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The Art of Crap-Detection*

Thomas Crapper founded a company in London at the close of the 19th century. He heavily promoted sanitary plumbing. He designed the siphonic flush, which up to this day, is still the standard of almost all toilets. He is also credited for the invention and use of the manhole for public sewage system.

Due to the company’s (Thomas Crapper & Co.) association with lavatories and sewage, the slang term ‘crap’ refers to any refuse that are expelled from these sanitary contraptions. In English, crap is used synonymously with bullshit.

According to University of Washington college professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, “bullshit involves language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.” Both run a popular course “Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World.”

In 1969, “Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection” was delivered at the National Convention for the Teachers of English (NCTE). Addressing a convention of teachers, Neil Postman insisted that students must be helped to learn “how to distinguish useful talk and bullshit... that helping students activate their crap-detectors should take precedence over any other legitimate educational aim.” To this end, he introduced the different varieties of bullshit or crap.

Pomposity is defined as “speaking or behaving in a very serious manner which shows that one thinks he is more important than he really is.” A growing number of people insists on appending a trail of letters after their names. Others require being addressed by their honorifics. According to Postman, these are intended to hide personal insecurities and insufficiencies.

The use of buzzwords is another sign. The term “strategy” is widely used in business. Yet when asked what it means, almost all will respond by quoting a textbook definition. When ask to elaborate, they will quote another. Ditto with competitive advantage, vision, mission, etc. In a recent corporate event, a book publisher introduced a “whole child” approach in education. Most universities pledged to produce “future-proof” graduates. 

Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi, was tasked to transport about 1 million Jews to the gas chambers. At the end of his life, he sees nothing wrong with what he did. He was just doing his duty. He was just following orders. Eichmannism “accepts as its starting and ending point official definitions, rules, and regulations without regard for realities of particular situations.” The language is usually polite and gracious, but “utterly detached from human interests.”

Under academic rules, any successful business practitioner is prevented from teaching in higher education, unless he has a Master’s Degree. Upon receiving order from the government to regularize employees, a local food chain’s official statement is, “We have received the order... and we’re following the process... prescribed to appeal this order.”

Andy Warhol said that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Today, entertainment value commands a premium. Expertise and common sense is inconsequential. A celebrity mother who only had one child birth and a three-month old baby is now an expert in parenting. A blogger or netizen who garnered substantial number of likes is likely to be invited to give opinions on national issues.

Inanity seems harmless. Without current media platforms, the opinions of these people would not even be solicited. Their only contribution is but noise. Postman called this contribution “verbal excrement.”

In a psychology experiment, pigeons were observed to exhibit ritualistic behavior in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser. It seems that the pigeons were trying to influence the behavior of the dispenser by performing these actions. Similar ritualistic and “superstitious” behavior are observed among humans.

In business, there is a continuing faith that CSR activities contribute to a company’s financial performance. Post-2008, scholars suggest that perhaps “the study of literature and other humanistic subjects will result in one’s becoming a more decent, liberal, tolerant, and civilized human being.” Postman found this amusing. 

Superstition is “belief, usually expressed in authoritative terms, for which there are no factual or scientific basis.” It arises from ignorance or a misunderstanding.

Despite its simplicity and reliability, Thomas Crapper’s contraptions were not immediately popular. However, in mid-year 1858, the hot weather “exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent present on the banks of River Thames.” This Great Stink forced the English government to pass laws to address the problem. In the end, Crapper solved the problem of crap.

(Note: *The title is an example of crap. It should have simply read, “How To Detect Crap”.)

Real Carpio So lectures on strategy and human resources management at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Archives can be accessed at realwalksonwater.wordpress.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

Topics: Thomas Crapper , London , Thomas Crapper & Co. , Carl Bergstrom , Jevin West , Adolf Eichmann
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