all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Category: Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence

Spotlight on the Oft-Neglected Wamwam

 

Abstract:  In which some attempt is made to discuss wamwams: to establish their ontological status, distinguish them from flockbinkers (and woodoos and frou-frous and humma-hummas and bumma-bummas and blastcabbages and CharlesBabbages and Your Mom and a long list of everything else), to figure out what exactly makes them tick, and to discover what sorts of things they pick up when they go to the supermarket.


 

One of the ongoingly vexing things about this blog, is that we keep using terms that we don’t even know the meanings of.

(No, wait. That can’t be right.)

What we meant to say, is that we sometimes speak of things about which many people have a somewhat limited understanding.

(There. That’s much better.)

One of these somewhat abstruse terms is “wamwam.” It you’re a follower of the blog, you’ve seen this word appear on numerous occasions, and you may have been as confused as we are about what it means.

(No, wait. That’s not at all what we meant to say.)

What we meant to say, is that the term “wamwam” is a somewhat difficult one, requiring a delicate linguistic touch and a healthy dose of philosophical insight.

So: Why don’t we devote the current post to an examination of this term, “wamwam,” with the hope of arriving at some even remote understanding of what the blasted term means?

(No, wait.)

 

The Good Reader:  Howdy there, Blogger! I see that i’ve arrived at just the right time to get in some good discussion of some of your favorite meaningless terms.

The Blogger:  Howdy, The Good Reader! Your wit appears to be as sharp as ever.

The Good Reader:  You flatter me. [smiles sweetly]

The Blogger:  So, how do you view our prospects for solving the mystery of the humble wamwam?

The Good Reader:  Far as i’m concerned, there’s no mystery at all.

The Blogger:  Seriously? Why this IS good news? What do you have to tell us about wamwams? Do enlighten us!

The Good Reader:  Sure thing. They don’t exist.

The Blogger:  Wha– um, i mean– surely you can’t–

The Good Reader:  They are as fictional as the unicorn.

The Blogger:  Well now, um, as we’ve seen in an earlier one of these posts to the All Flockbinkers blog, unicorns aren’t actually fictional. They’re something more like, oh, “archetypal” or “ontologically scrappy” or “they show up on weekends and certain holidays.”

The Good Reader:  Um.

The Blogger:  Seriously, unicorns aren’t fictional. They’re more like, oh, “trans-existent.” Or maybe, “provisional.” Or i dunno, maybe, “sorta missional”…?

The Good Reader:  Okay. Anyway, you were wanting to talk about wamwams.

The Blogger:  Um, yes, of course. Wamwams. One of the more real entities featured in that astonishingly diverse body of materials that we call “the universe.”

The Good Reader:  Um.

The Blogger:  So. I was thinking that i might enumerate some of the things that we know to be true about wamwams, maybe?

The Good Reader:  Knock yourself out. My movie doesn’t start for another hour.

The Blogger:  Cool! Well, the first thing that most people would think of, when the term “wamwam” is mentioned, would be, “it’s somehow related to flockbinkers.”

The Good Reader:  Um. That doesn’t establish it as a real thing. Quite the opposite, really.

The Blogger:  Oh, please, stop! Your ignorance of even the most basic principles of philosophy is showing itself.

The Good Reader:  Okay.

The Blogger:  So flockbinkers and wamwams are part of the same family, let’s say. They both fit into a similar category of reality.

The Good Reader:  Like, “Words that are fun to say when you’re wanting to get a laugh out of a classroom full of third graders?”

The Blogger:  I shall ignore that highly ignorant remark.

The Good Reader:  Knock yourself out.

The Blogger:  You say that with distressing regularity. Anyway, flockbinkers and wamwams are what we might want to call “ontological cousins”–they belong to a similar sector of reality. But they’re not the same thing.

The Good Reader:  No, of course not. Not at *all* the same thing.

