all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

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

Tag: Your Mom

A Brave [Ahem] Attempt to Define the Term ‘Bertrand Russell’ [Oh Dear]

 

Abstract:  Before there was Bertrand Russell, there was the concept “Bertrand Russell.” Or, wait, did i get that right? Did the actual dude “Bertrand Russell” come before the concept of Bertrand Russell? It’s so hard to keep this stuff sorted out! Anyway, the narrative you are about to read concerns a group of philosophers gathered ’round a table at Chili’s restaurant. Bertrand Russell happens to be one of ’em. But listening in on the conversation, you’d never know it! Heh heh heh.


 

St. Thomas Aquinas:  I greet you cordially, gentlemen. As i believe you all know, we are gathered here to discuss the essence and existence of one Lord Bertrand Russell.

Bertrand Russell:  Greetings, fond fellows! It’s an honor to find myself among such distinguished company.

Albert Camus:  [mumbling]  I’m not certain i understand what’s so great about him, but whatever.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:  If only Bertrand Russell were here.

Aquinas:  Oh, and if only the moon were made of green cheese! Look, you can’t always have everything you want.

Bertrand Russell:  But i am! Helloo! You’re such a card. I’m right here. Next to you!

Aquinas:  So. Perhaps we might begin by attempting a definition of ‘Bertrand Russell’ and establishing that definition as having ontological authority.

Wittgenstein:  That odd relationship between the words we speak regarding Bertrand Russell, and his concrete reality among other concrete realities, interests me immensely.

Bertrand Russell:  I’m right here, idiot.

Aquinas:  So here’s the agenda for this discussion. We’re going to establish the ontological basis for belief in the existence of Bertrand Russell, discuss the relationship between the term ‘Bertrand Russell’ and the actual dude, and explore the possibilities regarding his existence, nature, proclivities, and patterns of usage–in terms of lanes and spaces–when he finds himself in a parking lot.

Wittgenstein:  Could you lay all of that out for us in outline or grid form?

Aquinas:  I’m way ahead of you. Check this out:

 

Questions:

  1. Does Bertrand Russell exist?

  2. In what manner does he exist?

  3. Is it possible to define him?

  4. What sort of being is he?

  5. Is defining Bertrand Russell the same thing as defining the term ‘Bertrand Russell’?

 

Wittgenstein:  Dude, you are so cool. I’m seriously lovin’ this. I’m actually feeling just a little bit aroused right now.

Aquinas:  I shall interpret that as high praise, and not as an expression of a perverse, or at any rate non-normative, er, sexual…

Bertrand Russell:  Look here, the joke’s over. I’m sitting right here. I can answer all of your questions regarding my ontological status.

Aquinas:  So, to begin: the ontological status of Lord Bertrand Russell. Is he, or is he not, an actually existent entity?

Wittgenstein:  Of course, we’re using ordinary language to attempt to establish metaphysical realities. That’s maybe a problem right there.

Bertrand Russell:  I am here, right here, you mealy sop!

Camus:  I’m far from convinced that this discussion is of any importance whatsoever.

Wittgenstein:  Yes, that IS what you would say, isn’t it. [to Aquinas] Give this man a range of options, and he will always opt to spotlight his own importance.

Camus:  I’m of no importance. Meaning is all-important. And can only be realized through meaningful action.

Wittgenstein:  Tra la la, tra la la, tra la la.

Aquinas:  Gentlemen! Back to the topic. I believe that sufficient evidence exists, of a documentary nature, to support the thesis that Bertrand Russell is ‘real’.

Bertrand Russell:  Ass! I’m practically sitting in your lap.

Wittgenstein:  Regarding Bertrand Russell, perhaps we might say that he is “all that is the case in the case of Bertrand Russell.”

Camus:  Wut.

Wittgenstein:  I’m just sorta spitballing, here.

Bertrand Russell:  [muttering to himself]  Quelle nightmare.

Aquinas:  I’m having trouble tracking with you, Ludwig. Did you just spout a puffball of utter nonsense?

Wittgenstein:  Well, no. I attempted to formulate a definition of Bertrand Russell that would be both ontologically AND linguistically satisfying.

Camus:  [rolls his eyes]

Bertrand Russell:  I totally am right here next to you.

