all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: argument

The Blogger and The Good Reader Have Yet Another Argument

 

Abstract:  Yawn. It’s nearly as seasonal as baseball, or 4th of July picnics–the Good Reader and The Blogger are about to get into it again. Yet another philosophical argument. [*sigh*]  Not to worry, though: the only weapons at hand are the Good Reader’s sharp tongue, and the Blogger’s profound grasp of philosophical principles.


 

Early one afternoon, as the gladsome sun was beaming down upon the land….

The Good Reader:  I think you should reverse those two attributes.

The Blogger:  What? Ho! Why, hello there, The Good Reader!

The Good Reader:  Hello. How’s it going?

The Blogger:  Really well, thank you. Just gettin’ it done, y’know? Doin’ the stuff.

The Good Reader:  That sounds great. As a person of deep philosophical sensitivities, i applaud your efforts.

The Blogger:  Wow, thanks. Um. Uhhh. You just called yourself a person of deep philosophical sensitivities. Um. Uh. Wouldn’t that person be, well, uh, me? Among present company, i mean. You know, the very premise of this blog….

The Good Reader:  I know. You’re the big philosopher, surrounded by your adoring acolytes. And the point i just made was that you have misattributed tongue-sharpness to me, and philosophical profundity to yourself. Isn’t that sort of backwards? It occurs to me that, of the two of us, i’m actually the more philosophically acute.

The Blogger:  Oh, come come, Good Reader, this sort of thing really is unworthy of you.

The Good Reader:  But seriously! I tend to be the one who makes the important distinctions, like a philosopher. And you’re the one who, um, has a tendency to say… unhelpful things.

The Blogger:  I cannot believe what i’m hearing.

The Good Reader:  Okay. As the voice of logic and reason here, i’ll lay out some ways in which i am a more logical thinker than you are.

The Blogger:  I was just about to do that. Before you rudely interrupted me.

The Good Reader:  State how i’m the more logical thinker?

The Blogger:  Righto. Wait! No! You tricksy woman, you tricksed me.

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm. Good. So here goes. Number one: I only use terms that i know the meanings of, and can define with at least some reasonable degree of accuracy.

The Blogger:  I’m afraid i’m not following you.

The Good Reader:  Ha ha! That was funny.

The Blogger:  No, i mean i’m actually not following you.

The Good Reader:  Oh. Sorry. Well, for instance, if i were to use a word like “wamwam” or “treadknicious” in an argument, i would be able to explain what it meant. I don’t use words that i don’t know the meanings of.

The Blogger:  Well, i don’t use words that i don’t know the meanings of!

The Good Reader:  Excellent! So what’s a flockbinker?

The Blogger:  [pouting]  I don’t feel like talking about that right now.

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm. And that’s fine. I’m just saying, if i’m going to use a word, it’s because i know what it means. That’s all i’m saying.

The Blogger:  Well, golly, The Good Reader, you’re taking me at a disadvantage! Just because i’m not constantly talking about the meanings of the specialized terms that i use, that doesn’t mean that i can’t explain them if i need to.

The Good Reader:  Uh-huh. I’m sure that’s correct.

The Blogger:  Why do i feel like you’re making fun of me?

The Good Reader:  Here’s my Number Two. I don’t make statements that i wouldn’t be able to back up with some kind of a genuine argument.

The Blogger:  Well, that’s tremendous! You’re growing as a young, impressionable philosopher. I’m very proud of you!

The Good Reader:  [with a nearly inexhaustible fund of patience]  My point is that you DO tend to make statements that you’re not able to back up.

The Blogger:  Oh! Gee. I guess i wasn’t quite following you.

The Good Reader:  No. You weren’t.

The Blogger:  But… now, waittasecond. That’s not right! Are you accusing me of drawing unwarranted conclusions and articulating unfounded assumptions?

The Good Reader:  That was so beautifully stated. You’re really good at that sort of thing.

The Blogger:  [puffing up a bit]  Articulating the basic principles of philosophy?

The Good Reader:  No, talking about the holes in your skill set.

The Blogger:  Hrrmmf. The holes in my skill set? Why, i’ll have you know that… wait a second. What were we talking about, again?