The Blogger:  No. So what we’re wanting to do here, is to establish what exactly is unique about wamwams–how they are different from flockbinkers.

The Good Reader:  Okay.

The Blogger:  Um, well, first-off, i think we can say that–

A Flockbinker:  [appears out of nowhere]  Howdy.

[The flockbinker disappears in a puff of smoke]

The Good Reader:  Wait. Was that a flockbinker?

The Blogger:  It was indeed! Sorry about the brevity of his greeting. Flockbinkers tend not to be very talkative.

The Good Reader:  But… i mean… golly… what i mean is… he’s actually real?

The Blogger:  Well, of COURSE he is! What do you think we’ve been talking about all these years?

The Good Reader:  I figured i was just patiently indulging the ravings of your fevered brain as it attempted to sort through things it had absorbed in nursery school.

The Blogger:  Oh no. No no. There’s nothing fevered about MY brain! Flockbinkers are very real indeed! And–here’s the point we’re interested in right now–so are wamwams.

The Good Reader:  [muttering to herself]  Golly. Something to think about.

The Blogger:  Um, indeed, and furthermore–

[enter none other than the Three Scotsmen!]

Scotsman #1:  I see you’re addressin’ the abstruse philosophical themes agayne.

Scotsman #2:  It’s the kind o’ thing that really gets me blood up! Whooh!

Scotsman #3:  Sittin’ on a fence.

The Good Reader:  Oh my word. WHAT do we have here.

The Blogger:  You can’t tell me you’ve never met the Three Scotsmen? You’ve been on this blog for, how long now? I’d have figured you would have crossed paths with ’em at some point.

The Good Reader:  No, i don’t think so. I’d have remembered it, i’m pretty sure.

The Blogger:  Well, there there are, in all their Celtic glory.

[the three Scotsmen beam congenially]

The Good Reader:  That second one is kind of handsome.

The Blogger:  I cannot think of a less relevant observation, The Good Reader. You surprise me.

The Good Reader:  Hey, i’m just sayin’.

Scotsman #2:  [blushing]  Milady pays me an undesoorved compliment.

The Good Reader:  [curtseys like a champ]

The Blogger:  Oh, stop it, you two! I be-leeeeeve that we were talking about wamwams.

Scotsman #2:  Indeed we wehre.

Scotsman #1:  In all their ontological glory.

Scotsman #3:  Sittin’ on a fence.

The Good Reader:  …and whether or not they exist.

The Blogger:  Stop that! Of course they exist! Well, um, i mean… it’s complicated.

The Good Reader:  That’s your favorite thing to say.

A Flockbinker:  [appears briefly, just long enough to say]  Howdy.

The Blogger:  Oh, shut up.

 

 

 

The Three Scotsmen…Sittin’ on a Fence…Sing “My Flockbinker Lies over the Ocean”

 

Abstract:  In which we are regaled by a highly unusual musical performance. “My Flockbinker Lies over the Ocean” is apparently a real song–depending what you mean by the term “real”–and passionately loved by certain among us of a Scottish heritage.


 

Odd things happen.

Of course, you already knew that.

But i’d be willing to put money down that you’ve never experienced anything quite on the level of hearing three metaphorical Scotsmen–sittin’ on a fence, of course–singing a quasi-existent folk song (or is it a “flok” song? tee hee…get it? “Flok” song. Oh my word, i kill myself.). Here, for your listening pleasure, is a rousing version of the traditional (meaning, “it didn’t exist until a few minutes ago”) Scottish ballad, “My Flockbinker Lies over the Ocean.”

 

The First Scotsman:

My flockbinker lies over the ocean
My flockbinker lies over the sea;
My flockbinker lies over the ocean,
Oh bring back my flockbinker to me!

The Three Scotsmen, Together:

Bring back, bring back,
O bring my flockbinker to me, to me,
Bring back, bring back,
O bring my flockbinker to me!

