Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

No, It Hasn’t Peaked Quite Yet

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Jon Lovett was a speechwriter for President Obama for three years. He left Washington to write for the unsuccessful TV series “1600 Penn.” Last week, he delivered the Commencement Address at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. An excerpt from that speech was published in The Atlantic:

I believe we may have reached “peak bullshit.” And that increasingly, those who push back against the noise and nonsense; those who refuse to accept the untruths of politics and commerce and entertainment and government will be rewarded. That we are at the beginning of something important.

I, however, think Churchill is more apropos:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

We have not hit the peak yet. We are not yet at the beginning of something important, but we are reaching the end of something very trivial, very fake, very self-referential.

The business of bullshit, like that of illegal drugs, is demand-driven: as long as there is demand, someone will supply it, because, for some people, supplying bullshit beats working. Thus, in order to estimate when we are over the peak, we have to watch for signs of a fall-off in demand. People have to stop participating in the transaction, rewarding others for bullshitting them.

In any prosperous society, people prefer to avoid accountability and whisper sweet nothings in their own ears. They prefer the view in the mirror to the view out the window until the latter is too menacing to be ignored. Therefore, the prosperity has to go away to the point that people start paying attention to what is outside the window again. Conditions have to get sufficiently scary and compelling. How far a society has to fall depends on the society. Some never get their faces out of the mirror until they hit the pavement and go splat.

I would like to think we can clue in before we fall that far. What would be some signs that we had crossed over the peak and are on the downslope?

One indication would be the existence of fewer speechwriters. One questions whether the politicians really believe half of what is written for them.

Time Allocation

A necessary precondition is for ordinary people to be paying attention. Both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are early, faltering, blind beginnings. We need more people paying attention, allocating their time to being subjects rather than objects in their economic and political lives.

Where would the time come from to allocate to this? It would have to come from leisure, because there is no where else to obtain it. Therefore, one set of indicators would be consequences of people allocating their time away from leisure. This would manifest itself as dislocations in the entertainment business, as there would be a sudden glut of entertainment relative to demand. Positive signs in this area would be:

  1. Contraction in major sports, such as the National Football League (In the National Hockey League, there is already one franchise known to be on life support).
  2. A periodical such as People or Us ceasing publications.

I don’t have anything against entertainment. I watch pro sports myself. However, if people allocate their time away from leisure and toward investing in themselves and their communities, there just isn’t going to be enough leisure to go around and support all the entertainment channels that currently exist.


A common cause of being lied to is failure, as a process owner, to establish adequate controls. Whether you are a parent, a manager or a citizen, how do you know what is being done when your back is turned? You create controls to allow you to know, and to allow the people subject to the controls to know that you know.

Locks keep honest people honest.
— Computer security proverb

A good leading indicator would be the sight of parents establishing and enforcing adequate controls for their kids.

It would also help if more people took a greater interest in what their elected officials are doing. Transparency doesn’t help if no one is looking. It would be great to hear that the server at was overwhelmed by demand of voters to find out what their elected officials were creating and what their voting records were.

Overcoming Sentimentality

“It is work,” as Buddha says, and not love, as the Western sentimentalist would have it, “that makes the world go round.”
— Irving Babbitt, Democracy and Leadership, p. 247.

If we are to get control over the conning and lying, we must stop setting ourselves up to be conned and lied to. The sentimentalist, being naturally expansive, wants to open all doors and hope for the best. He thrills to words and phrases that sound pleasing, without thinking through what they really mean. Then, when the nasty surprise comes at the end, he is blindsided. How could anyone have known?

Avoiding the outcome we are experiencing requires a lot of work. It requires thinking through the consequences fearlessly, peering down the road before turning down it. It requires taking responsibility for more of our own lives. It requires cleaning up our little corners of the world ourselves, so the great campaigns and crusades are unnecessary.

A population that was less sentimental would not necessarily be hard, cold or merciless. It need not result in uncharitable behavior. But the charity would be deliberately granted or withheld.

More to the point, as a less sentimental people, we would be more demanding on ourselves. We would set more limits and exercise more restraint. We would do the work to understand the consequences of what we were doing before we did it. Behaviors that exemplify these qualities would be powerful indicators that we, as a people, were ready to be done with the lies and the cons.

Lovett praises the earnestness and authenticity of the graduates. Earnestness and authenticity are not enough. Any medieval mob that roved the land, pillaging towns and killing people, was earnest and authentic. So were the followers of Soviet Communism in the 1920s and 1930s, until they were in their turn liquidated by Stalin, often with the assistance of other earnest and authentic followers.

We need more than this. We need skepticism without cynicism, although what we have is quite the other way around. We need to be equipped and ready to do the inner work to make ourselves proof against the untruths. We need the intellect to know what to do and the will to do it.


Written by srojak

May 24, 2013 at 5:19 am

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