The Good Reader:  Using real arguments to back up our conclusions.

The Blogger:  Right, right. Well, here’s the thing. When i talk about flockbinkers, wamwams, and drizzpuddlers…

The Good Reader:  That last one’s a new one on me. I don’t think i’ve heard you use that term before.

The Blogger:  [proudly]  That’s because i just now made it up.

The Good Reader:  Ah! Ni-i-i-i-ice.

The Blogger:  So, when i’m talking about wamwams and puzzknucklers and whatnot, i’m not always using these terms to indicate existent items in the real world. Sometimes they’re, oh, y’know, fun noises to make into the air with my mouth. No, wait. That’s not what i meant to say.

The Good Reader:  It’s okay. You can duck and cover, and i’ll pretend i didn’t hear anything the first time.

The Blogger:  Righto. So, when i’m talking about wamblinkers and poodlewatches and all that sort of thing, sometimes they’re just, oh, y’know, logical placeholders. They’re just empty terms that i’m using to stake out space in an argument.

The Good Reader:  Right, and that’s okay. I get that. It’s just that you… so easily… fade from that position to the position of apparently taking them seriously as real things.

The Blogger:  Don’t be dissing my flockbinkers, now. They have very sensitive feelings.

The Good Reader:  Q.E.D.

The Blogger:  So, anyway, was that your point #2?

The Good Reader:  Yeah, sort of. Anyway, um, let’s see… i think i’ve got a point #3 as well.

The Blogger:  I’m listening.

The Good Reader:  I don’t say something one day that’s going to be flatly contradicted by something i say the day after.

The Blogger:  That’s terrific! You’ll make a real philosopher, yet.

The Good Reader:  [with, once again, nearly infinite patience]  My point is that you DO that sort of thing. All. The. Time.

The Blogger:  Make a statement one day that’s contradicted by something i said the day before?

The Good Reader:  Mm-hmm.

The Blogger:  Well, look here: when i use a term that i don’t know the meaning of….

The Good Reader:  See, you did it just now. Just now. I mean, just now.

The Blogger:  But i wasn’t contradicting something i said yesterday. I was contradicting something i said a few minutes ago.

The Good Reader:  [makes a sound that can be best described as part groan, part sigh, part psychotic break, and part hiccup]

[At this point, the Blogger and The Good Reader stare at each other in exhausted silence for a bit, like two boxers temporarily leaning against the ropes.]

The Blogger:  [recovering]  So. Here’s a question for you, smart guy. Um: female. In what does a genuine argument consist?

The Good Reader:  Oh, golly, let’s see. Hmmm. An argument consists in two (or more) opposing positions, each presenting arguments in favor of its conclusion and employing a definitive level of logical rigor.

The Blogger:  [momentarily stunned]  Wow, that wasn’t bad.

The Good Reader:  For what it’s worth, i learned that from you. I think maybe you’re just better at talking about it, than actually doing it.

The Blogger:  I’m not sure whether i should feel like you just complimented me… or not.

The Good Reader:  Sure. Why not? Go for it.

 

“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!

 

Don’t Look Now, But Here Come Jennifer Smith and Little Biffy

About a year ago, we introduced you to the characters of Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith. Surely you remember: Little Biffy was the ten-year-old kid genius / committed student of philosophy, and Jen was the twenty-something business graduate who’d ended up in an unsatisfying job at a major insurance company. If your recall of that encounter is a bit hazy, you can go back and refresh your memory here.

What you may not have realized at the time is that it’s not uncommon for Jennifer Smith and Little Biffy to run into each other downtown and have lively philosophical discussions. She pretends to be annoyed with his dogged pursuit of answers and his insistence on precision, but the truth is that she secretly loves it. Not that there’s anything wrong with the world of business, and making an honest nickel while putting in a solid day’s work; but Jennifer has always had nagging questions about the meaning of existence that she couldn’t really share with most of her friends, so the Biff-ster provides her with an intellectual outlet. An intellectual outlet in the form of a ten-year-old. A ten-year-old philosopher. This is not a common thing. Nothing against ten-year-olds. But really, be honest — you were thinking the same thing. If you even try to deny it, you will lose all credibility. I would advise against it.

