The Bullshit Waste Cascade

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Watching once sort-of-reputable Rasmussen fall into the fever swamps of anti-vax bullshit is sad, but not surprising. I understand from some people I know that they’ve had weird biases for some time, if only for “marketing” purposes. Still, now their once good-ish name is now pretty much going to be used for whatever fantasies or con-jobs their leadership wants.

This has made me reflect on the damaging nature of Bullshit writ broad (in which I include disinformation and propaganda for “writ large.”). See, when we have people spewing things with no concern – or outright enmity towards – truth, it cascades downward. Having worked in many an organization as a Project Manager, you get very familiar with “cascade” effects of bad things, where one pebble starts an avalanche.

We’ve got a pretty bad Bullshit cascade going on in the world.

The basic Bullshit machine we see in assorted PR firms, hack pollsters, and what seems to be over half of political consultants is damaging enough. We have people buying dangerous products, getting wrong information, voting for grifters, authoritarian government manipulation, and more. But that’s the initial damage from Bullshit – the start of even worse.

As Bullshit spreads (and it certainly seems we’re good at spreading it these days) it worms it’s way into peoples minds. Truth fractures, lies become regarded as sacred, and people believe. The damage of Bullshit is long-term, and that may or may not be intentional, but it has to be kept in mind. In fact the unintentional Enduring Bullshit is probably even more damaging as we might not notice it – as I often see in various medical scams.

(For that matter, think of Bullshit as a kind of cultural equivalent of long COVID, if you want to get more depressed.)

Bullshit that endures seems to mate with other Bullshit. When you’re busy avoiding facts and truth after all, why not double up – weather you’re a propagandist or someone trying not to admit they’re wrong. Bullshit is used to justify or cross-fertilize Bullshit, like viruses combining. Soon you’re wondering how people merged 5G conspiracy theories with anti-vax conspiracy theories and aliens (something I’ve seen myself).

The systemic damage is bad, but remember that Bullshit consumes resources. The people who are busy creating Bullshit could be doing something more productive. The people fighting Bullshit would probably like to not have to, thank you. People bamboozled by Bullshit proceed to do bad things, wasting their time, hurting others, and creating more work for cleanup. The damage spreads throughout societies – and the planet.

Finally there is something that I think gets ignored about Bullshit but really needs our attention in these times – that Bullshit machines get people interested in doing more Bullshit. The people who pivot from Yoga to conspiracy theories to sell supplements. The folks who yes-and conspiracy theorists to sell their books or just get clicks (who are also crossbreeding Bullshit). It seems the more Bullshitters out there the more people see it as a life and career option.

If you ever felt like the age of the internet crossed with mass media is a lot of people lying to themselves and each other, yeah, you understand what I mean. Some bad things and bad people cascade throughout media, culture, and keep setting off more and more problems. Plenty of people look at them and think “I want a piece of that.”

Meanwhile humanity has a lot of crises to deal with, and the Great Bullshit Engine keeps going and maybe even expanding. Things are indeed more messed up than we may think because of these Bullshit effects.

If we’re going to try to dig out from the world’s problems, we’ll have to confront Bullshit, correct the damage, prevent Bullshit, and discourage it. It may help to realize just how bad the damage it causes is.

Steven Savage