Aquinas:  I’m going to pretend this discussion is only just beginning, and no one has yet had the chance to articulate what strikes me as the utterest nonsense imaginable.

Camus:  Yo.

Bertrand Russell:  What is WRONG with you people? I am literally RIGHT HERE.

Aquinas:  So, why don’t we address the question, “In what manner does Bertrand Russell exist?”

Bertrand Russell:  Hello, hello! I know this one.

Wittgenstein:  He exists in a manner that can be thought, but not spoken of.

Aquinas:  You and your “thought, but not spoken of” nonsense. Get it together, Ludwig. We’re having a philosophical discussion, not a mystical communion.

Wittgenstein:  Um, ouch.

Bertrand Russell:  Look, i can answer that.

Camus:  It seems to me that if Russell is able to act authentically, then he is permitted to claim for himself existence.

Aquinas:  Yikes, i’d almost rather go with Wittgenstein’s answer. Hoo boy. Who was it that decided to accord existentialism the status of a valid philosophical system, that’s MY question.

Camus:  Yeah? Well, maybe YOUR MOM has the answer to that particular question.

Wittgenstein:  It’s good to experience philosophical debate at its most primal. Where’s Karl Popper when you’re wanting him?  [looking about the room for a fireplace poker]

Bertrand Russell:  Oh, come on! “In what manner does Bertrand Russell exist?” That’s an easy one. I’ve got this.

Aquinas:  Perhaps we should move on to the next question, “Is it possible to define him?”

Camus:  How is that not the same question as “What sort of being is he?”

Aquinas:  Well, if it’s not possible to define him, then we cannot say what sort of being he is.

Camus:  So they’re basically just two parts of the same question.

Aquinas:  I am developing a downright Aristotelian dislike for you.

Camus:  That did not EVEN.

Wittgenstein:  I can’t help thinking that neither of you has a point to make that “is the case.”

Camus:  Oh, go fondle yourself.

Bertrand Russell:  Ho! Woo-hoo! Look: I’ve got the answer to that one. I am a human person, the definition of which is consistent with the definition of humanity in general–if you want to get into all that.

Wittgenstein:  Look, what if we move on to the last of our five questions, which to my way of thinking seems the most interesting anyway. Is defining Bertrand Russell the same thing as defining the term “Bertrand Russell”?

Camus:  Of course not. Bertrand Russell defines himself through the series of choices he makes in a world of ambiguities. The term “Bertrand Russell”, on the other hand, is merely that: a term.

Aquinas:  And you, Camus, consistently choose to define yourself as an idiot.

Camus:  Maybe it’s your Mom who’s the real idiot.

Wittgenstein:  I’m thinking the terminological problem is intertwined with the problem of Russell’s identity so intimately that the two questions cannot be separated.

Aquinas:  Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah, blah.

Bertrand Russell:  Imbecile! I am totally sticking my fork into your Southwestern Eggroll. Hmm? You like that?

Aquinas:  Interesting. My Southwestern Eggroll seems to be moving about of its own volition. I feel moved to revise my understanding of locomotion, causality, objectivity and the self. There are apparently things that Aristotle hardly dreamed of.

Camus:  [muttering]  Your Mom is Aristotle.

Bertrand Russell:  I am about to start poking all of you in the ribs with my fork.

Wittgenstein:  How can his Mom be Aristotle? Was your speech-act an attempt to characterize some aspect of the real world? Or an expression of the sublime and irrational?

Bertrand Russell:  Idiot. Here i am. I am literally poking my fork into your freaking spleen. There is literally blood coming out! You can’t feel that? Hmm? What about this?  [pokes his fork into Camus’s liver]

Camus:  Ow. It feels as if someone is poking his fork into my spleen. And also, perhaps my liver.

Aquinas:  I’ve about had it up to here with your attention-grabbing egocentricity, Al!

Bertrand Russell:  This is actually almost as enjoyable as getting to participate in a philosophical discussion. Here, i’m going for Aquinas now.

Aquinas:  Hey! What was that?

Camus:  What was what?

Aquinas:  One of you $!%*&#^@&$% s  just poked me in the ribs!

Camus:  Hey there, watch the blasphemy, Tom! Isn’t that one of the Seven Deadly Sins?

