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.
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.