all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

Forays into Logic, Whimsy, Meaning, Hilarity, and Nonsense.

Category: Ontology

A Philosopher Hands out Candy (and Philosophy Classics) to Trick-or-Treaters

This year, for the first time in several decades — indeed, the first time in the entirety of my adult incarnation — i decided to do Hallowe’en.

I’ve never gotten really excited about Hallowe’en. As a philosopher, i feel a need to know what i’m celebrating when i observe a holiday, and Hallowe’en seems to be just a confusing hash of ancient pagan imagery, modern horror, Disney, magical unicorns, and contemporary kiddie-fied commercialization.

However, this year i decided to get with the program; you know, find out what everyone else has been experiencing all this time. And it seemed fitting that, as a philosopher, i should provide the kiddoes with a uniquely philosophical experience that they’d be unlikely to get at the other houses.

Upon discovering that some people like to dress up the front of their home to reflect the spirit of the holiday, i decided to make an attempt. I chose as my theme the decay of Western Civilization… the tragic, inexorable unraveling of more than two thousand years of achievement and tradition… the entropic deterioration of centuries’ worth of cultural advancement and rational thought… leaving a (metaphorically speaking) dilapidated, moss-grown, disintegrating ruin. The advantage here is that i didn’t really have to do anything to decorate. My front porch already looks like that.

Then i hauled a big cauldron onto my porch and loaded it up with goodies for the little trick-or-treaters. Finally, i put on my bow-tie and wire-rimmed spectacles (my ‘philosopher’ costume) and i was ready to go.

The evening, i must say, went very well.

By way of illustration, why don’t i narrate for you my encounters with three different batches of trick-or-treaters, each group interesting in its own way. Let’s start with a group of five children that came by pretty early on, while it was still light out.

 

Group One

“Greetings,” i said to the group at large. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Breakdown of Western Civilization.”

They eyed the front of my house apprehensively, as if searching for a notice of condemnation by the building inspector.

“And what are you?” i asked the first kid who bravely stepped up to my porch.

“I’m Conan O’Brien’s haircut,” he explained.

“Ah!” i said. “Not bad. I can see it. An extremely accurate likeness. And you?” i asked the next kid.

“I’m an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper.”

“That’s exactly what i would have guessed. Very clever. Layers of ontological complexity. I like it.”

“And i,” said the next kid, an absolutely whacking redhead, “am a mathematical impossibility.”

“No kidding!” i said. “That’s amazing! Can you be more specific?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m the square root of peace and love for all humankind.”

Dig,” i said. “Oh yeah. Wow. Can you dig it.”

We all sort of dug it for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” said Conan O’Brien’s haircut, quietly. “Crazy.”

“And what about you?” i asked the next kid.

In the most earnest, heartfelt voice i have ever heard emerge from the body of a human being, he said, “I am a single tear from the eye of a magical unicorn.”

“Well, of course you are,” i acknowledged. “Even a fool can see that. Good work.”

The fifth and last kid stepped forth boldly. “And what are you?” i asked.

“Your Mom,” he said, simply.

“Roger that,” i said, and reached into my cauldron to fish out goodies for each of the kids.

Now, i’m afraid we need to pause a moment before going on.

Most regular people, when preparing to receive trick-or-treaters, will stock up on Mounds mini-bars, Kit Kats, Jolly Ranchers, and those awful candy corn things. But do not forget that we are here dealing with a philosopher, not a normal person. My cauldron was stocked with something much better than candy: pocket paperback editions of some of the shorter philosophy classics. To wit: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Rene Descartes’ Discourse on Method. Immanuel Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. And Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By way of concession to the tastes of children, i also had a pile of 100 Grillion Dollar Bars in there. To sweeten the deal, as it were.

“For you,” i said to the one who’d identified as my Mom, “a copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, and a 100 Grillion Dollar Bar.”

“But it’s not real!” he demurred.

“What?” i said. “It is absolutely real! This is an authorized edition of the Tractatus!”

“I meant the 100 Grillion dollars.”

“Oh,” i said. “Hmmm. Define real.”

“Cool, a philosopher who’s also a smart-aleck. I can’t wait to tell my friends.”

I was not going to take this from a pipsqueak whose idea of a Hallowe’en costume was a lackluster impersonation of my Maternal Ancestor. “You were trick-or-treating in the hope of amassing a fortune?” i demanded. “No. You were trick-or-treating in the hope of getting lots of candy. This is candy. ‘Grillion’ isn’t even a number.”

Annoyed, i distributed philosophy books and 100 Grillion Dollar Bars to the remaining kids with no further complaint, although the fellow identifying as the tear from the eye of a magical unicorn did tremble slightly. No harm done, the kids were off, and i was left to contemplate the complexities involved in the naming of candy bars.

 

Group Two

This next interesting group came along a while later, after a few rather disappointing cohorts of fairies and zombies. “Hello, hello!” i said to them. “Welcome to the Philosopher’s Haunted Den of the Utter Decay of the Western Cultural Tradition.”

“SWEET,” said one of the kids, obviously genuinely impressed. “It even looks like a deteriorating architectural corpse, a rude, broken-down relic of past greatness.”

“Um, yes, thank you,” i said. “Moving on. Let’s start with you. What are you identifying as this evening?”

“I’m a naughty, naughty fellow,” he said in the most perfect deadpan you’ve ever seen.

“Well, yes, i’ve no doubt of that,” i said. “I meant, what are you dressed up as?”

His companion, with an almost-matching costume, spoke up. “He means that literally. He is identifying as a naughty, naughty fellow for Hallowe’en. He’s usually the perfect kid. He never does anything wrong. The grown-ups all love him. It’s disgusting.”

“Ah!” i said. “How silly of me. Got it. And you?” i asked his cohort.

“Well,” he began, “I’m a fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen.”

“And i see you two are a package deal,” i observed.

“We are,” said the first one, a naughty, naughty expression on his face.

“And you!” i said, directing my attention to a young man dressed in what appeared to me to be the garb of a well-to-do dandy from the early 1800s.

“I’m a character from the novel Persuasion, by Jane Austen,” he explained.

“That’s tremendous!” i said. “As it happens, i just re-read Persuasion a few months ago. Which character are you?”

“Well,” he said, somewhat tentatively, “I’m not actually in the book.”

“I see,” said i, although i didn’t.

He continued. “I’m a character that Austen would have included in the novel if she had actually known what she was doing.”

“Ah,” i said. “That’s more like it. Most treadknicious of you.”

The fourth child stepped forward, a little squirt of a dude who appeared to be dressed, as nearly as i could tell, as a shapeless blue amoeba.

“I’m an as-yet-undiscovered chemical element,” he said.

“Ah, but here you are,” i said cleverly. “You’ve been discovered.”

“Discovered by you,” he said. “The scientific community still hasn’t got a clue.”

“Niiiiiiiice,” i said. “Does this element have a name?”

“Nunnayurbidnium,” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” i said. “Didn’t mean to offend.”

“No,” he offered, “I mean the element is called ‘Nunnayurbidnium’.”

“Ah,” i said. “Yes. Of course. Very good. I shall append it to the periodic table in my old college chemistry book. The scientific community will never have to know.” He and i shared a mutual scholarly wink, and then i cauldron-dove to fetch the kiddies their goodies.

 

Group Three

The third interesting group arrived shortly after dusk, at around that time when the little kids and their parents are starting to thin out and the teenagers elaborately made up as zombies or wearing lame skeleton t-shirts are becoming the dominant demographic. Happily, the group of which i now speak was not made of such stuff.

There were eight people in this group: one set of three, and another set of five. The two sets of trick-or-treaters weren’t actually together, but they all arrived at my front porch at more-or-less the same time.

“And who are YOU people?” I was talking to what appeared to be the leader of the group of five, which i took, furthermore, to be a family of aliens. Not the illegal kind; the interplanetary kind.

“We’re a family of aliens,” he explained helpfully.

“I gathered as much,” i said. “And what brings you ’round these here parts?”

“Well,” he began, hooking a tentacle into each of the two straps of his overalls, “It’s like this. We are the last of our race. Our civilization was wiped out by a race of even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.”

“Grrrrrr,” chorused the wife and kids, their tentacles waving menacingly in the air.

“That’s awful!” i said. “So you’re refugees here on earth, seeking asylum?”

“Well, it’s more like, we’re hopin’ to set up a GoFundMe account so that we can afford thermonuclear weapons and wipe them other aliens off the face of their stupid planet.”

