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Putting the BS in my B.A.s

BY DEAN TREFTZ | JULY 06, 2009 7:20 AM

I think I need a college-review course already.

Having received my degree in the mail, I’ve been trying to figure out what else my two theory-heavy majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences bestowed upon me during my nine semesters, 120 some credit hours, and way too many pre-due-date all-nighters.

After the usual clichés paraded through my head (i.e., you get out of college what you put in), I had trouble coming up with anything substantial beyond some random trivia-esque tidbits (my friend Ben came up with a good example when, to his surprise, he remembered that the Wizard of Oz was originally an allegory for the Populist Party’s ambitions in the late 19th-century).

At least I should be prepared for the game-show circuit.

OK, fine, we both know that’s not really fair. During my time as a liberal artist, I’ve gained plenty of less-tangible skills, such as how to piece together a coherent paragraph or how to intuit what minimum information I have to know in order to appear competent.

I’m also pretty confident that I’ve got a decent amount of bicycle-riding-like technical information that my brain has archived into the dusty corners of my head until it’s needed again. That stuff better be in there somewhere, or the UI owes me a refund for at least three statistics classes.

All this paper-vs.-neuron degree insecurity has me nursing a growing anxiety that someone’s going to approach me and demand that I justify my degree and do something college-y, such as explain some system or theory to an extent that someone with just a high-school diploma couldn’t.

In that most ridiculous of circumstances, I would do the one thing I learned how to do more than anything else here — I would bullshit.

There’s a certain finesse necessary to take the motley facts one has on hand, make “plausible estimations” to fill in the gaps, and tip-toe around anything concrete enough to possibly prove you wrong. Countless papers, tests, and essays on the soft sciences have made bullshit my second language (yeah, yeah, yeah … I suppose by publishing something and writing about how much I BS, I kinda deserve that one, don’t I?).

I don’t mean to sound too ungrateful — bullshitting may be the most useful general skill one can obtain these days. A good BS’ing can act as emergency social graces, a get-out-of-jail-free card, and a resume booster, in the right occasions.

But what my relatively newfound ability has done — and what college really taught me — is helped me, as a bullshit artist, recognize others’ work. When before I read or saw a reasonable argument with a compelling narrative, I now see echoes of my own frantic stuffing of facts into theses and broad generalizations when I didn’t understand or know something.

I have since become a terrible person to watch CNN with thanks to my incessant, friend-pissing-off “how the hell would he know that?!”

I remember wanting to write that I had no idea what Mary Shelley was alluding to in Frankenstein in the sequencing of Victor’s education and experiments, but the class demanded that I pretend to, so I did.

There’s a cynical voice in my head yelling that the entire world operates on a similar system — the world demands narratives to interpret the world with, and “experts” (and “columnists”) provide that service.

But, then again, what the hell do I know?


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