Well, you may want to fasten your seatbelt, because you’re about to find yourself right smack in the middle of another conversation between Jen and Biff — one that took place quite recently — at the Stone Cup coffeehouse right here in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

Little Biffy:  Well, i’ll be… it’s Jennifer Smith!

Jennifer Smith:  Why, hello there, Little Biffy! Wow.

Little Biffy:  It’s really nice to see you! This isn’t your usual haunt. You’re usually a Panera Bread kind of gal. I haven’t run into you here in a while.

Jennifer Smith:  No, you’re right — the last time we met here was that time you harassed me with confusing accounts of flockbinkers and other awful-sounding but, hopefully, nonexistent things. I wasn’t used to you yet. You were freakin’ me out.

Little Biffy:  Heh heh. I’m sorry you think that flockbinkers and wamwams sound awful. You sound really relieved to have concluded that they don’t exist!

Jennifer Smith:  No thanks to you. As i recall, you spent half the conversation trying to convince me that they DO exist.

Little Biffy:  Actually, your memory isn’t serving you very well on that point. I wasn’t trying to convince you that flockbinkers exist. I was just pointing out that whether they exist or not, and whether or not we even know what the term ‘flockbinker’ refers to, it’s okay to feature them in logical syllogisms.

Jennifer Smith:  I’m having scary flashbacks.

Little Biffy:  But we did end up learning a little bit about logic! That’s the bright side.

Jennifer Smith:  I don’t remember learning anything about logic. I remember a meandering conversation about flockbinkers and… mammals. We talked about whether all the mammals in the world could fit comfortably into the state of Alaska.

Little Biffy:  Well, not exactly. But i’m glad that our conversation at least made an impression on you!

Jennifer Smith:  You’re such an odd little fellow, Biffy.

Little Biffy:  I feel certain that you meant that as a compliment! Hey, since we’re both here again, how about we pick up where we left off with our discussion of logic!

Jennifer Smith:  Wow.

Little Biffy:  I’m glad you approve. So here’s a question: What is the importance of logic in daily life? Not just when one is talking about flockbinkers, wamwams and other critters of uncertain ontological status, but in the course of normal daily activities?

Jennifer Smith:  Hmm. Well, i suppose that depends on what you mean by “logic.”

Little Biffy:  That was a fantastic answer, Jen! It is okay if i call you “Jen,” isn’t it?

Jennifer Smith:  You’ve asked me that about fifty times. Yes, you can call me Jen. And i will feel free to call you “Mister Potato Head,” or whatever else comes to mind.

Little Biffy:  Well, that takes a long time to say, but if it’s really what you want to call me…

Jennifer Smith:  Ahem. Back to the question. What place does logic have in everyday life?

Little Biffy:  Right. Do we really need logic in the normal rhythms of living, or is it something special that can be safely consigned to “intellectual” pursuits?

Jennifer Smith:  Well, okay — again, i think it depends on what you mean by ‘logic.’ If you mean all the stuff about syllogisms and logical inference and whatnot, then i’d say those things have limited application. But if you just mean thinking clearly and making sense when we talk, then definitely — definitely a need in everyday life.

Little Biffy:  You’re making your Uncle Biffy proud.

Jennifer Smith:  That statement was disturbing in about ten different ways.

Little Biffy:  Indeed! Oops. Heh heh. So, Jen, would you care to elaborate? You’d say logic has application to normal everyday living? how so?

Jennifer Smith:  Okay. Here’s something. I’ve been following the current presidential campaign with stunned fascination. Every time you turn on the TV or log on to Twitter, it just gets even more bizarre. I can’t help thinking that if logic were more popular, then the whole climate of the country right now would be different. A thousand times better. Do you have a Twitter account?

Little Biffy:  I must confess i do not.

Jennifer Smith:  It’s just as well. You would be paralyzed with astonishment every time you opened up your Twitter feed. No logic to be found anywhere. It’s a logic wasteland.

Little Biffy:  If i didn’t know any better, Jennifer, Jen, i’d be tempted to say that you’re an apologist for philosophy in the public marketplace!