“Well, gosh, y’know, okey-dokey,” i said, concluding that these varmints were serious customers and not to be trifled with. Casting about for a change of topic, i said, “Well, sir, your young’un here looks just like you.”

The lad waved his tentacles about in evident pleasure.

“Don’t he now?” said the proud papa, huffing a cloud of pinkish gas from the top of what i believe to have been his head. “He sure do favor his old dad, that’s what i’ve always said.”

I nodded. “I gotta say, the apple don’t fall far from the tree. So, remind me again… i don’t think i caught it the first time… what’s the name of the planet y’all are from?”

The father replied with the most horrifying sound i have ever seen produced by an object that was less than six feet away from me: a sort of screeching moan, mostly made up of harsh vowels and painful dreams. “So,” i squirmed. “Um. So that’s the name of your planet, is it?” By this time the conviction was finally borne in upon me that these were probably not kids wearing costumes.

“Wow, okay,” i said, turning my attention to the remaining group of three, who had sat patiently on their fence during the preceding proceedings. Did i mention that these three fellows had a portable fence, mounted on wheels, and that they were sitting on it?

“And you fellows,” i said. “What’s the story?”

“We’re Scotsmen,” said the first one.

“Aye, that we are,” said the second. “Three of us.”

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

That certainly cleared things up for me. “Golly,” i said, “you fellows seem oddly familiar. Might i have encountered you in a joke somewhere?”

“It’s not unlikely,” said the first one.

“You’ve probably haird the one about the three Scotsmen,” said the second one.

“Sittin’ on a fence,” added the third.

“Aye, that i have,” said i, involuntarily falling into their mode of speech. “So that’s why you fellas seem so familiar.” Then, seizing an opportunity that was not likely to come round again, i asked, “So what’s the punchline? I’ve never heard the finished version of the joke.”

The three Scotsmen looked at each other, then back at me, smiled mysteriously, and said nothing.

[Editor’s Note: For a discussion of the original joke about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, you might want to check out this post… (“So There Were These Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, See”) from about four years ago. You might, additionally, enjoy checking out this later post: “An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This ‘Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence’ Thing.”]

Unsure of how to continue the conversation, i dug out some Hundred Grillion Dollar Bars and pocket philosophical classics from my cauldron, distributed them among the strange company, and saw them off.

 

Conclusion

Well, there you have it. My first participation in Hallowe’en in about 40 years. I feel you must agree with me that it was a smashing success.

And you will be gratified to note, as i was, that after having checked all up and down the block the next morning, i saw no sign of philosophy books that had been tossed aside into people’s yards or chucked into conveniently located garbage cans.

[Editor’s Note: For some clues as to where some of these kiddies might have gotten the ideas for their inventive costumes, have a look at the post prior to this one.]

 

It’s a Brave New World: Some Ideas Regarding What to Self-Identify As, This Hallowe’en

Well, people, it’s 2017, and the hip thing to be this year is something that you weren’t born as. Furthermore, it’s the Hallowe’en season, and the hip thing to be at Hallowe’en… is… something that you weren’t born as.  Clearly, the timing of this post could not have been more appropriate.

The question of being, in philosophy, is called ontology. (It can also, sort of, be called ‘metaphysics’. Don’t worry about it. It’s complicated.) The exploration of ontology forms one of the cornerstones of this blog:  trying to figure out what things are, what it means to be something, what categories things go into, how various kinds of things fit together. What, for instance, is a flockbinker? Are YOU a flockbinker? (Don’t even pretend that you’ve never wondered.)

And people, it just don’t get any more ontologically interesting than this recent trend toward identifying oneself as something that one… well… isn’t.

You want some examples?  Sure.

A retired schoolteacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania recently proclaimed herself to be an ocelot. A different retired schoolteacher in Plano, Texas, not wishing to be outdone, has proclaimed herself to be TWO ocelots. Yet a third retired schoolteacher, this one from Des Moines, is marketing herself as an ocelot that identifies as a manatee that is actually a bottle of Dr. Pepper. A 47-year-old plumber in Bozeman, Montana proclaimed himself last week to be a character from Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, except it’s not a character who actually appears in the book, but would have, if Jane Austen had known what she was doing.

And there are apparently even more unsettling modes of self-identification in the offing: one young lady in South Bend, Indiana recently came out as a three-layer yellow sponge cake with cream cheese frosting, and at the time of this writing there is a breaking story about a fellow in Cross Creek, Florida who has chosen to identify as a (so far) undiscovered chemical element. He is calling himself “Nunayurbidnium.”

It’s the newest thing: Give yourself a good looking-over, then say “Well forget THIS, pal,” and announce to the world that you are something which you clearly are not.

To help us all get into the spirit of things this Hallowe’en season, i’ve come up with a handy list of items that, so far as i know, no one has yet identified as.

Pro Tip: If you choose to identify as one of these, you’ll want to get on it pretty quickly. Now that i’ve published the list, there’ll be a stampede (not at all surprising, in the case of ‘a herd of reindeer’ and possibly even ‘four weasels’) and you’re gonna want to establish your own identity ahead of the crowd so as to appear original.

So here are the possibilities. Identify away!

 

I, ______________________________, choose to identify as:

 

  • A fruitcake
  • A chaotic, shapeless, featureless mass (ah, but it seems we repeat ourselves)
  • A linebacker for the New York Yankees
  • A naughty, naughty fellow
  • A fellow who’s not quite mischievous enough to be called ‘naughty’ but who is, nevertheless, not an entirely reputable citizen
  • A weasel (meaning the animal, not ‘a naughty, naughty fellow,’ which of course is another thing that ‘weasel’ can mean)
  • Four weasels all living in the same box
  • A set of pastels that have been gently used
  • A blank canvas
  • A herd of reindeer
  • What the snow looks like after a herd of reindeer have been through
  • The discarded wrapper from a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup
  • The square root of peace and justice for all humankind
  • The Thirteenth Floor
  • Your Mom
  • A remote possibility
  • An unfortunate fashion statement
  • The drive-through window at Frank’s Burgers on 3rd Street
  • Beans, beans, the musical fruit
  • A flockbinker (the regular, treadknicious kind)
  • A flockbinker that isn’t EVEN treadknicious
  • Something treadknicious that isn’t a flockbinker
  • A wamwam
  • A wambinker
  • A flockwam
  • An intransitive verb
  • A mathematical impossibility (but something other than “the square root of peace and justice for all humankind”)
  • A faux pas
  • A social blunder, but in English, not French
  • Seventeen different genders, all at the same time, and most of them previously undiscovered
  • Snow White AND the Seven Dwarfs
  • An intermediate-level class in cross stitching
  • An Arby’s roast beef sandwich with horsey sauce
  • A subatomic particle
  • A neutron in search of an atom
  • An atom in search of a happenin’ party
  • A happenin’ party in search of a meaningful occasion
  • A meaningful occasion in search of its place in the universe
  • The Bay Area
  • Stanford University, but with no students, faculty or buildings
  • Conan O’Brien’s haircut
  • An alien civilization
  • A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a nearby planet
  • The internet
  • The web, which apparently isn’t the same thing as the internet
  • The cloud, which apparently isn’t the same thing as the web or the internet
  • The Tempest, which is neither the cloud, the web nor the internet, but is instead a play by William Shakespeare
  • A grunt of dissatisfaction
  • An expression of disbelief
  • A timely disclaimer
  • A single tear from the eye of a unicorn
  • The look on Jimmy Fallon’s face when he’s just said something amusing
  • A bright new world, full of possibility and hope, that lies just around the corner

 

Some Things That Flockbinkers Have in Common with Unicorns.

Greetings, o most excellent reader.

In a recent post, we were forced to acknowledge an objection some readers apparently have to this blog: that, even though it mentions flockbinkers in the title, not every post is actually about flockbinkers. Now, i do need to point out that the greater number of the posts do at least mention flockbinkers, and in that last post we did raise the somewhat metaphysically subtle possibility that even the posts that don’t mention flockbinkers might nevertheless be about them. One of our loyal readers wasn’t buying that one, though, so we thought we’d devote this post to some fairly explicit (be warned, parents!) discussion of flockbinkers.

In fact, why don’t we address a question that has doubtless occurred to more than one reader since this blog was launched. Perhaps you’re among those who have wondered: What is the connection between flockbinkers and unicorns? Are they similar in some way? They certainly do get mentioned together a lot in this blog. What exactly do they have in common?

Let’s set forth eight ways in which unicorns and flockbinkers might be thought of as similar.