Aquinas:  Actually, no, it’s not, although it might cogently be argued that it–

Bertrand Russell:  [a giant poke]

Aquinas:  Ow! Who’s doing that?

Bertrand Russell:  Okay. I have to confess i’m actually considering giving up philosophy to become a practical jokester. Did anybody hear me say that? Of course not. This is the greatest! I’m here, but i’m not here! I’m an ontological impossibility!

Wittgenstein:  I’m still trying to figure out how Aquinas’s Mom can be Aristotle. Is there a variant sense in which you are using the terms?

 

The Dessert Course

In which B.R. exults in his newfound freedom, and continues joyously poking his tableware into the torsos and limbs of all present–much to his own entertainment and the growing consternation of the assembled company.

 

Your Fourth Pop Quiz. Let’s Hope You Studied. Oh, Wait.

 

Abstract:  We’re scaling the Pop Quizzes down from ten questions to six questions, so as to accommodate the declining intellectual powers of the internet-dwelling audience. No! Wait. What i meant to say was, it’s just easier to manage a pop quiz when there’s not a sprawling mess of nonsense stretched out in every direction. Wait! No! Doggone it, i’m having a bit of trouble getting my thoughts onto paper here. Anyway, here’s your most recent pop quiz. Enjoy!


 

1. Nonsense and its vicissitudes. Which of the following statements is true of sense and non-sense?

a. Sense is the sort of thing that makes sense, and nonsense doesn’t.

b. Sense is sensible. And nonsense is…non-sensible.

c. Well, jeepers, thus far we don’t really seem to have established anything.

d. Hey, dude, tautological statements are better than no statements at all.

e. The difference between sense and nonsense is kind of similar to the difference between peanut butter and almond butter.

f. Okay, now THAT did not make any sense.

g. Sure, well, maybe it’s YOUR MOM that doesn’t make any sense.

h. Sense is that which can be sensed, whereas nonsense is that which can non be sensed.

i. Sense and nonsense is the name of a popular novel by Jane Austen.

j. I am surrounded by insane people.

 

2. Absurdity is to nonsense as reason is to ___________________ .

a. Nonreason

b. Reasonlessness

c. Treason

d. Rationality

e. Good sense

f. Someone else’s Mom

g. A fork and a knife

h. Six heaping teaspoons of castor oil

i. Dude, you can’t have a heaping teaspoon of castor oil

j. Six heaping teaspoons of castor oil that has been dried into a powder

 

3. The four levels of nonsense delineated in the post “Nonsense and Its Vicissitudes” are:

a. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

b. Maggie and Milly and Molly and May

c. Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo and Chico

d. Height, width, depth, and time

e. What in the WORLD are these people talking about.

f. Pigs are the coolest animals, when you really stop to think about it.

g. Chaos and abaddon, with darkness upon the face of the deep

h. That wasn’t four things, it was three.

i. Your Mom is four things, how about that?

j. [sinks head into hands and heaves a sigh that evokes levels of despair previously undreamed of except in villages that have been saturation-bombed with old issues of Mad magazine for weeks and weeks on end]

 

4. When it comes right down to it, do flockbinkers really have any place in a discussion of philosophy?

a. Yes, indeed.

b. No sirree.

c. Well, yes and no.

d. Neither yes nor no.

e. “Neither yes nor no” isn’t a valid answer to this question.

f. Look here, bozo, how about i set down my answers, and you set down yours, okay?

g. Yes, but without the “indeed” following it.

h. Maybe. You show me what’s in your hand, and i’ll show you what’s in mine, heh heh.

i. These people are disgusting and filthy, and that’s just the site administrators.

j. To err is human, and on top of that, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with, love the one you’re with.

 

5. Which of the following statements may be accurately made regarding nonsense?

a. ‘Nonsense’ may be understood as the opposite of ‘sense’.

b. ‘Nonsense’ may be defined as “that which is contrary to the laws of logic.”

c. Nonsense don’t make much sense, now, do it. Heh heh, heh heh.

d. ‘Nonsense’ my be defined as, “that which… is… Your Mom.”

e. Pee-Wee Herman attempted to have a meaningful conversation with Mr. Bean. What resulted was utter nonsense.

f. Nonsense can be delightful and lovely, tra la la, tra la la, tra la la.

g. Nonsense is what you get when you enroll in Mrs. Vickers’ Gender Studies class.

h. Hey, don’t be trashing Mrs. Vickers now, she puts together a mean zucchini casserole.

i. Do you realize you just complimented a feminist academic on the strength of her cooking.

j. Nonsense is what you’ve got when you ain’t got nothin’ else.

