Pragmatist consulting: The art of bullshitting well

‘Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at.’

–David Graeber, ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’

Philosophers spend far too much time focusing on providing defensible views of their own and on knocking down the views of their colleagues when more attention is surely owing to the social phenomena and ‘public philosophies’ that define the shape of our modern culture. One example is pragmatism. One could either canvass pragmatists’ view of epistemology and philosophy of science (all the positions, unworkable arguments, modified views, damaging counterexamples, etc.), or one could cast a critical eye on the figure of the pragmatist consultant.

It is worth understanding why in business culture and at business schools the question that seems to trump all others is: ‘How useful is this? Tell me: how much practical value does this have in the context of our general pursuits?’ Enter the pragmatist consultant–McKinsey or anyone coming after. The pragmatist consultant is the figure who gets paid to tell others these very helpful, useful, and efficacious things. Or he gets paid to provide theories and models–typically represented in these rather silly-looking charts–that are meant to serve as tools or instruments for getting things done more effectively. Or to fire up the PowerPoint slides about business strategy.

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