1. They both have three syllables in their name.

Here, let me show you.

You – knee – corn. Flock – bing – ker.

You can sound them out for yourself. Three syllables each.

Now, you may not think this is a significant thing for two objects to have in common, but that is where you have made your vital mistake. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any criterion for similarity between any two things that is more important than the question of whether the words used to depict them have the same number of syllables. You’ll just have to trust us on this one.

2. They both have a horn poking out of the middle of their forehead.

It must be admitted up front that this point is a controversial one. The scholarly community are not unanimous in the conviction that flockbinkers have a horn protruding from the forehead. Some scholars are skeptical regarding whether flockbinkers even have a forehead, or, for that matter any kind of head at all. There are hints in the philosophical literature to the effect that the flockbinker may be an entity something like a toaster, or a microwave oven. There has even arisen a recent school of thought that says flockbinkers may be more like clouds of pinkish gas than anything else. And, of course, there are those outliers who aren’t convinced that there even IS such a thing as a flockbinker… which leads us to our next point.

3. They both are nonexistent.

Of course, this point depends entirely on what you mean by the terms ‘existent’ and ‘nonexistent.’  If by ‘existent’ you mean the sort of thing you are likely to see served at dinner or parked in your driveway, then both the flockbinker and the unicorn may safely be termed ‘nonexistent.’

The more precise discussion of what it means for something to exist has been treated elsewhere on this blog and will be revisited many times in the future. We need not concern ourselves with it now. If, however, you are a philosopher, and therefore of a stamp that requires a higher level of precision than does the average reader of silly blogs, then the next point will doubtless be of interest to you.

4. They both occupy a kind of ontological territory that might be termed ‘modally existent.’

Perhaps ‘nonexistent’ is a fatally inexact way to characterize both flockbinkers and unicorns. Perhaps we might want to nuance that a bit, and say that they do… er, sort of… exist, but not in the same way that your iPhone exists, or those Depends undergarments you’ve started wearing recently and that you earnestly hope no one knows about. We might want to say that the unicorn and the flockbinker are ‘modally existent’… which is to say, they exist in a different sort of way from the things we usually think of as existing, like paper airplanes, government waste, and the number 439. Well, except the number 439 might also go into the category of modal existence, depending on what you think the normal sort of ‘existence’ is all about. For that matter, government waste may have have to go in that same category, because — although we all know that it’s there — it’s not the sort of thing you can swat with a yardstick or draw pictures on with a lump of charcoal. Some other things that might go in the category of ‘modally existent’ would be Elizabeth Bennet, the bogeyman, and whoever that guy is that Taylor Swift keeps writing songs about.

5. Discussing either of them in this blog can send a certain Good Reader into an apoplectic rage.

The Good Reader:  Okay, buster, you can just stop it right there. I am not about to put up with….

The Blogger:  I rest my case.

6. They both can be found in mythic and fantasy literature.

The Good Reader:  Now just a minute, you cut me off before i was able to make my point.

The Blogger:  But we’ve already moved on to another point.

The Good Reader:  Oh no, we haven’t. Not until we address the previous one, which you just kind of whipped on through while trying to make me look stupid.

The Blogger:  [sigh] Okay, Good Reader. You may respond in full.

The Good Reader:  You claimed that mentioning unicorns or flockbinkers on this blog will send me into “an apoplectic rage.”

The Blogger:  Well, in my defense, i didn’t actually mention you by name….

The Good Reader:  I don’t even have a name. I’m a character who serves as the personification of your readership.

The Blogger:  There is that.

The Good Reader:  But my point is, i am not enraged by hearing you mention flockbinkers or unicorns. I actually think they’re kind of endearing. What enrages me, maybe even apoplectically, is listening to you make bizarre statements that you can’t back up, and then insulting me and trying to make me look like a moron when i challenge you on it.

The Blogger:  I have never done that.

The Good Reader:  So that’s what enrages me. Apoplectically.

The Blogger:  Well, your clarification is of course welcome, Good Reader, but you still seem to be ignoring the fact that we’ve moved on to a new topic.

The Good Reader:  Fine. I’ll challenge you on that, too. Unicorns have, of course, been the subject of myth and fantasy literature. Flockbinkers have not. Nobody has ever even heard of flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  Except, of course, for the thousands of readers who regularly follow this blog.

The Good Reader:  I’m rolling my eyes. Can you see it? I’m rolling my eyes at you and making the face people make when their 16-month-old has just dumped a plate of spaghetti on the floor.

The Blogger:  [checking his watch] Oops, will you look at that, we’re almost out of time. Must move on to the next point.

7. They both tend to be featured in Medieval tapestries.

It is commonly known that unicorns are featured in Medieval tapestries, often in the company of a young virgin. What’s less well known is that flockbinkers, also, can be found pictured in Medieval tapestries. Have you ever seen a picture of the Bayeux Tapestry? It’s not technically a tapestry, it’s more like a really long visual newspaper article reporting how the fateful Battle of Hastings went. Anyway, about 2/3 of the way toward the right of the picture, you can see a strange creature taking a spear right in the face. Ouch. Well, many informed experts feel that this was a flockbinker who innocently wandered onto the field of battle at precisely the wrong moment. That is to say, the wrong moment if your preference is not to die horribly, but the right moment if you’d like to be immortalized in one of the world’s most iconic works of art. It’s really a matter of perspective, isn’t it.

8. They are both of interest to people who self-identify as ‘horse-people.’

It has been the personal experience of This Blogger that those who tend to view themselves as ‘horse-people’ tend to be drawn both to unicorns and to flockbinkers. To unicorns, obviously, because they’re basically the same thing as a horse but with extra stuff. But why are such people also drawn to flockbinkers? Perhaps because flockbinkers, like horses, tend to be a preferred mode of transportation among those who (as represented in Western films) poke cows for a living? But here we have wandered into the territory of pure conjecture.

“I Know What You’re Doing…You’re Trying to Use LOGIC on Me!”

I have a friend from college days — let’s call him ‘Grog’ — who once shared with me (back in college days) the following highly amusing story.

‘Grog’ [not his real name] had apparently had a conversation with a freshman about… oh, who knows what. Knowing ‘Grog,’ it may have been politics, social theory, or theology. And apparently ‘Grog’ was having difficulty getting his argument to land home. He tried one approach, then another, but she just wasn’t connecting. At long last, however, after a frustrating and apparently fruitless series of attempts to put his reasoning across to the hapless lass, a look of recognition finally appeared upon the young lady’s features, as if she had awakened from a fearful slumber and was for the first time fully tuned in to the conversation. And she said:

“I know what you’re trying to do! You’re trying to use LOGIC on me!”

In Grog’s [not his real name] later recounting of the incident to me, he appended the following observation. “What was she wanting me to do?” he queried. “Go like this?”

And right there, in front of me, he plunged into a series of horrific full-body spasms that successfully communicated the idea of whatever it is that’s the clean OPPOSITE of logic.

I got it.

Personally, i would have much preferred logic. But there’s no accounting for tastes.

During the years since ‘Grog’ shared the story with me, i have often turned that incident over in my mind. There are people in this world… i know this sounds terrible, and i hate even to have to raise the subject, but sometimes unpleasant things must be talked about… there are people in this world who have somehow landed the impression that logic is a bad thing. Have you run into people like this? Their view of human life is as follows:

  1. Over here, in this corner, you’ve got the people who are cool, caring, creative, intuitive, interesting, connect easily with others, dance with unicorns, know how to have a good time, and, in short, are fully human.

  2. And in that other corner way over there, there are the people whose terrifyingly blackened innards are gummed up with LOGIC, and who are, as a result, really stuffy, cold, irritating, and, let’s just come right out and say it, evil.

One can hardly point out to them that such a setup is not logical. It simply wouldn’t have the intended effect. Yes? You can see the dilemma.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing i’m talking about. In 1979, the rock band Supertramp released a song (kind of a cool song, actually) called “The Logical Song.” The lyrics to that song are guilty of virtually every possible fallacious representation of what logic is really all about.

Here, you wanna listen? It sounds kind of like this:

 

Man, did you catch that? What a series of poorly-conceived pot shots! On the one hand you’ve got innocence, youth, freedom, wonder, and birdies singing. On the other hand, you’ve got intellect, responsibility, practicality, logic. You know: the BAD things.

Dearie me.

Here’s the thing. The idea that “being a logical, analytical person” is somehow the opposite of “being a creative, imaginative, intuitive person” is pure baloney.

And not even real baloney. No. The kind of baloney that’s made out of chicken scraps.

