With shopping period officially over, we’ve finished agonizing over the seminars we didn’t get into and the course areas we need to fulfill. The distributional requirements are a lovely way of forcing single-minded Yalies into a well rounded curriculum. Even if we do take “Fractal Geometry” for our QR or Czech for our language we’ll all graduate with some sort of ability in a wide range of subjects. The skills we take from Yale are valuable for their variety, but also for their commonality. As the Blue Book says, each of us will learn “to distinguish special pleading and demagoguery from responsible science,” “to use quantitative information to make, understand and evaluate arguments” and “to write well.” But there’s another requirement not described in the Blue Book we all need to fulfill: mastering the art of bulls–tting.
The Yalie propensity for bulls–t was first described to me by an upperclassman. Apparently, you can’t get by without it. Even if you did read the assigned Plato very thoroughly, there’s always going to be some kid who did DS at the front of the room. There is no way he really finished all of those readings freshman year, so he probably just learned how to bulls–t quicker than you. But whatever the cause of his verbose and ingratiating comments may be, you need to be ready to fight them with bulls–t.
This bothered me at first. I’d come to Yale to be surrounded by brilliant people! Shouldn’t that mean they’d only ever speak earnestly and honestly? Then I remembered the college application process, AP Literature discussions, and why even my un-researched essays tended to score high. I did study hard in high school but I was also a champion bulls–tter. If it wasn’t for my ability to cite some sociology book I’d read a chapter of once or to exaggerate the importance of a sleep study I’d heard about, I might not have done so well. There is the question of whether the words I pulled out of nowhere were really bulls–t or the result of being one of those kids that never watched television growing up unless it was PBS. Maybe we Yalies just have a limitless supply of theses to share, gathered from years of intellectual pursuits, and we never really bulls–t at all. Then I remembered my time leading the Student Council, National Honor Society and Senior Class. My campaign speeches weren’t exactly lies, but I’m not sure if I really wanted to plan homecoming. Of course, my opponents couldn’t have all that earnestly wanted to choose the days for spirit week and the colors of our commencement candles, either. Maybe everyone bulls–ts, and at Yale we just know how to do it better.
Should we embrace the power of our bulls–t? After all, our school does boast the best bullsh–ters in the world. Debate Team, Model UN, the Yale Political Union — they talk about real things but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing make believe. Don’t get me wrong, I do respect these wildly successful organizations. They do a wonderful job of preparing students for their professional lives after Yale. Businesspeople, lawyers and politicians do at least as much bulls–tting as they did in college! We’ve had a few presidents come from our alma mater, more evidence of just how well Yale teaches us how to shoot our mouths. Campaigns might be based in honesty but no one ever won an election without knowing how to bulls–t. Even those of us who are going to get jobs in math or science need to know how to spew out important sounding words sometimes.
But perhaps there is a silver lining after all. In learning how to bullshit, we can also learn how to recognize the truth, to find the golden nugget buried in the filthy sediment. Yale tells us that the distributional requirements “are to be embraced as starting points, not goals.” So let’s start with bulls–t and try to shoot for truth. Maybe that’s bulls–t, too, but none of us are going to graduate without it.
Abigail Carney is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College.