Book review: Double Happiness

Bullshit has become so ingrained in modern life that we don't realise just how pervasive it is.

Double Happiness: How bullshit works
By Joe Bennett (HarperCollins, 2012) $29.99

book review double happiness joe bennettBullshit has become so ingrained in modern life that we don’t realise just how pervasive it is, from the wording of fine print clauses to the filibustering of politicians. If someone were to wave a magic wand and eliminate bullshit from our world entirely, what little that remained would be barely recognisable.

Columnist Joe Bennett cuts through the crap, deconstructing the techniques used by those in power to keep us cowed in our rightful places. Over 30 short chapters, he takes careful aim at religion, government, business (in particular the advertising industry), and the news media, among others, skewering those who seek to use everyday bullshit to obfuscate facts and achieve their own ends. Bullshitters don’t have a whole lot of fancy techniques, but they don’t need them. As anyone who’s ever entered into a debate with someone absolutely convinced of their own righteousness knows, there is no arguing with the pig-headed. His extended metaphors and pithy quips make Double Happiness (though I’m still puzzling over the title) an enjoyable read.

My favourite passage can be found on page 143 (following on from a tirade against the spectacle that is modern competitive sport) where he proposes the establishment of an Olympics comprised entirely of citizens selected at random from each country’s electoral roll.

“It would be a true test of a country’s state of athletic health, and as Mrs Rasmussen of Taumarunui struggled round the track in the 5,000 metres it would make compelling viewing,” he writes. “I’m not sure who’d win this competition (Kenya might be a good bet, though it would struggle in the pool) but I am confident that the States would come last. There might even be deaths on the track.”