The Second Scotsman:

O blow ye wamwams o’er the ocean,
O blow ye wamwams o’er the sea,
There once was a chap who had migraines,
Who said, “To pee, or not to pee!”

The Three Scotsmen, Together:

To be, tee-hee,
O what if flockbinkers could hold their pee;
Wee wee, tee tee,
A silly song it’s turned to be!

The Third Scotsman:

Last night as i lay on my pillow,
A goblin leaped out from way all the way under my durned bed,
This song’s getting harder to sing in accordance with
the established expectations associated with metrical scansion,
Goblin! Uh, and…um… another goblin!

The Three Scotsmen, Together:

Scansion, schmansion,
Don’t plague us with silly concepts that have little application in the experienced world!
Mansion, Tansion,
Why, what a fun way to adventitiously recalibrate the pronunciation of the word
“tension”…!

The Three Scotsmen, Together Again:

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! All your base are belong to us,
And the dish ran away with the spoon, the spoon, the dish ran away with the spoon,
If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the stinkin’ kitchen, ya scurvy bastard,
On account o’ the bears that are in some ambiguously defined relationship
wi’ Goldilocks.

The Three Scotsmen, Together Yet a Third Time:

Don’t ye trie to get us to stop singin’ one o’ oor favrit songs, ye vile stinkin’ stench!
Ye’ll accomplish nothin’ but the effectin’ o’ your own grisly death by fire or water!
Um, uh… huh huh huh… uuhhh… bring back, bring back,
O bring my flockbinker to me!

 

Epilogue:

Um.

Okay.

At least, you can’t say i didn’t warn you. I did. Right? Hmmm? Did i not? Let the record read that i did, in fact, try to warn you.

 

Once Again, It’s Time to Look Through Our Reader Mail!

Well, it’s that time again. Time to reach into the mailbag and see what kind of correspondence some of you — our most excellent readers — have been sending in.

The last time we looked at our reader mail was… [counts on fingers]… um, oh dear, over two years ago! (If you’d like to check out that post, here ya go.) No wonder the mailbag is brimming over. Apologies for having neglected your letters! You’ve no doubt had all manner of insightful suggestions and lavish praise for the All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious blog during that time! Let’s have a look-see.

Editors’ Note:  We have assigned each letter a handy title — after the fact, you see — for your easy reference. The Blogger did not have these titles to refer to as he was opening each letter, else his entire experience of reading the mail might have been different.

 

Letter #1.  The classic “just what do you think do you’re doing” objection

Let’s start with… okay, here’s a letter from “Lindsay,” who lives in Port Huron, Michigan.

I have read every single post to this blog.

The Blogger:  Well, that is indeed gratifying! It’s good to discover that we’ve got another fan. Let’s read some more.

It’s a form of self-torture. I just can’t make myself look away. Your blog is the most appalling spectacle i can even think of. I have spent years studying philosophy, and your blog is, like, the opposite of philosophy. Making a mockery of the most basic questions humanity has ever struggled with… how are you EVEN a PERSON?

The Blogger:  Oh dear. And this letter started out with such promise. We cannot allow such baseless slanders to go unanswered!

Don’t interrupt. I’m not done yet. It seems to me that you’re doing immeasurable harm to the reputation of philosophy in the eyes of people who are just now learning the basics of it… you’re crippling them before they even have a chance to get started! How can you look at yourself in the mirror while shaving, that’s what i want to know.

The Blogger:  Dear, misguided reader! I am shocked!–appalled!—that you could have so misunderstood the nature of this blog. A lively, comical romp through the bowels of the philosophical tradition (if, er, “bowels” was quite the word i was looking for) is not AT ALL the same thing as “making a mockery” of philosophy. Why, “making a mockery” of philosophy would involve the trivializing of foundational principles of philosophical thought by turning them into occasions for slapstick. It would involve substituting nonsense and whimsy for the sober, perennial discussions of which the philosophical tradition is based. And we would never dream of doing ANY of that!