 

6. If you were to line up five Bertrand Russells along the top of a fence, which of the following would obtain?

a. The possibility of five Bertrand Russells existing elsewhere at the same time would be eliminated.

b. The statement “There are not five Bertrand Russells on the fence” would be rendered nonsensical.

c. There couldn’t be five Bertrand Russells, ‘Bertrand Russell’ being an entity of an essentially unitary status.

d. Please tell me i’m having a nightmare.

e. Five Bertrand Russells, each of them immersed in nightmare, cannot at one and the same time be awake or immersed in pleasant dreams.

f. When you’ve got five Bertrand Russells on the top of a fence, now, and here’s the part i’m needing you to pay attention to–it’s the important aspect of the discussion–um—

g. Wut.

h. Okay, now these questions are really getting kind of ridiculous.

i. Maybe it’s Your Mom that’s getting kind of ridiculous.

j. Q.E.D.

 

 

How Long Has It Been Since We’ve Had a Pop Quiz? TOO Long.

 

Abstract:  What’s the point in offering stimulating content, if we’re not making sure that our audience is fully tuned in? Here is the third in our agonizing… er, ongoing… series of delightful, challenging and educational pop quizzes. Have fun! Hope ya studied!

Note: In days of yore, our ‘Fun Quizzes’ used to feature ten questions, each accompanied by ten possible answers. It was borne in upon us that this arrangement was probably a bit much for your typical blog reader. “Omigosh, that’s just so much stuff to look over, i think i’m about to have a cow,” noted Sara, from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Phil, from the D.C. suburbs, added, “You people are dumber than my fox terrier, Ralph,” while Genevieve, from the Tampa Bay area, said, “When i eat a York Peppermint Patty, i get the sensation of being out in the middle of the Sahara Desert.” We may not be philosophically advanced enough to understand Genevieve’s insight, but it sure sounds cool.

 


 

Pop Quiz #3

1. Philosophy is a pursuit often associated with which kinds of people?

a. You totally don’t EVEN want to know.

b. Well, there are two kinds of people in the world.

c. What? ^

d. Intelligent, reflective people who think widely and deeply, and are unsatisfied with glib answers to life’s perennial questions. Also three-headed dwarves with eczema.

e. What?? ^

f. We three kings of orient are / Bearing gifts, we traverse afar / Field and fountain, moor and mountain / Following yonder star.

g. What??? ^

h. Well, the “three kings” thing made about as much sense as any of the other answers.

i. Your MOM is a philosopher.

j. This pop quiz seems to be off to a really dismal start. But maybe that’s just my opinion.

 

2. Which of the following statements are accurate discussions of Ultimate Reality?

a. It is that grid against which all things–that are, in fact, genuine phenomena–occur.

b. It is the cloth within which the universe unfolds.

c. It is the sum total of God and all of His works.

d. It is the collection of all true statements, along with their proper referents.

e. What the heck, man. You people actually talk about this stuff on the regular. Huh.

f. We do indeed, o thou insignificant sosh major.  [snicker]  The sosh major has an opinion! Listen to the sosh major trying to express his opinion!

g. I’m not a sosh major, dude. For your information, i majored in gender dynamics.

h. Ultimate Reality is that which is ultimate, and is also reality. And, um. Y’know.

i. Elizabeth, baby, i’m comin’ to ya. [clutches desperately about his chest area]

j. I cannot EVEN. Seriously.

