We all need a (working) bullshit detector

Iran/Belgium fashion week
Iran/Belgium fashion week

Men who wear bow ties, cravats, and/or glasses on a string. People who join MENSA. Middle class people who go on a bit too long about ‘their’ football team.

All these categories may be victims of blind prejudice, or alternatively they may simply be stimulating a fully functioning bullshit detector, which is an essential piece of one’s armamentarium these days.

In medicine, beware of the patient loudly proclaiming they have a ‘high pain threshold’ – they will squeal like a pig as soon as you examine them. Junior surgeons who boast of their huge list of operations, personally undertaken are often the most callow and ineffective, prone to panic and misjudgement. Patients who enthusiastically medicalise their every feeling, for whom new diagnoses with arcane names such as fibromyalgia are the gift that keeps on giving. Doctors who are anxious to tell you how busy they are always have all their holidays booked, know their exact leave allowance, and go to silly meetings and get out of clinical duties more than any of their quieter colleagues.

So when I first saw Camila Batmanghelidjh, now of Kids’ Company notoriety, I think on Question Time a few years ago, I assumed she was of Nigerian heritage, or something similar. Why would she dress like that otherwise? The bullshit detector should have kicked in. Her exotic Belgian/Iranian gene pool doesn’t suggest an immediate affinity for sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course it now seems evident that at best she was naive and bad at running things, but today’s revelation that she had an expensive chauffeur, because she didn’t like walking or getting public transport, suggests a more calculating persona, perhaps.

Normally I’d be indifferent to this sort of nonsense, were it not for the fact that her organisation seems to have hoovered up literally millions of taxpayers’ cash, with, as it happens, not much to show for it beyond a few anecdotes. Dave’s own involvement suggests he needs a new bullshit detector. Worrying in a prime minister.

Most people reasonably assume charities compete for money that the public may or may not choose to give away, not just sign up with the government for enormous handouts. If you did want to spend all that public money on the disadvantaged, you’d be far better handing it out in the street a la helicopter money, rather than funnelling it through some loosely structured inefficient fiefdom like Kids’ Company appears to be.

So, I have to add to the above list, which is far from exhaustive anyway, a proclivity for dressing flamboyantly in a manner suggesting a different ethnic group. There are parallels here with the defiantly white black activist Rachel Dolezal, and indeed former candidate for the Democratic nomination, 1/32 Cherokee Elizabeth Warren.

Douglas Murray’s neat discussion of the ‘halo effect’ is as good an explanation as any of how previously well functioning bullshit detectors can be disabled:

It has often occurred to me that if you wanted to perform any great con trick these days you could do no better than to have a hard to pronounce name, wear achingly ethnic clothing and cultivate a sort of ‘mother earth’ persona. The search for authenticity is such that before long every culturally embarrassed media and political creep would beat a path to your door, sit at your feet and hug you like a tree. In reality you would never need to do anything much because you’ve already ticked all the culturally correct boxes.

Those of us who feel this way could be accused of being wise after the event, but once you’ve identified, well in advance of their current diminished popularity, Tony Blair, Bono, Richard Branson, Alex Salmond and many others, I feel one is entitled to claim a degree of authority in this emerging discipline.


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