 

Letter #2.  A Reader has confused our blog with “Buzzfeed.”

Okay now, here we have a letter from “Taylor,” hailing from Pomona, California. Let’s see what ol’ Taylor has to say.

Man! I discovered your website a few months ago, and i’ve been digging on it religiously ever since! Dude! That is some funny jack, right there.

The Blogger:  [blushing]  Well, golly, you’re really being far too kind.

No, seriously, like, your quizzes are the best! Like, the one about what celebrity crush are you actually going to end up marrying. I was roaring.

The Blogger:  Wut.

And, like, the one where i had to answer a bunch of stoner questions and it told me which Harry Potter character i was.

The Blogger:  Um.

And your funny videos! The one about Americans from other parts of the country eating Midwestern food for the first time was HI-larious. And the one where blindfolded strangers try to guess each other’s age.

The Blogger:  Oh boy.

And all the articles about fashion and style and beauty and whatever.

The Blogger:  Okay, wow. Here’s the thing. I’m afraid you may have gotten us mixed up with some other website.

And the one where you have to guess what Stormy Daniels’s favorite color is, based on lines from classic Disney movies.

The Blogger:  [sigh]  I’m afraid we’re gonna need to move on to the next letter.

 

Letter #3.  A joke about ‘fruitcake’

Hmmm. Here we have a missive from “Johnathwane,” who makes his home in Newport, Rhode Island.

I very much enjoyed your Christmas post this past December. I particularly enjoyed your analysis of the concept of ‘fruitcake’. It set off a train of thought which i’d like to share with you.

The Blogger:  Well, sure, why not. Knock yourself out.

First of all, it occurred to me that we use ‘fruitcake’ in at least three different ways: (1) those inedible bricks of obscene non-food material that you can buy wrapped in cellophane during the holiday season, (2) the completely legitimate traditional food that the obscene bricks of gelatinous nonsense are supposedly inspired by, and (3) a crazy person.

The Blogger:  Okay… tracking with you so far….

So, in a sense, we could say that fruitcakes (1) are the fruitcakes (3) of the culinary world.

The Blogger:  Hah hah, that was clever. Wait. Was that the joke?

Not so much a ‘joke’. More of a lively observation. But wait: there’s more.

The Blogger:  Ah. Lay it on.

Imagine a fruitcake (3) — an actual person, not a fruitcake (1) that is being construed as a fruitcake (3) —

The Blogger:  With ya so far.

Okay, imagine such a fruitcake (3) attempting to produce a fruitcake (2) but ending up producing instead a fruitcake (1).

The Blogger:  That was it?

Mm-hmmm.

The Blogger:  [glancing furtively from one side to the other]  Wow, thanks, well-meaning reader “Johnathwane.” Looking forward to hearing more from you. Moving right along.

 

Letter #4.  Is logic really necessary?

Ooookaay, here we have a letter from “Madison,” who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. Let’s see what Madison has to say.

First off, i’d like to say that i think your blog is a lot of fun.

The Blogger:  Sweet! I tend to think so, too.

So here’s my thing. You seem to put so much emphasis on logic!

The Blogger:  Well, YEAH.

Logical syllogisms, logical premises, logical reason, logical conclusions, logical arguments, logic logic logic.

The Blogger:  Mmmmmmm.

But i feel like logic isn’t really all that necessary, you know? It feels like a lot of stiff, irrelevant, silly restraints on what you can say and think. I feel like logic is sort of the opposite of feeling, intuition, body wisdom, spirituality. So is it really needed? Can’t we just get by with spontaneously saying what we really feel and know deep inside?

The Blogger:  I totally feel your discomfort, Madison. I guess here’s what i’d like to say to you. Elephants are floating across my chewing gum. It’s a great day to be flaming, viscous and incoherent! I’m a jumping bean of putridity and amazement. Go, run, little napkins, be free! Eat more chicken. Fly a reindeer. Beat the odds, even the losers. We the people of the effervescent universe, fall, fall, fall. Rise. Fall again. Roll Tide.