 

3. If you were to encounter Ultimate Reality stuffed down into a breadbox, which of the following would be appropriate responses?

a. Wut.

b. Wait–isn’t ultimate reality bigger than a breadbox?

c. Yeah, i’m with answer number b. Reality can’t be stuffed into a breadbox.

d. ‘B,’ for what it’s worth, is not a number. It’s a letter. Dumbass.

e. What even. I do not EVEN.

f. It hardly matters, comrades, whether ‘b’ is a letter or a number. What matters is the dictatorship of the proletariat and the throwing off of those shackles formed by our adherence to the values and assumptions of the bourgeois class.

g. Hmmm. Wow. I’m just kind of standing around watching the parade go by.

h. Can you actually stuff Ultimate Reality down into a breadbox? I mean, wouldn’t it be kind of small down in there? I’m just, you know, wondering.

i. They addressed that issue in answers ‘b’ and ‘c’.

j. Oh. Whoops! So they did. My bad.

 

4. True or False: Metaphysics and Ontology both deal with the nature of being.

a. True

b. False

c. Both true and false

d. Neither true nor false

e. Both true and false, only not at the same time

f. True. Kind of. Well, i mean. You know. ‘True.’ Heh heh.

g. There were these six blind men who encountered an elephant, okay. And the first one touches the elephant’s trunk. And he says, “This animal is like a snake.”

h. Your Mom.

i. After all this time, does it really matter?

j. That other kind of false. Not the regular kind.

 

5. It is widely believed that flockbinkers and wamwams have in common the property of being treadknicious. What other attribute(s) do they have in common?

a. Wait, stop. I have some questions about what that word ‘treadknicious’ means.

b. You can’t stop someone in the middle of his quiz just to request a definition of terms.

c. Well, i can and i did. ‘Treadknicious’ is a stupid word. I bet it doesn’t mean anything.

d. For that matter, ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ probably don’t mean anything, either.

e. What does ‘treadknicious’ mean?

f. Get with the program, dude. They talked about that already in ‘a’ through ‘c’.

g. Oh. Oops! My bad. Carry on, my brothers and sisters.

h. Well, they have ‘spunk-boobly-osterific-titude’ in common too, if i’m not mistaken.

i. My goodness, is that spunk thing even a real word? I don’t believe i’ve ever heard it.

j. They have Your Mom in common.

 

6. Confucius and the Buddha appear to congregate at Chili’s restaurant with some degree of frequency. Which of the following statements is true of these meetings?

a. Their time together tends to be characterized by profound explorations of the nature of Reality and of the Good Life.

b. Confucius and the Buddha are almost singlehandedly the reason why those ‘Southwestern Eggrolls’ have stayed on the menu all these years. Anybody else eat those?

c. The Buddha likes to make profound-sounding remarks about the relationship between True Mind and the wind blowing and the water flowing, that sort of thing.

d. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I’ve tried it. No dice.

e. You can lead three Scotsmen to a fence, but you can’t make them sit on top of it.

f. Confucius is a cool dude and whatnot, but he’s not very good at running crowd control. What i mean is, Buddha says all this stupid stuff, that’s supposed to sound all profound and whatnot, or whatever, and Confucius just kind of rolls his eyes. Not enough, man! You need to exercise a stronger policy on that kind of nonsense!

g. Someone’s Mom, maybe Yours.

h. Omigosh, enough with the comments about someone’s Mom! I’m dying over here!

i. Confucius and the Buddha are two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The third one may just be Jeff MacDiarmid, who lives in east Trenton, NJ, just got a divorce last year, eats Post Toasties straight out of the box, and is a sort of old-school cobbler.

j. When the Fusch and Big Bud get together, the joint’s about to be jumpin’, that’s all i’ve got to say on the subject.

 

 

Three Philosophers Analyze Their Dinner at Chili’s

 

Abstract:  So there’s these three philosophers, see — variously interested in radical empiricism, rationalism, and the analytic/linguistic school of thought — and they meet at Chili’s for dinner. (For those of you who’ve not studied philosophy, the only people more fun than philosophers are [1] morticians, and [2] my Uncle Federico, who runs a dry goods store in Muncie, Indiana.) Gosh, what a barrel of monkeys! Can you dig it! Don’t you wish that YOU’d been at Chili’s that day? I know i do! Let’s listen in.


 

Our three philosopher-friends are seated at a booth by the windows — “so as to remain in touch with the more ecological aspects of human experience,” as one of them explained to the hostess while they were being seated. The following conversation picks up just as they’ve had the chance to settle in for a minute.