See, it’s possible to be BOTH logical / analytical AND imaginative / intuitive. My main man C.S. Lewis is a prime example (well, not anymore; he’s dead) of that sort of person.

It’s possible, on the other hand, to be NEITHER logical / analytical NOR imaginative / intuitive. Some people are just kind of dull and stupid and have very little going on down inside, in that place there where most of us have something going on.

And then of course, it’s possible to be logical / analytical WITHOUT being imaginative / intuitive, and vice-versa. But the point is, you can be any combination of them. It’s not as if those things are opposites. You can be both, or neither.

The same principle extends far beyond the accounting staff and the left-bank artistes.

You can be both tall and redheaded. You can be both funny and mechanically inclined. You can have blue eyes and drive a Toyota. You can live in Nebraska and play video games.You can eat your sandwiches with the crust trimmed off and enjoy the music of Bonnie Raitt. You can include the word ‘magnanimously’ in every sentence and have an Atlanta Braves baseball cap hanging from the wall of your bedroom.

Not every pair of attributes has to involve opposition.

Here, let me show you.

Human #1:  Just one moment, pal! Are you left-handed?

Human #2:  I…am. Yes. Is there a problem?

Human #1:  But i can plainly see that you’re wearing K-Swiss athletic shoes.

Human #2:  Ye-e-ess.

Human #1:  Well then!

Human #2:  Um.

Human #1:  Explain yourself, mister!

Human #2:  Whatever you’re trying to say is just flying right past me.

Human #1:  You can’t be left-handed AND be a wearer of K-Swiss shoes!

Human #2:: Uh. I sure can. Looky.

Human #1:  You, my friend, are an anomaly. A crime against nature. A freak.

Human #2:  I am not! What in the world.

Human #1:  The left-handed people are the opposite of the people who wear K-Swiss!

Human #2:  What!?

Human #1:  You can’t be both!

Human #2:  That’s ridiculous. A certain clothing style can’t be the ‘opposite’ of favoring one hand over the other. That’s like saying that salmon are the opposite of adjectives.

Human #1:  Salmon? Adjectives? I don’t understand your point. I think you’re just saying random stuff to fill in space because you’re embarrassed over being exposed.

Human #2:  Oh my word. Look. Look here. Is light the opposite of darkness?

Human #1:  Sure! Sure it is. Everyone knows that.

Human #2:  And is cold the opposite of heat?

Human #1:  Yup. Sure is.

Human #2:  So far, so good. Now, is “being grumpy” the opposite of “having a Facebook account”…?

Human #1:  There is no opposite to having a Facebook account. Everybody in the solar system has a Facebook account.

Human #2:  My mom doesn’t.

Human #1:  Seriously?

Human #2:  Mm-hmm. She stays in touch with people using traditional mail.

Human #1:  You’re kidding! Wow.

Human #2:  Anyway, i think my point is getting buried. How about this: Is “being grumpy” the opposite of “having an REI sticker on your rear windshield”…?

Human #1:  Um, no. I don’t think so.

Human #2:  And is “having a mole on your upper lip” the opposite of “living in an 1800 square foot bungalow in the northwest suburbs of Chicago”…?

Human #1:  Uh… i’m going with ‘no’.

Human #2:  See, unless two attributes somehow involve the negation of each other at the level of essence, you can’t say that they’re opposites. Most attributes aren’t opposites. They’re just differences: things that happen to be true in different ways.

Human #1:  Just one minute… i can see what you’re doing!

Human #2:: What. What am i doing.

Human #1:  YOU’RE TRYING TO USE LOGIC ON ME!

 

A Fine, Honest, Admirable, Heartfelt Attempt to Define ‘Flockbinkers’

 

To begin with:

We talk a lot about flockbinkers ’round these here parts.

Editor’s Note: The blogger lives in Tennessee and occasionally lapses into a charming but grammatically substandard regional idiom. We, the AllFlockbinkers Editorial Staff, allow this, because it gives a sense of local color to the blog.

It’s true. We talk about flockbinkers. We just do. And we’re not ashamed to admit it. We’ve been doing so for a long time, and i can’t see that changing anytime soon. Sure and we’re a wee bit fond o’ th’ flockbinkers.

Editor’s Note: The blogger has never lived in either Scotland or Ireland, and we are scratching our beards over the mystery of where that last bit came from.

From time to time, a weary reader will call to our attention the fact that we haven’t yet defined the term “flockbinker,” which makes things a wee bit somewhat difficult when they are everywhere present on the blog. “How can i sit around and listen to you talk all day about frockbrinkers,” a typical reader might protest, “when i have no idea what they are?” An understandable objection, even if the misguided reader struggled a bit to get the word quite right. But no matter. Today we shall address the difficulty full-on. We are about to take the flockbinker by the horns.

The Good Reader:  You just said it again.

The Blogger:  Said what? Flockbinker? Of course! It’s a blog about flockbinkers.

The Good Reader:  No, you said they have horns.

The Blogger:  Oh, right, right. We talked about this a couple of years ago, didn’t we.

The Good Reader:  That was actually ‘The Timid Reader’ that you had that conversation with. I’m ‘The Good Reader.’ But she and i might actually be the same person. Maybe i was going under the name of The Timid Reader at that time. Maybe. Your blog is so weird. It’s impossible to know WHAT is up.

The Blogger:  That’s a very good point, and if i may say so, ontologically astute.

The Good Reader:  Thanks. So, back to flockbinkers and their horns. You said they had horns then, and when i (or she) tried to pin you down about it, you wriggled out of it by saying philosophical things that probably didn’t have an actual meaning. Or you might have said “it’s complicated.” You like to get out of making clear statements by saying “it’s complicated.”

The Blogger:  Actually, i did not say they had horns then. But yes, i remember, i did say we were going to take the flockbinker by the horns. And we did! Sort of. And that’s what we’re going to do right now!

The Good Reader:  Using the horns that they actually have, or horns that they don’t have?

The Blogger:  You’re becoming more of a philosopher with each passing minute, The Good Reader! I’m proud of you.

The Good Reader:  [says a word that we have chosen not to print because we feel it would detract from the family-oriented reputation of this blog]

 

But, ahem, back to the point:

The thing you need to understand about flockbinkers is that they can be used as placeholders in a logical scenario, without anyone actually knowing what they are, or even whether they exist… and, if they do exist, in what way.

Example:

1. All flockbinkers are treadknicious
2. All wamwams are flockbinkers
3. Therefore, all wamwams are treadknicious

…or, if you’re not particularly partial to wamwams… and let’s just be honest, not everybody is…

1. Some flockbinkers are nomnomnomnom
2. No fruitcakes are nomnomnomnom
3. Therefore, no fruitcakes are flockbinkers

[Oops. It appears we made a boo-boo. You get extra credit points if you can explain why that second syllogism was not valid.]

[And, by the way, if you’d like to learn more about logical syllogisms, you can find some marvelous examples of syllogisms in this post right here.]

So here’s the thing. Despite the fact that we are frequently referring to them in these logical syllogisms, it still may or may not be the case that such entities as flockbinkers, wamwams, and fruitcakes exist. And even if they do exist, there may be considerable uncertainty regarding what they are. I’ve never talked to ANYBODY who could give me a satisfying account of what fruitcakes are.

 

An excursus on ontology

Ontology is an area of philosophy that has to do with being and identity. It deals with (among other things) the question of what things are. You know? What they really are.

So, for instance, if you had a question about the ontological status of fruitcakes, and you chose wisely to consult a philosopher, you might get a response something like this:

The Philosopher:  Well, what is the fruitcake made of? Is it part of something larger? Is it subdivided into component parts? Can the fruitcake be assigned to a larger category, and do you know what that category is? Might it be assigned to several distinct or overlapping categories? Perhaps a plethora of categories? An El Guapo-esque plethora? What is the purpose of the fruitcake? How, when and where did it come into existence? Were there other things that came into existence along with it? Did someone give it to you at Christmas? I hate it when that happens. I don’t think anybody ever actually eats them. Have you ever heard of someone eating a fruitcake? I don’t even know whether they are edible. They sure don’t LOOK edible. I used mine to plug up a hole in the bathroom wall right behind the shower.

That’s what a trained philosopher might say if you asked him about fruitcakes.

Similarly, the questions about the ontological status of flockbinkers, wamwams, unicorns, Tiny Tim, the milk of human kindness, efficient postal delivery, the person who creates those Facebook memes with monstrously broken grammar, or a bargain item at Whole Foods might be addressed in the same manner.