What? That was your answer? But i don’t get it. That was just crazy talk. I don’t think you understood my question.

The Blogger: Tradition up a shrimp pole, forty-five asterisk, wah-wah, oh my stars, the square root of disharmony! Planet of the vapes, http://www.muumuu.org, 3.1415, owch, hmm.

Stop it! That made no sense at all! It’s all just nonsense! I can’t EVEN.

The Blogger:  [goes into a spastic seizure accompanied by grunts and screams, rolling on the ground, kicking his legs up in the air]

I have LITERALLY no idea what you’re EVEN trying to do right there. I am SO scared right now. I am LITERALLY shaking with nervousness.

The Blogger:  And i thus conclude my remarks on that topic. Due to space constraints, i wasn’t able to go into as full an explanation as i’d have liked to. We may just  have to devote a whole post to this topic later on.

 

Letter #5.  An idea about the Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence

Whew boy! All right, here’s a letter from a reader living in Taos, New Mexico. This one is named “Rainbow Steed.” The person who wrote the letter, i mean. “Rainbow Steed.” The reader who sent in this letter is named “Rainbow Steed.” It appears that i actually have a reader named “Rainbow Steed.” What a remarkable world we’re living in. Anyway, here’s what “Rainbow Steed” has to offer.

Okay, so i’ve been thinking about those three Scotsmen. The ones who are always sitting on that fence? I’ve been thinking about them a lot.

The Blogger:  You’ve got to level with me. Is your name really “Rainbow Steed”…?

Yuppo. So in a drama class i’ve been taking, they say you’re always supposed to try and get inside the motivation of the character. What is motivating the character?

The Blogger:  Yes, i think i understand you.

So these three Scotsmen. They’re up on that fence. Why? What are they doing up there? What motivated those three Scotsmen to get up on that fence, and sit there?

The Blogger:  A penetrating line of inquiry.

So. What if they’re really up there so they can more easily reach the light bulb?

You know, “How many Scotsmen does it take to screw in a light bulb,” and the answer is “three, but they have to get up on the fence first so that they can like reach the light fixture.” That would be funny, wouldn’t it? And that would explain their motivation.

Or cross the road? As in, “Why did the three Scotsmen cross the road? And right before that, they were like sitting on a fence, why were they doing that?”

Just brainstorming, you know, for some possibilities. And i’ll write again when i come up with some more ideas about the motivation of those three Scotsmen.

The Blogger:  Your further input will be highly appreciated, o most perspicuous reader!

 

Letter #6.  A Critique of the very form and content of this blog post.

I think we’ve got time for one more letter. Let’s see. Here’s one from “Malthe” in Copenhagen, Denmark! It’s always good to hear from our international readers.

Thank you. I have very much enjoyed reading the blog. I find it interesting in the extreme. It challenges my burgeoning philosophical inclination. And it’s funny.

The Blogger:  You’re too kind, Malthe. So what’s on your mind?

How is it that these letters are arranged in the form of dialogues? Like, the person who sent in the letter can tell what you’re saying in response to their letter, and so they add stuff in response to what you’re saying? What? How is that even a thing? Does the U.S. Postal Service even work that way? You can send mail that responds right as the reader reads it? No way. I’ve never sent a letter like that. The Danish mails do not work in this way.

The Blogger:  It might seem a bit odd, to the untrained observer…

I’m not an observer. I’m one of the people writing you a letter.

The Blogger:  Right, right. And i agree that it might seem a trifle odd that conventional mail should turn out to be… shall we say, interactive?… in much the same way that the internet often is. But that’s only to scratch the surface of the mysteries that surround the All Flockbinkers Are Treadknicious blog.

You’re changing the subject. I want to know how mail can talk back while the person reading it is still reading it.

