Friday, August 29, 2008

Become an instant expert - the art of bullshit

It is spread throughout our society, in fact most, if not all, societies. Many of us believe that a lot of other people are full of it. Whenever we see a politician on the campaign trail, listen to our boss, or even listen to a story in the pub, we smell the air to see if there are any telltale signs of it. It is bullshit, and it is everywhere.

It is common to hear the phrases ‘That’s bullshit!’ or, ‘You’re full of shit’. You may hear these phrases when you are at the pub, in your workplace, or even at home. They are a common way of expressing disbelief about what someone has just said. However, what they also show is that very few people are skilled in the art of bullshit. If you are in the company of someone who is a skilled bullshitter, you will not hear these phrases. They will have convinced all around them that they are explaining incontrovertible facts. It is an incontrovertible fact that the majority of people, probably around 99%, are very poor bullshitters. Hence, the common use of the abovementioned phrases.

Whether bullshit is verbal or written, it can be put to numerous uses. Politicians use it to convince people to elect them, applicants use it in their resumes and at job interviews, lobbyists use it when paid to support a particular position, individuals use it to gain success in their workplace, governments use it when they are writing policy positions or long-term strategies, and advertisers use it to sell products. Good bullshit can prevent you from having to answer difficult questions and provide an escape route from perilous situations. It can also provide you with the ammunition to sell ideas and raise your profile. People who are good bullshitters gain a great deal of respect in society. This respect is well deserved, as these skills are in great demand in any number of industries. They often rise to very powerful positions, as they are considered very knowledgeable. This is the ultimate success for the bullshitter – respect built on the quality of the bullshit that they have made a career out of spouting.

However, the art of good bullshitting is a difficult skill to master and requires a lot of work. There is a fine line between lying and bullshitting. Those that do not appreciate this will find themselves the subject of ridicule and distrust, and in all likelihood have their careers curtailed. Like any other art, bullshitting has a number of areas that you must address if you are to be successful. The three main areas are:

· Plausibility
· Simplicity
· Delivery

If you can master these, then you are going to have a very good chance of bullshitting your way to success.


The first thing to appreciate is that good bullshit must be based a round ‘facts’. You need to have a solid base on which to build your story and be knowledgeable enough to be able to answer the questions that might come your way. Shaky foundations leave you open to having your story torn apart with relative ease by those who have only a reasonable grasp of the area that you are talking about. There are a number of good sources from which you may be able to get your ‘facts’. These include:

Science - Good examples of the use of bullshit can be found in science. Facts and figures can be used to suggest something other than what the more common view proposes. To do this you can take some figures in isolation from overall trends and draw a superficial and tenuous conclusion. Some well-known bullshitters have carved out successful careers using this method, and these people deserve a great deal of respect. They are often listened to by large numbers of people who are convinced about the truth of what they are saying.

Press releases - Press releases are full of statements that can be latched on to. One of the many politicians, government departments, captains of industry, environmental or other interest groups, or foreign powers, is always likely to say something that can be used to support your story. On a rare occasion, there will be a statement on which you can build an entirely new story. Such opportunities should not be missed!

The media - The media is full of supposition and opinion. This is just what you need to assist you in your bullshit. The reach of the media is huge, so you can be sure that an opinion expressed in the media will have spread throughout the public in a very short period of time. Opinions can often be read in more than one way, depending on what information you put around them. One opinion can potentially be used to support a number of different points of view. This is pure gold and can get you a great deal of traction with your audience.

Government policy - Government policy is often vague. This vagueness may be infuriating to many people and result in differing interpretations. However, such vagueness is a very useful building block for a good story. It gives the bullshitter flexibility to entwine their story into an official position. This also adds a great deal of credibility to your bullshit.

Procedures - Government or corporate procedures are facts of another sort. They are facts because they exist, but they are more useful as a method of diverting questions that you may not be able to answer on the spot. They allow a government or corporate bullshitter to defer answering for any number of reasons. Perhaps the process is not finished, perhaps the process underway does not allow information to be released yet, or perhaps the process is entirely confidential because of commercial or legal reasons.

Known viewpoints - Where a particular person or group has a well-known viewpoint, this can be wound into your story to support a particular point of view. The context in which you state their viewpoint is entirely up to you, and you can always make the excuse that you misunderstood them if they complain.


To get your bullshit successfully received you need to make sure that your plausible facts are structured in such a way that you will not find yourself getting confused when you try to answer questions, or further explain issues. A piece of bullshit that is too complex has the potential to make you quite vulnerable to the sort of ridicule that you should avoid at all costs. Once your credibility is lost, it is most likely lost forever. So, the beginner should keep their bullshit relatively simple and easy to remember. This is especially important for those in public life.

The more experienced you become, the more complex you can make your story. If you are getting into science areas, you will need to have some complexity so that you can come across to the general public as an expert. Just be careful that you don’t over-complicate your story to the point of confusing yourself.

Unless you are bullshitting to a scientific community, and this is only for extremely advanced bullshitters, you should use only a small amount of jargon. The balance to be achieved is to use enough jargon so that you can appear to be comfortable with the subject you are talking about, without coming across as overly technical or remote from the general public. Showing good understanding of jargon by simply mentioning it but not getting into detailed explanations, will add to your credibility with the wider public, many of whom are so used to hearing jargon everyday, that they may become suspicious in the absence of such bullshit.


How you deliver your bullshit is one of the most crucial areas of this art. Good delivery can lead to people not really hearing the detail of what you are saying, but getting caught up in the ‘vibe’ of your performance. And rest-assured, the delivery of bullshit is a performance. The best practitioners could convince the Pope that he was, in fact, not a Catholic. In a perfect world, bullshitters would have a category at the Oscars.

All aspiring bullshitters should undertake training in the delivery of a message. The ability to capture your audience and hold their attention for a period long enough to deliver your message is priceless. An inability to maintain the aura of a prophet delivering vital information to their flock, will often lead to people failing to take on your point of view, or worse still, trying to listen to the detail and non-existent substance of what you are saying.

One of the most important facets of your delivery is your preparedness to answer questions. This relates directly to the complexity of your bullshit. A useful exercise when delivering even mildly complex bullshit is to sit down and think about the type of questions that are likely to be asked by your audience.

Are you addressing the general public or are you talking to a lobby group with knowledge of what you are discussing? Once you have identified who is likely to be there, you can identify what the contentious areas and points might be, and if people will have a way of questioning your specific angle. Then draft some answers that will either rebut the criticism through some plausible theory or set of figures, or deflect the attention away from that area after acknowledging that, while it may be of significance, you feel that there are other more pressing and significant issues. This requires some serious research and imagination. All those amateurs who think that bullshit can be made up on the spot come to grief at this point.

Any bullshitter who gives a speech will themselves, or if they are fortunate, have had their assistants, scour the various issues relating to the topic they wish to comment on. They will be armed with form responses to the questions thought most likely to come their way, and they will have some generic get-out-of-jail responses for any unforeseen and difficult queries. Finally, unless you are a seriously accomplished bullshitter you should not improvise when delivering your message. Improvisation merely increases the possibility of being found out as a fraud and damaging your reputation. It gives your story far too much of an opportunity to collapse on itself and end up smelling like the crap that it is. Always go back to your prepared answers or, as a last resort, agree to get back to your questioner at a later date. Also, ask for their question in writing, because the majority of people cannot be bothered to write down their question and they will most likely forget about it.

So to summarise…

Base your bullshit on good research using selective and easily found ‘facts’, keep it as simple as possible, and deliver it with a confident and inspiring performance. The world will then be yours to conquer.

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