 

So. Here we are. What ARE flockbinkers, anyway?

Whether they (flockbinkers) exist or not, it would be nice to know what they are.

Of course, the question of what they are might seem to hinge on the question of whether they exist. This was a sticking point in a conversation i had a couple of years ago with The Good Reader, who (in my estimation) seemed not to appreciate the nuances of the discussion. But might it be the case that a nonexistent entity can still have recognizable characteristics? You could all describe a unicorn, if called upon to do so. You could describe a planet that is in the throes of being blown up by the Death Star (or one of its many successors). You could describe the experience of what it would be like to check out for less than $75.00 at Whole Foods. This last one might require a strenuous exercise of the imagination, but i am confident that you could pull it off.

So, you see, it might be possible for a thing to have attributes even if it is not a real thing.

So, without further ado, why don’t we assemble some experts on logic, metaphysics and semantics, and see if we can come to some understanding of what sort of critter the ‘flockbinker’ is. Or isn’t. If there even is one.

 

Our panel of experts weighs in:

And by “our panel of experts,” we mean “the somewhat random group of people we were able to assemble by offering to let them look at a McDonald’s hamburger we’ve kept in its wrapper for seventeen years and which has not decomposed at all.”

The Good Reader:  I’m dumbfounded that you would even ask me this, given the large number of frustrating conversations we’ve had about flockbinkers and unicorns and other things that don’t exist but that you claim do exist, or something — and if you say, “it’s complicated,” i will reply with a very rude word. You know i will.

The Timid Reader:  Why do you insist on embarrassing me like this? I don’t even get it. You have it in for me. You lose no opportunity to expose my ignorance in front of your thousands of readers.

Editor’s Note: The Timid Reader is referring to a conversation that occurred in one of the early posts to this blog, in which she was publicly revealed as not knowing what a syllogism was. Which really wasn’t a big deal, but she took it way personally.

Editor’s Note2: Apparently The Good Reader and The Timid Reader are two distinct people, after all. But according to The Good Reader, earlier in this very blog post… oh dear. Curiouser and curiouser.

The Blogger:  I wish.

The Timid Reader:  To expose my ignorance?

The Blogger:  No, the part about thousands of readers.

Elvis Wu:  Well, if i understand correctly the things you’ve told me, and the posts i’ve read on this blog — really interesting blog, by the way! —

The Blogger:  Gosh, thanks, Wu.

Elvis Wu:  — it would seem that the flockbinker is a modally existent entity that is often characterized as if it were a kind of semi-mythical beast, but is at other times spoken of as if it were a small appliance, like a toaster, or a blow-dryer.

One of our British readers:  I’m not entirely certain i understand what it is that i’m being asked. Then again, i’ve been following this blog for a couple of years now and have never felt that i had any idea what was going on. It is awfully amusing, though, isn’t it?

Jennifer Smith (of “Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith Talk About Philosophy” fame):  Okay, i’ve got this. The flockbinker was originally created for use in logic exercises you wrote up for your students. He is a logical placeholder with a deliberately absurd name, and is of uncertain ontological status. [pauses to catch her breath]  Don’t be too impressed; i’m sure i stole every word of that from one or more conversations i’ve had with Little Biffy.

Jennifer Smith’s Uncle Hubert, who happens to be visiting from Spokane and was fascinated by the idea of a seventeen-year-old hamburger:  Well now, Jen’s told me about this blog, and i have to say i think it’s just a terrific idea. A terrific idea! The young people these days are in such need of guidance and critical thinking skills and such —

Jennifer:  Uncle Hubert, he’s asking you to define a ‘flockbinker.’

Uncle Hubert:  Right, right, right. Well, i have to just say i don’t really have the background to be talking about specialized foreign terms, but i think the whole idea’s a terrific one, i really do. The young people today, they just don’t seem to —

Jennifer:  Thanks, Uncle Hubert! Blogger, you may want to move on to the next person.

Random elderly woman in Coolidge Park:  They took my purse. They ran up from behind and took my purse.

The Blogger:  Flockbinkers did this?

REW:  Who? I said they stole my purse!

Tharg, the Primordial Man:  Ooog, bunga bunga, froom froom ooga froom, frockbinger tredmishus, bonga froom ooga wamwam ontological status mooga mooga.

One of the anonymous people who took the quiz a couple of weeks ago:  So what i remember from that quiz is that you offered five choices for whether flockswingers exist… yes, no, maybe, both, and… um… all of the above? Or something.

The Blogger:  [in a hoarse stage whisper]  No, those were NOT the five choices i gave you on that question, and you haven’t even identified the question accurately, never mind your inventive pronunciation of the term ‘flockbinker’…

Anonymous quiz-taking dude whose strong suit is apparently not precision:  And i think i selected “all of the above” because the question seemed really hard and i figured “all of the above” was probably my safest bet. Yeah. That’s what i did.

_____________________________________________

So there you have it, patient readers. I hope you have found this discussion of flockbinkers at least somewhat enlightening. I don’t think it went in exactly the direction i’d had in mind when i started out. I’m going to go for a long walk now through desolate places and contemplate the lonely existence of the philosopher in modern life.

 

Your Very First “Flockbinkers” Pop Quiz.

 

Alrighty, boys and girls, it’s time for a pop quiz. (You knew this was going to happen eventually, and i shall be most disappointed if i find that you’ve not been paying attention.)  Put your books away, take out a pencil and a sheet of paper, and let’s begin.


Question #1:  Which of the following are NOT branches of philosophy?  Select all that apply.

A.  Epistemology

B.  Axiology

C.  Astrology

D.  Metaphysics

E.  Betaphyshics

F.  Ethics

G.  Justin Bieber’s Greatest Hits

H.  Logic

I.  Endocrinology

J.  Whatever Eckhart Tolle’s latest book is about

 

Question #2:  In which of these places are you NOT likely to find real philosophy?

A.  The dialogues of Plato

B.  The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas

C.  The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein

D.  The poetry of Alexander Pope, Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot

E.  The “Intro to Philosophy” class at many state universities

F.  The “Philosophy” section at Barnes and Noble

G.  David Letterman’s interviews with Julia Roberts

H.  Facebook memes (with or without the obligatory misspellings, incorrectly used apostrophes and grammatical monstrosities)

I.  In the second stall from the end, in the men’s room at the Imperial Golden House #2.

J.  The pontifications of that barista who likes to begin every statement with, “Well, MY philosophy is….”

 

Question #3:  Which of the following are NOT functions of logic?

A.  Increasing clarity and reducing misunderstanding

B.  Creating a clear path from evidence to conclusion

C.  Guaranteeing the truth or falsity of propositions

D.  Furnishing a set of tools by which you can sound all fancy and stuff

E.  Creating an environment in which the Darwin Awards are possible

F.  Enabling you to demonstrate that your opponent is an idiot

G.  Enabling you to (inadvertently) demonstrate that you are an idiot

H.  Slicing, dicing, and making julienne fries

I.  Forging an insanely dense, turgid and confused mass of incomprehensible language where a perfectly ordinary conversation might have worked just as well

J.  Enabling the speaker to introduce nonsense terms like “treadknicious” and “inflammable” into the discussion

 

Question #4:  Complete the following sentence. You may select more than one answer. You may NOT select answer (G).  Somebody’s been hacking my WordPress…

“All Flockbinkers are ___________________ .”

A.  nonexistent

B.  extinct

C.  doing quite well, thank you, and living in a condo in Miami Beach

D.  rather a ridiculous thing to be taking up precious conversational time with, don’t you think? I mean, honestly.

E.  of uncertain ontological status

F.  related in ways we do not fully understand to wamwams

G.  symptomatic of The Blogger’s unique psychopathology

H.  treadknicious

I.  your mom

J.  oh, wow, that last one was pretty mature, wasn’t it

 

Question #5:  True, false, neither, or both?

“The present king of France is bald.”

A.  False: French men don’t go bald

B.  False: There is currently no French king.

C.  Do we mean “publicly bald” or “actually bald”?  I’ve heard he wears a hairpiece.

D.  Neither: There is currently no French king

E.  Yeah, okay, so somebody’s been channeling Bertrand Russell

F.  Bertrand Russell shmertrand russell, it’s a straightforward case of a bogus question involving a non-referential term

G.  I have no idea what those last two guys are talking about, i’m going with “true.”

H.  Okay, so there’s only one left, i’ll take “both.”

I.  It can’t possibly be “both.” A statement cannot be both true and untrue at the same time. That’s basic Aristotelian logic.