The Blogger:  Well, you know, it’s… it’s… kind of… complicated.

 

Two Offhand Observations Regarding the Joke About Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence

In several previous posts to this blog [this one here, for instance, and this other one, and that one over there], the classic joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence has come up. Given the somewhat unconventional nature of this joke, some of our readers may have experienced no small level of confusion. In this post, we’ll attempt to address a couple of the tough questions that you, our loyal readership, have no doubt struggled with.

The racial slur angle

“Why Scotsmen?” you may have been wondering. “I’m not really accustomed to jokes about Scotsmen. Are Scotsmen funnier than other ethnic groups?”

Well, now, that’s an excellent question. The Irish, for instance, would find jokes about Scotsmen exceedingly funny, as would the English. In America, we tend not to be as sensitive to these finer distinctions. “Scottish, Irish, whatever,” we might be tempted to say. “They all live way over THERE.”

[Given the quality of our American educational systems, some of us might become a bit disoriented when saying “over there” and suddenly realize that we have no idea what direction Scotland and Ireland are in. We might sort of spin around in a desultory manner, and find ourselves pointing toward (New) California, or perhaps Birmingham, Alabama. But that may be a topic for another post.]

Are Scotsmen really all that funny? That’s the question we’re coming down to. What’s so darn funny about Scotsmen?

After all, the joke isn’t about the consumption of alcohol, which is one direction from which the Scots (according to those who traffic in such lore) might be vulnerable. And the joke isn’t about notorious levels of thriftiness, which is another possible vulnerability the Scots might be subject to (or so i’m told, by people who appear to be well informed). And it’s not about the tendency to pick a fight, which is (according to the experts) yet a third characteristic for which these redoubtable people might be known.

But no: the joke isn’t about any of these themes. It’s about sitting on a fence, a practice for which the Scots are not widely known.

These are deep waters, indeed.

Perhaps what makes the joke work is precisely the fact that (in America, anyway) there are no clearly-drawn stereotypes connected to the Scots. They are a blank slate to us. If we were in England, then a joke referencing the thrift, combativeness, or patterns of alcohol consumption of the Scots might be met with an enthusiastic audience and gales of laughter. But in America, our ethnic prejudices tend to be patterned differently, and many Americans have only the vaguest notion of what a Scotsman is. So a joke about Scotsmen lays before us endless possibilities, an infinity of possible directions.

In short — in an American context, anyway — Scotsmen are a bit like flockbinkers: even if you’ve no idea what they are, they can still be awfully fun to build a joke around.

The number of Scotsmen

Three Scotsmen? Why not two, four, or seven? Does the fence have a maximum Scotsman capacity, kind of like an elevator? If we were to load a fourth Scotsman onto the fence, would it collapse?

Does the number of Scotsmen featured in the joke really matter?

Well, the “Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence” joke is part of a joke-telling tradition in which the joke is set up into three parts. You might recognize this form, from such jokes as “A Parson, a Priest, and a Rabbi Go into a Bar” or its cousin, “Politician A, Politician B, and Politician C Are About to Parachute out of an Airplane.” The three-part joke has a character of its own; it has its own center of gravity.

There is a fearful symmetry to the presence of three Scotsmen in the joke, that would be lost if we were to add another Scotsman, or (horrors!) subtract one.

Think about it. If we were to say, “So, there were these five Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see…” your automatic gut response would almost certainly be, “No! That’s not right! Stop it! GO NO FURTHER!” You would sense, at an intuitive level, that there are not, cannot be, five Scotsmen sitting on the fence. There are three. Three Scotsmen sitting on the fence. And all is well with the world.

*               *               *               *               *               *               *               *               *

Perhaps, in a future post, we can address some more questions that you have doubtless struggled with regarding our three Scotsmen. For instance, the vexing issue of the incomplete character of the joke. Why must the joke remain unfinished? Why not just go ahead and complete the darn thing, so that everyone can heave a sigh of relief and go to bed?

