Tucker's Reviews > The B.S. Factor: The Theory and Technique of Faking It in America

The B.S. Factor by Arthur Herzog III
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's review
Jun 29, 2012

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bookshelves: finished, relativist, writing
Read on June 29, 2012 , read count: 1

Writing in 1973, the author opposes what he sees as a contemporary American tendency toward being "fake," which broadly includes things like: the nonsense in advertising copy; vagueness and illogic in rhetoric (e.g. American political values may be either natural to all human beings or a unique accomplishment in history, but not both); political cant (what today we'd call "spin"); redundant phrases that degrade the language (e.g. "free gift"); and a more serious inability to clearly separate truth from lies when so much inbetween is just meaningless B.S., the result being that neither the truth nor the lie is especially valued.

Herzog repeats H. L. Mencken's quip that to respect truth is to acknowledge that "it is something to be cherished and hoarded and disbursed only when absolutely necessary." Herzog's assessment that Mencken was speaking "sensibly" seems to indicate he thinks this is only half in jest. Exactly what he means by that is a bit hard to unpack. To begin with, he opposes the attitude of "dogmatism" that he defines as so eager to discover and attach itself to the Truth that it will believe just about anything without worthy cause. "We are today a 'belief explosion'," he says, "which throws skepticism to the winds and attaches itself in a credulous manner to mental malpractice and intellectual humbuggery of every kind--to faking it, small and big." He also suggests that there is something to be valued in an "artful approach to reality" which is somehow distinguished from mere fakery and cant, but I cannot identify what he means by that.

Some of this is a little dated in a way that makes it interesting. A book like this written today about political spin and the degradation of language would surely mention how ideas spread on the Internet. Herzog has only three paragraphs on misguided assumptions about computers, namely that by the early 1970s American accountants had begun mailing tax returns for processing at a computer center, "the theory being that the IRS will be so impressed by the computer that it won't question the figures that were used." Anyone who works in technology development, quality control, or some other career devoted to questioning the computer itself along with the figures fed to the system might be amused at the idea of deifying the computer. But some of the ideas about war and peace are still relevant today.

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