J.  What do i know from Aristotelian logic?  I was a sohsh major.  I’m going with “both.”

 

Question #6:  Select all that apply.

The term ‘ontology’…

A.  means “an area of study that deals with being or identity”

B.  is a branch of philosophy similar to metaphysics

C.  is a branch of philosophy that is sometimes presented as a subcategory under metaphysics

D.  is a branch of philosophy under which metaphysics is sometimes presented as a subcategory

E.  Let me get this straight, some of you people actually talk like this on a regular basis?

F.  sounds almost like a branch of medicine

G.  is the science that studies new dinosaurs

H.  Get it? “Paleontology” studies prehistoric dinosaurs, and “ontology” studies the new ones.

I.  I’m guessing here, does it mean the study of elderly female relatives? I’m totally guessing.

J.  rhymes with “shmontology,” thus making possible the poem: “ontology, shmontology.”

 

Question #7:  Complete the following sentence. You may select more than one answer.

“The unicorn is an entity that ___________________ .”

A.  shares certain attributes in common with the flockbinker

B.  can be found throughout world literature and myth

C.  is of uncertain ontological status

D.  Dude, the same people who talk about unicorns do not use the word “entity.”

E.  can be used to trip up The Good Reader into saying self-contradictory things

F.  is often pictured communing with a virgin on medieval tapestries

G.  if it existed, would be kind of cool

H.  if it existed, would be a horror past all imagining

I.  is a favorite animal among those who self-identify as “horse-people”

J.  “…has a single horn growing out of its forehead. Except, well, you see, it doesn’t, because unicorns aren’t real. Well, it’s complicated. Darn it, you tripped me up again!”

 

Question #8:  Complete the following syllogism.

Some broomshovelers are hobnobbicus.

All broomshovelers are froombicious.

Therefore, _____________________ .

A.  some things that are hobnobbicus are also froombicious.

B.  You have got to be kidding me.

C.  No, it’s a serious logic exercise.

D.  How can something with nonsense words be a logic exercise?  That’s totally illogical.  heh heh.

E.  No, it’s not totally illogical. Non-referential terms can be used as placeholders to illustrate various kinds of logical relationships.

F.  Whatever.

G.  I’m guessing that “whatever,” in the present instance, means “i’m not capable of grasping the nuances of structured philosophical discourse.”

H.  Yeah, well, i’ve got your structured philosophical discourse right here, pal.

I.  Hey, can y’all take the argument offline, please?  I’m trying to figure out the answer to the dude’s question.

J.  I just got here. Sorry i’m late, everybody! Hey, did i hear somebody say “broomshovelers”?  Funny!  I’m actually studying that at the community college. Small world.

 

Question #9:  True, false, neither, both, or both neither and both?

“A flockbinker does not have to exist in order to be treadknicious.”

A.  That’s silly. How can something that doesn’t exist be “trebulishus” or anything else?

B.  You have to pick one of the five options he gave you.

C.  I did. What part of “that’s silly” doesn’t pretty much mean “false”?

D.  We’re all philosophers here. Precision is kind of a big deal.

E.  Guys, The Blogger here. Can you please refrain from using up all the answers with your bickering?  I only get to put in ten answers per question.

F.  You’re The Blogger, how do you not get as many answers per question as you want to include?  Hmmmm?

G.  Hey fellas, i’ll take a stab at it. “Neither.”  ‘Cause a flockbinker doesn’t exist and also isn’t treadknicious.

H.  Oh my word. Kill me now.

I.  What, that wasn’t the right answer? I thought it made perfect sense.

J.  Let me try. I’m going with “both neither and both,” on account of it sounds like the most complicated answer, and it’s a complicated question.

J 1/2.  He only included that one to be absurd. I’m pretty sure he didn’t expect anyone to select it.

J 2/3.  Well, it’s my answer and i’m sticking to it.

J 4/5.  By the way, o mighty Blogger, don’t think we haven’t noticed that you’re stretching out the answers.

 

Question #10:  Fill in the blank. Choose all answers that apply.

“There are two kinds of people in the world: dog-people and horse-people. We only threw in the dog-people to make the question seem more involved than it really is. You can lead a horse-person to water, but you cannot  ________________________ .”

A.  make him drink it.

B.  make his horse drink it.

C.  take the risk of attaching either the pronoun ‘he’ or the pronoun ‘she’ to ‘horse-person,’ because ‘horse-person’ is a gender-indefinite term.

D.  Well, traditionally, ‘he’ has been used as the gender-indefinite pronoun in English.

E.  Your respect for tradition is endearing! I bet you knit your own sweaters, too. Welcome to the 21st century! We’ve kind of moved beyond sexist grammar.

F.  There’s nothing ‘sexist’ about having an indefinite pronoun that happens to be the same word that, in other contexts, would be a masculine pronoun.

G.  The Blogger: Fellas, fellas, please!  Take the argument outside.  I’m really trying to run a quiz here.

H.  “Fellas”…?  What makes you think we’re both men?

I.  I was using the word ‘fellas’ in its gender-inclusive sense.

J.  The word ‘fellas’ does not have a gender-inclusive sense, dude. It’s a masculine-reference noun, admittedly idiomatic in nature but nevertheless conventionally masculine.

J.5.  You called me “dude.”

J.7.  What?

J.8.  You called me “dude.”  How do you know i’m a fella?

J.9.  I read your bio, dude.

J.995.  Oh, that’s right.  Blast.  Thought i had you.

 

 

 

Ontology, Equestrian Style

In which an impromptu discussion of philosophy erupts among three randomly-assembled persons: two twenty-something women, and The Blogger, who now dutifully reports the exchange to his readers for their potential benefit and edification. And all that sort of thing.

As the scene begins, Female #1—whose real name sounds kind of like ‘Paleontology,’ only much shorter and with different letters—but in order to protect her identity we are calling her something else—to wit, ‘Female #1— is about to make a profound observation regarding human types. Her cousin, Female #2, whose real name is a slight variant of ‘Augury,’ is perched nearby reading a book with one ear and listening in on the conversation with the other ear. The question of how she can be reading a book with one ear…it’s a real book, not an audiobook… can safely be deferred to another day.

DomenichinounicornPalFarnese-600

 

Female #1:  There are two types of people in this world: horse people and normal people.

The Blogger:  And the people who make musical instruments by winding old silk stockings around a spool and playing them with chopsticks. That’s a third category entirely.

Female #1:  I was being serious.

The Blogger:  There’s no doubt of that! And any serious foray into the development of a classification system deserves the very closest attention from one’s intellectual companions.

Female #1:  I have no response to that.

The Blogger:  And we…  [here the Blogger makes a sweeping gesture that tacitly includes the cousin, seated across the room with one ear in a book]  …are your deeply interested intellectual companions.

Female #1:  There may be a slight difference between “giving somebody your very closest attention,” and “making fun of them by proposing ridiculous ideas when they’re thinking out loud.”

The Blogger:  Perhaps, perhaps. So why don’t you restate your two categories.

Female #1:  Horse people and normal people.

Female #2:  [piping up from across the room]  And dog people!

The Blogger:  …and chopstick – silk stocking – spool – musician people. Four categories! Your taxonomy is rapidly coming apart, [person’s name withheld, but it sounds kind of like Paleontology except with different letters and not as long].

Female #1:  Oh, come on!

The Blogger:  And to make matters worse, just off the top of my head, i’m now thinking of the category of people who have been to Jupiter in a spacecraft that was made by supergluing 46 microwave ovens together.

“Ah,” you may reply, “that’s not a very densely populated category.”

Sure, fine, but the point is that it is a category distinct from categories 1-4. So now we’ve identified FIVE groups of people in this world. And we may not yet be finished discovering new ones.

Female #1:  You’re pretty good at carrying on the whole conversation all by yourself. I could go get a donut and coffee and come back in about an hour, and I bet you’d still have both of us covered.

The Blogger:  You’re not the first person who’s said that.

Female #2:  [from across the room]  And the people who keep guinea pigs. That’s a very distinct community.

51E2UmkkuXL._SY355_

Female #1:  Look, guys, I was just making a simple comment on whether people are into horses or not. There’s no need to make a production out of it.

The Blogger:  What you call “making a production out of it” is simply our display of intense interest in your line of thinking. We are subjecting your ideas to careful philosophical scrutiny because we think so very highly of you.

Female #1:  Well, gee. Thanks. I feel strangely moved.

