July 27, 2010
Tip of the Week: January 27th, 2010

In Praise Of B.S. -It's Not All Bad For 'Ya
By Cliff Ennico

As a longtime fan of comedianGeorge Carlin, I was recently delighted to find in my local video storea DVD of an HBO special performance Carlin gave in Los Angeles only afew months before his death in June 2008.
The special, entitled "It's Bad for 'Ya", was the usual blend ofCarlin's spot-on social and political satire.

My only problem with his routine came in the title skit - a long rantagainst certain ritual and other symbolic behaviors we perform ineveryday life (for example, placing your hand on a Bible or othersacred text when swearing an oath). After describing each ritualand showing how meaningless it is, Carlin added the tag line "it'sB.S., and it's bad for 'ya." At one memorable point in hismonologue, Carlin wonders out loud "how many millions of dead soldiersin military cemeteries around the Globe marched off to war because theyfelt they were fighting for something that was nothing more than B.S.?"

A veteran of the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s,Carlin believed, as did many of his generation (listen closely to thelyrics of John Lennon's song "Imagine"), that a world without B.S. is aworld of perfect beauty, peace and freedom, in which there is nothingto kill or die for, and we can finally achieve "a brotherhood of man".

With all respect for an artist who can no longer defend himself, and(full disclosure) as a member of that generation myself, I would saythat I agree with Carlin . . . but only halfway.

It's hard to argue that most ritual behavior is B.S., in the sense thatit has no extrinsic meaning. Quite a few social rituals that usedto have real meaning no longer do - in the 1500s, shaking someone'shand in greeting was a way of saying you had no intention to draw yoursword on that person.

But that is just the point: ritual behavior is not meant to havereal meaning. It is symbolic, a shorthand way of communicatingsomething that cannot be put in words or is too complex for the humanmind to grasp in full. Putting your hand on a sacred text whenswearing an oath is a way for society to signal that "what you areabout to say is extremely important, just as important as the words inthis text you're holding, and we as a society intend to hold youaccountable for every word."

Ritual behavior lies at the heart of every human organization, be it afamily, a company (we commonly speak of "corporate culture"), a tribe,a religion, a political party, or a nation. Participating inritual is a way for people to say "yes, we are all different as humanbeings, but we are willing to sacrifice some of our individuality, ourpersonality, our disagreements and our uniqueness to be members of acertain community that identifies itself by these rituals."

The rituals themselves are B.S., and easily ridiculed. But - andhere is where I part company with Carlin - not all B.S. is bad for'ya.

Would you really want to live in a world without B.S.? A world inwhich each individual is truly unique, different and perfect inhimself, without any shorthand or symbols to show his fellow humanitywith others? Frankly, I think it would be boring as Hell - inmuch the same way that guys with shaved heads and goatees (er, excuseme, "soul patches") look exactly the same.

Whenever you make any sort of general statement about something, it isB.S. because it is too simplistic. Whenever you tell a story toillustrate a moral, it is B.S. because it is fiction. Wheneveryou create a theory or model to explain to someone how something in theworld works, it is B.S. because every rule has exceptions, and theworld is too complicated for any theory to explain perfectly. Whenever you accept something as an article of faith, you use B.S. todeal with questions that cannot be answered by rational or scientificanalysis (for example, what happens to us after we die, why bad thingshappen to good people). According to some 20th century Europeanphilosophers, even language itself is B.S. because words are meresymbols that cannot communicate the "thing in itself" - we love poetrybecause by listening closely to the words we hear, and sometimes feel,an image of what is being spoken about.

In many ways, B.S. is the lubricant that makes learning, communication,understanding and all other aspects of human society possible. B.S. is what gets us emotionally and psychologically through life,gives us our sense of personal identity, and what gives us hope thatmaybe there is something in the Universe that is bigger than we are andof which we are a part.

Cynicism can be a good thing, if taken in moderation. But someonewho spends too much time removing B.S. from his life, and pointing outto others why B.S. isn't real, sooner or later ends up not believing inanything. George Carlin had a successful career, achieving wealthand fame making millions laugh at the B.S. in their lives, but Isometimes wonder if he died happy. He didn't look happy in thatHBO special. Of course, he probably knew he had only a few monthsto live.

People should be free to choose which B.S. they believe in, of course -B.S. should never be forced on anyone. People should also beeducated enough not to confuse B.S. with reality. But give upB.S. altogether? If anything, the more we learn about the cold,hostile, unforgiving world around us, the more B.S. we need to keepfrom going crazy. And yes, some B.S. is worth fighting and dyingfor.

As you engage in your holiday rituals, customs and traditions, whateverthey may be, try not to think too hard about them. Studysomething too closely, and you kill the beauty, the magic and themystery.

Cliff Ennico (crennico@gmail.com)is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS televisionseries "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax orfinancial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualifiedprofessional licensed in your state. To find out more about CliffEnnico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit ourWeb page at
www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT2009 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM. Permissiongranted foruse onDrLaura.com

Posted by Staff at 7:23 PM