And, furthermore, why a fence? Must it be a fence that they’re sitting on? If the three Scotsmen were sitting on anything else — a Volkswagen, for instance, or an overturned canoe — would the joke be so rip-roaringly funny?

Good questions indeed, dear reader, and we shall address them in due time.

 

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.]

 

A Brief Reminder (for the Uninitiated, or Perhaps Some of You Who Aren’t Very Bright) of What This Blog Is About

Greetings, o gentle reader.

In the case of some of you who may feel somewhat out of the loop, who have, that is to say, jumped on the train at some recent point without having read the first few posts to this blog — which, admittedly, are shrouded in the mists of about three years ago — there may be some small measure of confusion regarding what the heck is going on around here.

“This blog — ”

you may be saying,

” — i mean, well, golly, this blog, i have to say, i don’t really get it. What’s it all about? Is it really about flockbinkers? What’s flockbinkers? Seriously? That hasn’t been explained to my complete satisfaction. At all, really. And if it’s a blog about flockbinkers (whatever that is), why aren’t they mentioned in every post? Only some of the posts talk about flockbinkers. Sometimes the guy just rants about stuff he finds frustrating, or talks about logic, or philosophy, or puts on a pop quiz, or pretends he’s getting letters from readers that he’s actually making up himself and he prints them and then responds to them. I mean, what the heck? What IS this? What am i EVEN reading?”

The good reader may certainly be forgiven if he suffers from a sense of disorientation. The first 23 posts to this blog, stretched unevenly over the past three years, have tended to jump about somewhat like one of those disembodied frog’s legs you hear about, you know, the ones that leap when you touch them with an electrode.

Perhaps this post will help clear up some of the confusion.

“Calling All Flockbinkers” is, in fact, a blog about flockbinkers. Sure. I’ll admit it. It is. It’s a blog that is unapologetically about flockbinkers… and you know what, i don’t care who hears me say it. It’s an unapologetic blog that is unapologetically stuffed with flockbinkers, a blog that is flockbinker-saturated and flockbinker-rich. It’s a flockbinker-rich environment. A target-rich environment for flockbinkers. If there’s such a thing as flockbinker season, which i don’t think there is, but my point is that if there is, you’re sure to bag some o’ them babies on this here blog without even trying. You can’t turn around without poking a flockbinker in the boomflop. Why, you can’t chuck a brick around here without nailing a flockbinker right in the fobwazzit. The place is veritably flocking with flockbinkers. It’s binking with flockbinkers.

But, ahem, in response to the dear reader’s earlier objection that flockbinkers are not mentioned in every post…

…that, in fact, some of the posts are about Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence, or about the difference between “horse-people” and people who are not horse-people, or about a couple of people named Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith who have long discussions about meaning and existence and the nature of God and the role of logic in modern life, or about something called ‘ontology’ that sounds awfully complicated, or about why it’s ridiculous to be naming Winter Storms, or about some guy named Elvis Wu who claims to have been the Last Philosophy Major…

…in response to this objection i reply that you don’t actually have to be talking about flockbinkers, in order to be talking about flockbinkers. Or, to put it another way, the subject matter of your discourse can be flockbinkers even if you have not mentioned them, not even once.

 

The Good Reader:  Oh, come on.

The Blogger:  The Good Reader! Delightful of you to show up. Somehow i sensed that you would.

The Good Reader:  Well, i can’t just sit by and let you try to put this sort of thing over on the three other people who are reading your blog.

The Blogger:  Three is almost certainly a low estimate. But let’s set statistical analysis to one side for the present. What exactly is it that you’re objecting to?

The Good Reader:  You expect me to dignify that question with a serious answer.

The Blogger:  I do.

The Good Reader:  Really.

The Blogger:  Of course i do! Dignify away. Dignify with passion and zeal; dignify as if your life depended on it, Good Reader; dignify like the wind.