Jennifer Smith:  No. I just can’t stand it when people are talking past each other and making less than zero sense. It’s just so unnecessary.

Little Biffy:  Would you mind coming up with an example? But be careful. The Blogger likes to stay away from politics.

Jennifer Smith:  The…who? The Blogger? Biffy, what are you EVEN talking about?

Little Biffy:  I shouldn’t have mentioned that. It would be too hard to explain. The fourth wall must remain intact!

Jennifer Smith:  You’re making it worse. The fourth wall? What?

Little Biffy:  Never mind. Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I’ve been sitting here in complete silence.

Jennifer Smith:  You are SO strange.

Little Biffy:  Heh heh. Well, anyway. Um. Can you share an example of the kind of illogical public discourse you’ve found so frustrating in this election year? But just try not to, oh, you know, make it too specific.

Jennifer Smith:  Right. Because somebody called the Blogger doesn’t want his fourth wall breached.

Little Biffy:  Precisely! That’s exactly right! I didn’t think you understood.

Jennifer Smith:  Oh boy. Well, okay. Here’s something i see all the time. One person will make a political statement on Twitter or Facebook that sounds like a memorized slogan. Then another person will call that statement into question, and the first person will respond, not with an explanation, but with an insult and another memorized slogan. Or even just by repeating the same one again, as if that’s any kind of answer.

Little Biffy:  Terrific! That’s a good example.

Jennifer Smith:  It really bugs me, and i’m no philosopher. But how hard can it be to take someone’s objection seriously and address the point they’re making, as if you were actually listening?

Little Biffy:  How hard, indeed? Not hard at all, you’d think.

Jennifer Smith:  You’d think.

Little Biffy:  Well, what do you think might be the reason for this? Has public discussion always been characterized by this kind of belligerence and ignorance?

Jennifer Smith:  I don’t think so. I’ve studied enough history to know that political debate has always tended to get passionate, but it just seems like people used to be more articulate, used to be better able to argue sensibly, to actually engage the points other people were making.

Little Biffy:  I think that’s accurate, Jennifer. Do you have a theory to explain what’s happened?

Jennifer Smith:  Well, sure, i think it may be a combination of things. One of them is our educational systems. When i was in school, i don’t remember ever being taught about critical thinking. Not really. Not in any real sense. I was never taught how to put together a position and argue it… oh, gracious… you know… argue it logically. Stop grinning.

Little Biffy:  Let the record show that i did not say a thing!

Jennifer Smith:  You’re showing heroic restraint. But another thing is the whole popular culture. It just feels like we’re surrounded by an entertainment industry and a sea of media messages that discourage careful, reasonable thinking. It’s all, “follow your heart, do what feels right, have experiences, you do you, make it up as you go along,” whatever. No one seems to be saying that we should appeal to some kind of, oh, you know, structured understanding of what’s true and what’s not.

Little Biffy:  Logic.

Jennifer Smith:  Right. Sure. Logic.

Little Biffy:  Was there another factor?

Jennifer Smith:  Sure, i think so — there’s also the whole tech environment that has taken over our lives. I’m not even that old…well, compared to you i am… but i can remember a time before smart phones. We’re all slaves to our devices now, and people feel like they have to communicate in a way that’s quick and superficial, and in little bursts. Texts and tweets. I’ve got friends who even talk in statements that sound like texts and tweets.

Little Biffy:  You have tweet friends.

Jennifer Smith:  What? Was that an unbelievably bad pun?

Little Biffy:  It was. [turning red]  I’m sorry.

Jennifer Smith:  You little punster. Well, did i satisfy your need to talk about logic? Because this Patricia Cornwell story isn’t gonna read itself.

Little Biffy:  For now, i suppose. I’ll leave you and Ms. Cornwell to work out what needs to change in our society in order for logic to be returned to its proper place.

Jennifer Smith:  Mmm. I’m not sure how much help Patricia’s gonna be. She’s one of my guilty pleasures.

Little Biffy:  Well, carry on, Jennifer!

Jennifer Smith:  See ya, Little Biffy.

 

 

 

 

 

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