurt does not clearly distinguish between the bullshitter’s tactics from the bullshitter’s goal. Cohen points to Frankfurt’s example of the Fourth of July orator who “goes on bombastically about ‘our great and blessed country, whose Founding Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind’” (121). The problem that Cohen sees is that, while the bullshitting orator is indifferent to the truth about the Founding Fathers, the orator is not necessarily unconcerned about what the audience thinks about the Founding Fathers. In fact, his goal might very well be to persuade his audience about the greatness of the Founding Fathers (Cohen 330). Cohen notes:

If the orator had been Joseph McCarthy, he would have wanted the audience to think that the “new beginning” that the Founding Fathers “created” should persuade the audience to oppose the tyranny supposedly threatened by American communism. The fact that it is not “fundamental” that “the speaker regards his statement as false” in no way implies that “he is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history.” [emphasis added] (330)

This sheds light on our crafty attorney. The attorney is not guilty of Cohen’s bullshit because his argument is well-articulated and supported by evidence. He is, however, guilty of Frankfurtian bullshitting, because, as much as he cares about his client’s acquittal, the truthfulness of his tactic is irrelevant to him. As long as he can avoid getting caught, the attorney is just as inclined to bribe the jurors as he is to bullshit them with witnesses and rhetoric.

Conclusion

The goal of this paper is not to inveigh against bullshit, but to allow the reader to understand some of the types and subtypes of bullshit. Although the college student, the Fourth of July orator, the attorney, and Joseph McCarthy are all truth-indifferent Frankfurt-bullshitters, McCarthy and the lawyer bullshit in a less desultory, more goal-oriented manner. The lawyer bullshits to get his innocent client acquitted, and McCarthy bullshits to accomplish a hidden political agenda. The versatility and insidiousness of Frankfurt’s bullshit is quite clear.

Cohen’s bullshit—nonsense—can be uttered by both naive speakers and deliberate bullshitters. The naive speaker (in our case, the little girl) utters bullshit much like a chess novice forgetting the rules of chess.  The deliberate bullshitter—the rationalizing driver—simply cheats.

I hope this paper can serve as an informative guide to recognizing insincere or nonsensical talk. But to borrow Cohen’s words, what I have presented are only a few “flower[s] in the lush garden of bullshit” (323).

Word Count: 1,500

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Cohen, Gerald Allan. “Deeper into Bullshit.” Computational Philosophy of Science (1993): 321-44. MIT CogNet. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web.

Frankfurt, Harry G. “On Bullshit.” The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 117-33. Print.

 

 

Woman gives tips on how to subtly show off book in public

NEW YORK—Eager to take the world by storm, a young graduate of a prestigious liberal arts college carries a difficult book in public every day, painstakingly ensuring that the book cover is somewhat visible to passersby at all times.

21-year-old Carrie Campbell stated, “As a general rule, you want to place the book cover at a 32-degree angle from your face and two inches below your eyes. This way, the hoi polloi can see what you’re reading and I can scan my surroundings to see if they’re glancing at what I’m reading.

“You want to be subtle. You don’t want to place the book parallel to your face because it’ll look like you’re trying too hard. Retro glasses are generally okay, but you want to be careful with them because they’ve been misappropriated by hipsters and you don’t want to be mistaken for a pseudointellectual.

“Also, it’s hard to make standing people see what you’re reading, especially if you’re sitting down or if they’re walking around. In this case, you want to stand up and casually place the book between the index finger and thumb of the hand that’s facing your spectator. Don’t block the title of the book. Especially if the book is in a foreign language.

“If all else fails, wear your college t-shirt and be sure that, if anyone else in public wears clothing from some school that’s higher ranked than yours, carry three other books to show them you’re definitely more academic.

“Don’t ever read The Fault in Our Stars or Divergent or any of those YA novels. You have to show them you’re mature, or no one will take you seriously.”

Student’s butt destroys university card, causes all of life’s woes

SEATTLE—After having one too many tacos at the library, a slightly overweight student sat on her university ID, unintentionally snapping it in half with the weight of her buttocks.

Noting that her university ID also serves as her dormitory card, credit card, restaurant discount card, and source of self-esteem, Shelby Li, 21, broke down and promptly fell into clinical depression. “How am I supposed to get University Teriyaki now?” she shrieked. “How am I ever gonna get a boyfriend if I can’t go back to my dorm to sleep or shower?!”

Since her breakdown, Ms. Li has not had food, water, sleep, sex, or anything that gives her pitiful life a modicum of evolutionary or philosophical meaning. And she still has a one-page writing assignment to look forward to.

Although her friends worry about her mental health, Ms. Li is too deeply depressed to have the energy to contemplate suicide.

Hardworking student proud she got into Harvard shirt

BEIJING—After weeks of hard work, an ambitious student finally got into the school of her dream’s t-shirt. “They didn’t have size M,” said Rachel Fang, 17. “But now I lose weight and wear S. Harvard good fit for me.” Sources confirmed on Sunday that Ms. Fang lost 10 pounds in 22 days after she went on an organic vegan diet and joined the gym. Her daily exercise routine includes twenty minutes on the treadmill, twenty sit-ups, and lots of stretching. “I spent so much time and energy working so hard,” said Ms. Fang. “Now I finally get what I deserve, and then look at all my friends with their Stanford t-shirts and laugh at them, tee-hee.”  Proud of her achievement, Ms. Fang tries to wear her shirt every day, making sure to post them on Instagram. She thanks her mother, who posted on Facebook, “My daughter got into Harvard shirt!” And she thanks God, who gave her courage and resilience.

Sick student dismembers another barbie

LOS ANGELES—An unidentified student at Canfield Avenue Elementary School has killed yet another barbie doll.

School teachers were alerted to yet another brutal murder of one of those anatomically impossible dolls on Friday. The murder appears to be part of the same, ongoing killing spree in which three other barbie dolls have been stripped naked, dismembered, and displayed in obscene, grotesque positions on the playground.

“You should’ve seen the look on her face,” the killer said, laughing and breathing heavily on the phone. “That look on her face, when I snapped her to pieces with my bare hands. Oh, God, yes. I am God.”

The killer appears to target heterosexual, Caucasian blonde dolls that conform to conventional Western standards of feminine beauty. African American dolls were left untouched. There were no Asian, Hispanic, Native American or fat or transgender or Muslim dolls to kill.

“As gruesome as these crimes are, we are thankful that non-whites are not the target here for once,” said second grader Marcus Washington. “They wanna kill a nigga Muslim or a Native American? Well, shit, they killed all of us hundreds of years ago, so what the fuck they gonna do about that?”