The Good Reader:  [mumbles something unintelligible, but which sounds like the sort of thing a properly brought-up lady simply does not say, and which the editors have chosen not to attempt to replicate here]

The Blogger:  I’m not sure i can count that as either an answer or a dignification. Try again.

The Good Reader:  You said that you can talk about flockbinkers without talking about flockbinkers. You can mention flockbinkers and yet not mention flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  Splendid! You’ve been paying attention.

The Good Reader:  Well, on the subject of ‘paying attention,’ do i remember something you said once about Aristotle’s three Laws of Logic? And one of them was that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time?

The Blogger:  Good Reader, you take my breath away. I am deeply impressed.

The Good Reader:  Okay, stop being impressed already and give me a straight answer. What would Aristotle say if he heard you prancing about and saying, “I’m talking about flockbinkers, i’m not talking about flockbinkers! This blog post is about flockbinkers, just kidding, it’s not about flockbinkers, no, it really is after all!”

The Blogger:  I don’t ‘prance about.’

The Good Reader:  I’ll tell you what Aristotle would say. He would say, this man is an idiot, who gave him permission to set up a blog and talk about philosophy?

The Blogger:  He most certainly would not.

The Good Reader:  Would so.

The Blogger:  Would not.

The Good Reader:  Would so.

The Blogger:  Would not!

The Good Reader:  Neener neener.

The Blogger:  If Aristotle were to appear right here with us, right now, he would simply acknowledge that i have nuanced the term ‘flockbinker’ so as to enable it to mean different things in two different contexts, thus the Law of Non-Contradiction does not apply.

The Good Reader:  Oh my word.

The Blogger:  You can talk about flockbinkers… that is, carry on a mode of discourse that might technically be characterized as ‘talking about flockbinkers’… even if the term ‘flockbinker’ does not feature as an element in the discourse.

The Good Reader:  Just kill me right now. Right now.

The Blogger:  In a sense, the theme of ‘talking about flockbinkers’ is the subject-matter of every single post to this blog, even the ones that are about winter storms or horse-people or that joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence. In that more technical sense — which i would not expect you, a non-specialist, to understand —

The Good Reader:  Right now. Kill me right now.

The Blogger:  — as i say, in that more technical sense, ‘talking about flockbinkers’ is the all-pervasive theme that weaves through all of the posts, even the ones that don’t ‘talk about flockbinkers’ in the common sense.

The Good Reader:  This is how philosophers cover their tracks. They make up a pile of fancy-sounding vocabulary and then try to make you feel inferior for not understanding them.

The Blogger:  Oh, Good Reader. You wrong me. You cut me to the quick.

The Good Reader:  Just admit that about half of your posts have not actually been about flockbinkers, either in a technical sense or in the regular sense — if there’s such a thing as ‘the regular sense’ of talking about flockbinkers. Regular people don’t actually talk about flockbinkers.

The Blogger:  But if we can get enough of them reading this blog, they will!

The Good Reader:  Apart from the four of us — give or take — who make up your current readership?

The Blogger:  I’d like to dispute that figure. I’m not sure where you’re getting your numbers from. There are WAY more people than that reading this blog. I have readers in Canada, Australia, Scotland!

The Good Reader:  …and me. That makes four. Anyway, the point is that anytime you begin to make extravagant and ridiculous claims that are an appalling insult to the intelligence of your readers on this blog, you can depend on me to step in and inject a note of reality.

The Blogger:  And i can assure you that i — along with my thousands of other readers — value and appreciate that very much about you.

The Good Reader:  Thousands. THOUSANDS of readers.

The Blogger:  See you again soon, The Good Reader!  [pulls the plug on her]

 

…and, for the rest of you, my extensive international readership, i hope this little discourse has helped clear up any confusion you may have had about the subject-matter of this blog. Until the next time!

 

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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