Female #2:  And pythons. Some people keep a ball python at home in a large glass case. Those are not the horse people and they’re not the guinea pig people. Well, some of them could be guinea pig people. They could raise guinea pigs in order to feed them to the python. So now we have an overlapping of two of the categories. This is getting really interesting. I think I could take a liking to philosophy if it were all like this.

Female #1:  If you mention one more animal, so help me.

Female #2:  And the people in northern Finland who herd reindeer!  [ducks around a corner]

Female #1:  Grrrrr. Okay, I’ve got this: all of the above mentioned categories are just sub-categories within the “normal people” one. There are still only two main categories. Horse people and normal people.  [sweet smile]

The Blogger:  Oohh, that’s good… but I anticipate a possible difficulty. You may run into some snags trying to pass off the people who use chopsticks to draw music out of stocking-encircled spools, or the people who say they have been to Jupiter in a collection of microwave ovens, as “normal.” I’m just saying.

Female #1:  Okay… how about ‘horse people’ and ‘the uninitiated.’

V0017113 Chastity (a virgin and a unicorn). Oil painting by a followe

Female #2:  [popping back into the room]  And the people who keep those enormous fish tanks with ten kinds of tropical fish in them, and an eel, and some kind of bizarre crab thing that lives on the bottom, and lots of intricate-looking pumps and aerating equipment, and some fancy weeds.

Female #1:  STOP that!

The Blogger:  And the people with those asymmetrical haircuts in which the vast majority of their hair is gathered on one side, thereby creating the impression that they should be tilting their head at a rather severe angle in order to maintain balance.

Female #2:  Right! I’ve never understood that. Why can’t people just settle for a regular, symmetrical haircut?

Female #1:  GUYS!

The Blogger:  So now we’re up to, what, about eight different categories?

Female #2:  Ten. I’ve been keeping a tally. But two of them overlap: the python people and the guinea pig people.

The Blogger:  Excellent! Attention to detail is good.

Female #1:  Oh my word. Neither one of you is a normal people.

The Blogger:  Then, according to your initial scheme, we must both be horse people! But I’ve never been on a horse in my life. Well, that’s not true. I was at another little boy’s birthday party once, a long time ago, and it was held at a stable, and all the party guests took turns riding the pony. I was the only one for whom the dang pony wouldn’t do anything. He just stood there. I tried following directions, but the pony just wouldn’t respond. It scarred me.

Female #2:  Well, of course it did! Poor little boy. Bad, bad pony.

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Female #1:  I have entered a nightmare from which I fear I will not awaken.

Female #2:  Can there be a separate category for people who might have become horse people, but didn’t, due to a traumatizing incident in early childhood?

The Blogger:  That makes sense to me.

Female #1:  Okay, stop, please, just stop. Listen. Here’s what I was doing. I was simply observing that some people in the world are into horses, and then there’s everybody else. That’s what I was saying.

The Blogger:  A true enough observation, as far as it goes.

Female #2:  Which isn’t very far! What about the people who practice dentistry and go to Africa in order to shoot a lion?

The Blogger:  Right, right! Of course. Is that eleven categories so far?

Female #2:  Twelve.

The Blogger:  Gotcha.

Female #1:  Okay, time out, time out, let me try this. There’s a potentially infinite number of ways in which you can categorize people. Right? You could come up with bajillions of classification schemes, and many of them would be totally valid and what not. All I’m saying… all I’m saying… is that there is one classification scheme that I’m thinking of right now, and it’s got two categories in it, that’s all, just two categories. And those categories are (1) the horse people, and (2) the people who aren’t horse people. That’s all I’m saying.

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Female #2:  And then there are the people who’ve seen pictures of horses on the internet, and they’ve thought to themselves, “Wow, maybe I should get a horse, I could be a horse person,” but then they think, “Well no, I bet it’s a lot of trouble and expense, and I’d have to have someplace to keep him, which I don’t, and there’s probably some kind of license you have to get, similar to a driver’s license, but for horses.” And so they decide against it.

The Blogger:  Against purchasing a horse? Or becoming a horse person?

Female #2:  Are they not the same thing?

The Blogger:  Well, it seems to me that someone could technically own a horse without being a horse person. They could own one for their business but they hire someone else to groom it, because they personally can’t relate to horses.

Female #2:  Yeah, I can see how that might be true.

Female #1:  Oh my WORD.

The Blogger:  You two are related, aren’t you?

Female #1:  No… no, I don’t think so.

Female #2:  Definitely.

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We happen upon Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith in the middle of a rousing philosophical discussion. Let’s listen in.

If i’m not mistaken, you people…

(and here i refer to The Good Reader, in both his singular and plural capacities… that is, as an individual human person reading the blog, and as an archetypal personage representing all three of you who are readers of the blog… as well as in both his male and female manifestations)

…well, anyway, it is you, Good Reader, whom i am addressing, and it seems to me that i’ve not yet introduced you to Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith.

Which seems extraordinary. How many posts to this blog have we gotten through thus far, and still have somehow managed not to introduce these two characters who are so near the very center of what the “All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious” thing is all about? Too many, that’s all i can say. So it’s high time you were introduced to them.

Let’s leave the detailed introductions for a future post. For now, suffice it to say that Little Biffy is a budding young philosopher and a student at Foundations Collegium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He’s somewhere around, oh, maybe ten years of age. It’s hard to tell. He’s really kind of ageless. As evidence of this, i offer the fact that he was created at least 15 years ago, and he’s still the same age now that he was then. YOU try pulling that off. (What’s that? You’ve tried, you say, and you’ve got thousands of dollars in plastic surgery bills to prove it? Well, i’m not sure we’re talking about exactly the same thing, but sure, okay, that’s fine.)

Little Biffy is sort of like a half-pint Socrates. He cannot imagine anything more enjoyable than the pursuit of truth. He loves exploring ideas with people, and plying them with questions until some sort of satisfying conclusion is reached.

One of his regular victims …er… fellow explorers, is Jennifer Smith. Jennifer is in her late 20’s. She’s a business graduate from UTC, and is presently working at Unum in some kind of decently-paying but not-terribly-inspiring desk job. She likes to wind down after work at the Panera Bread on Market Street, sitting at one of the tables on the sidewalk out front with a chai latte and a frothy bestseller, and forget that she finds her career and her life pretty unfulfilling.

Jennifer is a fairly typical twenty-something, in a lot of ways: she’s bright and did well in her college classes, but she has given very little thought to the big questions that life is built around. Or, to put it the way Little Biffy would, she has given insufficient attention to the sharpening up of her worldview.

Biffy met Jenn a few years ago while hanging out at Panera Bread, and she has been one of his favorite interlocutors ever since. She finds him amusing, annoying, and challenging, and puts up with his insistent lines of questioning because, deep down, she really does value truth, and enjoys his challenges to her way of seeing things.

The following excerpt is from one of their early conversations, one sunny spring afternoon a few years back, at a coffeehouse called the Stone Cup.

Little Biffy:  Allright, Jennifer… I think it’s time for a lesson in logic.

Jennifer Smith:  Wow. My friends are going to be so jealous.

Biffy:  Heh heh. I think you’re kidding. But, well, anyway, here goes. Listen closely. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  Wait. I thought you said this was going to be a lesson in logic.

Biffy:  Exactly! Yes. It is.

Jennifer:  But what you just said didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Maybe i’m letting my ignorance of philosophy show, but i thought logic was supposed to be about things that make sense.

Biffy:  But Jennifer, it makes perfect sense to say that all flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  In some other solar system, maybe.

Biffy:  Well, there is that. Heh heh. So stay focused. All flockbinkers…

Jennifer:  Stop. What’s a ‘flockbinker’?

Biffy:  You’re missing the point. Just hang with me. All flockbinkers are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  Okay. Fine.

Biffy:  And all wamwams are flockbinkers.

Jennifer:  I don’t know what a wamwam is, either.

Biffy:  That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Just stay with it. It’ll make sense eventually.

Jennifer:  Terrific. Got it. All flockbinkers are wamwams.

Biffy:  Actually… that’s not it. All wamwams are flockbinkers.

Jennifer:  It’s the same thing!

Biffy:  Well, really, no. But we’ll get back to that.

Jennifer:  Oh, come on. How can it not be the same thing? All flockbinkers are wamwams. All wamwams are flockbinkers. Not that it even matters, ‘cause you’re talking gibberish. All pooh-poohs are hubbabubbas. All blahblahs are froomfrooms too, i bet.

