Confessions of a Bullshit Artist

September, 2005
In this issue:
1. Reader News
2. September Editorial: “Confessions of a Bullshit Artist”
3. Next Month’s Editorial Title
4. Quote of the Month: William James

Attention East Coast (U.S.) and European Subscribers

Next Spring, I’ll be going to Amsterdam to speak at “The Summit for the Future 2006” conference. Since there is plenty of time between now and then, I’d like to arrange some speaking engagements along the way there and back, possibly several in each direction. If you know of anyone who is involved with planning an event for April, May or even June next year who is looking for a speaker who will challenge and provoke people’s thinking, helping them to realize the possibility for humanity’s conscious evolution, have them contact me. Refer them to Talks where they can view my topics and endorsements.


Since the publishing of Princeton Professor Emeritus Harry G. Frankfurt’s book, On Bullshit, earlier this year, implicit permission has been assumed by some journalists and book reviewers to use this colloquialism more freely in mainstream print and media.

In its July-August 2005 issue, Mother Jones magazine reviewed On Bullshit along with a book by Canadian teaching fellow Laura Penny, Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth About Bullshit. The author of the review, Dave Nuttycombe, points to the Age of Discovery, the Space Age and The Enlightenment and adds “let us add the name of our own: The Age of Bullshit.” He cites how public disgrace and humiliation end up being shortcuts to million-dollar book deals, professional spin-meisters boast of having “no spin zone” TV shows and wars are justified using “blatantly fatuous claims.” Then, he writes, “we are much more than knee deep.”

“The person who lies on a résumé is in danger of not getting the job,” he writes, “But the person who bullshits effectively in the interview has a pretty good chance of getting hired….The bullshit artist cares more about what people think about him than the veracity of his words; he values the appearance of ‘sincerity’ over ‘correctness’….while bullshit does not have to be untrue, it is always phony. Bullshit is a process, the byproduct of a person’s uncaring attitude toward the facts at hand.” Nuttycombe asserts that what makes bullshit the “greater enemy” is that “a liar actually knows and cares about the truth. He needs to know which facts he’s trying to hide. The bullshitter just wants to get over.”

I must confess that in reading this article I recognized some of my own behavior. My business background includes over eight years as an event promoter, organizing public exhibit shows at such venues as the Cow Palace, San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium and the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. After that I sold real estate investments for almost another eight years. While I never lied to any potential investor nor to the media about what the public could expect at our events, it is within the nature of promotion to present things in a positive light. “Hype” goes with the territory. This helps gain attention, “sizzle up” the story, embellish the product so people would be attracted to what my company was offering and not be distracted by what competition there might be for their entertainment or investment dollars.

In the light of the distinctions made in the MJ book reviews, I must confess to engaging in some bullshitting which became a way of relating with the media, the public and, much to my chagrin here, even my friends and colleagues today! Ouch!

The MJ article summarizes that this “L’Epoque Bullshit” serves to dumb us down and wear us out to the point “where we no longer see the distinction between b.s. about dish soap and lies about WMD.” The author states that the “sad conclusion” is that we’ve gone from “being mad as hell and not taking it anymore” to not being upset “or even surprised, anymore.”

When asked why he wrote his book Frankfurt told the interviewer that he was concerned about the direction of civilized society and the role of b.s. in today’s world. He calls bullshit “one of deformities of the truth.”

The marketplace gets insensitive when we are bombarded with exaggerated claims and a lack of authenticity about everything. We become numb and impervious to the genuine article. Perhaps we’re so “knee deep” in the b.s. we can no longer recognize the real thing if it shows up! Have we come to expect phoniness? This leads to even greater exaggeration as purveyors attempt to penetrate the callousness of the crowded media and get noticed. Now we have a degenerating spiral of public trust. Think about it. How worn down or skeptical have you become in recent years? How much closer to becoming completely cynical are you?

How widespread has this practice become in our society? Don’t we take exaggeration and glamorization for granted these days, taking each others’ claims with skepticism, even expecting spin in our interaction with one another? In our “culture of bullshit” isn’t there an implicit agreement: “don’t call me on my bullshit and I won’t call you on yours.”

People name drop, implying they are closer to people of influence or celebrities than is actually true. Conversations include absolutes like “always” and “all” when the truth is “often” and “some.” People say they feel when they mean they think. As an author, I note how many books are called “bestselling” when they are merely popular within a small community of readers. Advertisers routinely exaggerate the benefits of what they are selling and often employ sex or fear-mongering techniques to market their goods. These are all examples of how we bend the truth through sloppiness and exaggeration, resulting in our own complicity as bullshitters.

The line between authenticity and bullshit has gone far beyond merely blurring. We’d like to think of it as an issue of truth versus lies but, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. When the truth and bullshit get confused, evil is well on its way if it isn’t already at hand.

How do we reverse this trend and begin interacting with one another authentically? We can start by becoming impeccable in how we think, what we say and what we do. Bullshit, even the slightest bit, will be our undoing.
NEXT MONTH’S EDITORIAL: “Fundamentalism: Symptom of the Great Disconnect” (Excerpted from John’s book-in-process with working title of The New Human: Beyond the Naked Ape)
QUOTE OF THE MONTH: “I will act as if what I do makes a difference.” – William James

Keynotes That Make You Think!

John delivers keynotes talks to corporations, associations and conferences. A list of his topics can be viewed at Keynotes That Make You Think! For references check: What people have said about John as a speaker.

John is also a San Francisco writer and business futurist. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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