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Finding the significance in knee deep “BS”


Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” seems to hold the same weight in the academic community that Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” had for the rest of the world. It has redefined what we think of as possible, because suddenly “right” and “wrong” aren’t ends of a dichotomy, but there’s something ambiguous lurking somewhere in between. It’s BS. Three times, now, I’ve had a professor reference the essay in class, and only once was it because we’d read it for the course. Essentially, the whole essay talks about “Bullshit” as an academic term, defining a category that lies somewhere between truth and lie, holding qualities of both categories. Something is BS if it can ground itself in something true but perhaps presents false information within that truthful context. (For instance, ifex. If someone says that Marty Martin has the largest collection of bulldog bobbleheads in his basement, someone will be inclined to call BS. Yet they still acknowledge that Marty Martin is a real entity with a house that probably has a basement where one might store said collection.) It’s a much more thorough consideration than I ever gave the term when calling “BS” during the titular card game, but what else is new about academia?

         I believe the reason “On Bullshit” was so academically -earth-shattering is because of its repercussions. One of which is explored in David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs” — specifically relevant to the college student when Graeber discusses the difficulties that students experience when entering the workforce. To make a long story short, Graeber’s working definition of a “Bullshit Job” is one that not only seems to serve no institutional purpose but (and this is the most important part) feels purposeless to the person working the job. This sentiment harkens back to the anthem of the true American high school student, asking “when will I ever use this?” in those much beloved precalculus classes. Graeber brings the reader horror stories of people from all different industries being paid boatloads of money for work that’s completed in a few hours or (if they’re lucky) a couple days. But the part that hit me the hardest was when Graeber pointed out how poorly colleges prepare students for a workforce full of “Bullshit Jobs.”

         In college, we learn to measure the value of our lives based on how much we’ve progressed through a syllabus. How many boxes we’ve ticked, how our professors rate the work we did — it’s all built with a light at the end of the tunnel. But that’s just safety. When we leave school and enter the “real world,” there aren’t any breaks. No stopping points. We have to learn to make our own goals because, many times, the actual goals are ambiguous or so simple they can be completed long before the work-day is over. College has taught us to value any free time that’s allowed in the crevices between classes and schoolwork. We hoard spare moments like Halloween candy, sitting ourselves in front of PS4s and “going out” when we can convince ourselves to procrastinate to preserve our mental health. But what happens when you have more spare moments than you know how to spend? What happens to the college kid in the “real world?”

         Speaking about procrastination, what does it even mean to be in the “real world?” To no longer have homework to do when you kick off your shoes and collapse on your couch? Perhaps the way that we’ve been raised by schools has contributed to the modern lack of a work-life balance because, as soon as there’s the threat of rest, I have this inkling that I should be doing something more. That the day’s not over until I’ve answered all my emails, read all those articles, written those essays—we’re not done. Especially after spending something like four years on campus in which school follows you home,; in which there are desks in the laundry room, meeting rooms in the dining hall. There’s always some shadow lingering over my shoulder, reminding me that I made a monetary promise to get the best education that I can. But school doesn’t last forever, the assignments will end, and one day I’m going to have to figure out who I am when I no longer have the necessity to be perpetually busy holding me in a chokehold.

         “See you tomorrow, Bob—have a good evening!”

         “Have a good evening everyone, get some good rest.”

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