Biffy:  Heh heh. That sparkling wit. It never gets old. No, Jenn, you see, just because all wamwams are flockbinkers, that does not at all necessitate the opposite scenario, that all flockbinkers are wamwams. Try this. Imagine the category of all wamwams.

Jennifer:  I don’t dare. I’ll have nightmares for weeks.

Biffy:  Okay. Fair enough. Imagine the category of all dogs. You like dogs, do you?

Jennifer:  Dogs are great, and they have the added virtue of not sounding like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Okay. I’m picturing all the dogs.

Biffy:  Now imagine the category of all mammals. All the mammals in the world. Got it?

Jennifer:  That’s a bit harder to picture. There’s lots of mammals.

Biffy:  Right, but you know what mammals are, so you can at least imagine what that particular category would involve. Imagine all the mammals in the world, standing in a big circle the size of Alaska.

Jennifer:  Would they all fit?

Biffy:  Sure. Easily. Under factory-farming conditions, anyway.

Jennifer:  That was not even remotely funny.

Biffy:  Uh, sorry. [turns beet-red] So, anyway, all the mammals are in a huge circle the size of Alaska, with lots of room to walk around and graze and joyfully prance upon the grassy hillsides.

Jennifer:  Much better. Okay, all the mammals are in Alaska, prancing. Some of ‘em are freezing their little mammal buns off.

Biffy:  Great. I mean, not that the beasts are cold, but that you’ve got the picture. Now, imagine that all the dogs are also in that Alaska-sized circle. Got it?

Jennifer:  Sure. Well, wait a second. Aren’t they already there? ‘Cause they’re mammals, too.

Biffy:  Excellent! You’re getting it! You’re halfway there. So all of the dogs are mammals.

Jennifer:  Right. Every single one. And if you keep patronizing me, i’m going to tweak your nose. I’m old enough to be your… mmm, your aunt.

Biffy:  Oops. Sorry. [turns red again] So all the dogs are mammals. Now, are all of the mammals dogs?

Jennifer:  Of course not! Some of them are gerbils, and some of ‘em are wildebeests.

Biffy:  So: all dogs are mammals, but not all mammals are dogs.

Jennifer:  That’s right… oh. I see. I’m embarrassed now.

Biffy:  No need! No need. So it’s clear to you that even if all wamwams are flockbinkers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all flockbinkers are wamwams.

Jennifer:  Yes. I get it. You don’t have to rub it in.

Biffy:  Okay then! Moving on. So if all flockbinkers are treadknicious, and all wamwams are flockbinkers, we can reasonably conclude that….

Jennifer:  We are visiting a zoo in wonderland?

Biffy:  Heh heh. You never seem to lose that lively sense of humor. That’s good. No, Jennifer, what we can reasonably conclude is that all wamwams are treadknicious.

Jennifer:  I guess so. And all borogoves are mimsy. And the mome raths, outgrabe. I think I’m getting the hang of this.

An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This “Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence” Thing

Greetings, gentle readers.  (As well as those of you who are actually reading the blog.)  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Several posts ago, i fraudulently claimed that the upcoming post would involve more information about the joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence.  I meant well!  I really was intending to talk about that next.  But then i went off on a tangent about my PechaKucha presentation, and then it was Christmas, and what with one thing and another, the Scotsmen got put on a back burner.

As you might well imagine, they were MUCH happier when they were sitting on the fence.  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Which is where they find themselves once again, because this is the post you’ve been promised, o gentle readers.  (And those of you who are actually reading the blog.  Ba – dumm – chh.)

By way of reminder, let me refresh you on how the “three Scotsmen” joke goes.

“So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”

That’s it.  That’s the joke.  That’s as far as it ever gets.  That’s all there is.

We-e-ell… that’s not exactly true.  There have been some attempts to finish the joke.  Here’s one of the more noteworthy examples:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“All flockbinkers are treadknicious.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“All wamwams are flockbinkers.”

And the third Scotsman says,
“Would ye rather find y’rself confronted by a self-referential absurdity,
or a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

A respectful silence followed.

Ahhhh.  Yes.  Now we’re talkin’ ’bout the good stuff.

But, you see, not everyone has been endowed with the philosophical equipment to fully appreciate a joke like that.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the standard form of the joke is the incomplete version, just the opening line.  Because if i try to finish it, the end product will end up just a wee bit too philosophically rich for your average taste.

But there is another finished version of the joke: one which, like the one above, is going to end up on the back of a t-shirt one of these days.

(I hear you tentatively snickering, o less-than-gentle reader.  You thought that was a joke, didn’t you.  Hah!  Note the conspicuous absence of either boldface print or a “ba-dumm-chh” following the statement.  It was most assuredly NOT a joke; it was the condensed form of a business plan.  I would advise you to learn the difference.  But i fear we digress.)  This other version of the joke is of particular interest as we seek to understand just what the joke is all about.  And here it is:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“Blah blah blah blah blah.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“Mumble mumble mumble.”

Then the third Scotsman says,
“Yada yada yada yada.”

Your mistake, of course, was in thinking that just because something is a joke, it’s going to be funny.

You’re what, how old? You should know better by now.

All that was the joke, including the last part.  Well, no: technically, the last part was the part that will follow the joke as it is displayed on the back of the t-shirt.

Man, these t-shirts are going to be something else.

But note what this version of the joke does for us.  It strips the joke down to its constituent elements.  It reveals the underlying skeleton of the joke.  And the joke turns out to have the same form as a great many other three-part jokes.  That form is as follows:

So there were three [entities] [engaged in some activity].

And the first [entity] [A] [says or does something].

And the second [entity] [B] [says or does something that is closely parallel to what A said or did]

And the third [entity] [C] [says or does something that is a startling departure from what A and B said or did, from which dissonance arises the humor value of the joke].

In keeping with that analysis, our joke above about the three Scotsmen is true to form.  The first Scotsman says, “Blah blah blah blah blah.”  The second Scotsman says, “Mumble mumble mumble.”  These are the usual sorts of things that you expect to hear a Scotsman say, when you encounter him seated on a fence.  But then!  Ah!  The third Scotsman!  When we get to him, we are treated to a delightful surprise: he says, “Yada yada yada yada.”

The third Scotsman turns out to be Jerry Seinfeld!

But let’s get back to the pure, unadorned, basic version of the joke.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  There is something classic, lean and lovely about the basic version, the default version.  It doesn’t say too much.  It says just enough.  It’s thrifty and economical, in much the same way that Scotsmen are reputed to be.

You can almost mentally supply the rest, if you’ve ever heard a three-part joke.  You can envision the first Scotsman saying something, then the second Scotsman saying something, then the third Scotsman saying something surprising that causes your diaphragm to begin spontaneously leaping up and down, and a sort of staccato wheezing sound come out of your mouth.  All you need is that opening line, and you can experience the joke’s potential all by yourself, with no adult supervision.

It’s almost as if everything the joke was ever destined to be is wrapped up in that opening line, and once you’ve heard the line, the joke’s inner essence begins to unfold within you, like the fruit of the Banyan tree.  Or the flower of the lotus.  Um, or something.

Interestingly, the same principle would likely not work with a different opener.  Observe closely:

“So there were these three kittens in a pet shop window, see.”

Who cares?  No one wants to hear the rest of the joke.  You can just tell it’s not going to be funny.

Or this:

“Okay, so there were these three disgruntled postal workers shooting up a McDonald’s right?”

Nope.  Too risky.  If your listeners are nervous about whether the subject-matter is politically correct, they’re not going to laugh.  They’ll be looking over their shoulders to see if anyone else is laughing.

Or this:

“So there were three intransitive verbs, and they walk into a bar, see.”

Nope.  Too abstract.  Maybe if you’re at a cocktail party with a bunch of grammarians, that one would go over uproariously.  You really need to know your audience.

The point i’m making, the Scotsmen joke has a kind of universal appeal.  As soon as that opening line hits, you’ve got the crowd in the palm of your hand.  They don’t need to hear any more.  They’re happy.  You’ve succeeded.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  Just sit back and watch the magic happen.  One business-looking fellow in the middle of the room is thinking, “Now here’s a joke that a man can sink his teeth into.”  And over near the punch bowl, a woman is thinking, “Oooohh, Scotsmen, i bet they’re wearing kilts and everything.”  And off in the corner, a young guy in wire-rims and a turtleneck is thinking, “Golly, i wonder if this joke is going to turn out to have been a self-referential absurdity, or…” (and here he chuckles to himself) “…a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

See?  Something in it for everybody.

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