Philosopher #1:  Hmmm. What an odd document this ‘menu’ appears to be.

Philosopher #2:  How so?

Philosopher #1:  I see several problems. The subsections into which the whole is divided make no sense, either structurally or as bodies of intelligible data. And the menu begins with a listing of intoxicants. Should not that sort of thing come after the decisions have been made?

Philosopher #2:  Probably. I think i’m going to have the salmon with broccoli and rice.

Philosopher #3:  I don’t even see that.

Philosopher #2:  You’re looking at the desserts, goofball.

Philosopher #3:  Oh. This has very quickly become my favorite page.

Philosopher #2:  You can always come back to it. The dessert is supposed to be the last part of the meal.

Philosopher #3:  What canon of judgment establishes a necessary order for the components of a meal, ordered out of a menu?

Philosopher #1:  Here we go again.

Philosopher #2:  Look, dude, just allow the received social structures to define the manner in which you interact with the data.

Philosopher #3:  That doesn’t even.

Philosopher #1:  What if i were to eat a page from this menu, rather than any of the food items depicted thereupon?

Philosopher #2:  Please tell me that you’re joking.

Philosopher #1:  The ‘joke’ is a language-game in which i tend not to willingly participate.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  [sidles up to table]  Hi there! My name’s Geoffroy, and i’m going to be your server. Can i start you fellows off with something to drink?

Philosopher #1:  What is the square root of inert negativity?

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Um. Heh heh. I’m not sure i understand the question.

Philosopher #1:  [irritated]  It was a simple enough question.

Philosopher #3:  Great! Now he’s going to be in a mood for the rest of the meal.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Heh heh. Heh heh. Um.

Philosopher #2:  What is the square root of Your Mom.

Philosopher #3:  [laughs inexplicably]

Geoffroy the Waiter:  You know what, i’m gonna let you fellows look over the menu a bit more, and i’ll be back in a minute.

Philosopher #1:  Good plan, Ghee-off-rooy.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Heh heh, it’s pronounced “Jeff-ree.”

Philosopher #1:  No it’s not.

Geoffroy the Table Server:  Um, heh heh.  [scuttles off quickly, sweating]

Philosopher #1:  What an idiot.

Philosopher #2:  Never mind him. Just look at the menu and decide what you want to eat.

Philosopher #3:  Remind me again, at what point in the meal is it permissible to look at this “desserts” section?

Philosopher #2:  After you’ve eaten some real food.

Philosopher #3:  And by what standard are we able to evaluate the Real in the world of nutrition? Is not everything depicted in this menu Real? At some level?

Philosopher #1:  Perhaps it’s worth pointing out, at this juncture, that “nourishing” and “it looks good in the picture” are not necessarily equivalent concepts.

Philosopher #3:  Oh dear. I’m still not able to detect any intelligible pattern of interaction by which this ‘menu’ is mapped over the data of my own experience.

Philosopher #2:  When is that waitress person coming back? Before i’ll have had the chance to make a rational decision based on an adequate survey of the relevant data? I’m feeling pressured to make a decision based on insufficient data.

Philosopher #3:  [waxing oratorical]  I sense that he shall return in the fullness of time.

Philosopher #2:  Time! Now there’s a self-contradictory construct for you.

Philosopher #1:  I’ve told you a thousand times [sic], that doesn’t make any sense. Just because you’re able to slip something past your dissertation committee, that doesn’t make it a real thing.

Philosopher #2:  Nyah nyah nyah. You can’t dismiss an idea just because you’re not equipped to understand it.

Philosopher #1:  [muttering]  Your Mom’s not equipped to understand it.

Philosopher #2:  What? Did you say something about someone’s Mom?

Philosopher #1:  Maybe i did, and maybe i didn’t.

Philosopher #2:  If we were to have this same conversation an infinite number of times, i wonder how many of those times would involve a reference to your Mom.

Philosopher #1:  Well, even after ‘x’ number of conversations, even if she hadn’t come up any of the previous times, there’s no guarantee Your Mom wouldn’t come up the, like, infinite-th time.

[Geoffrey the Waiter slips back up to their table, having braced himself with a few slugs from the vodka bottle he’d conveniently hidden in his backpack that morning.]

Philosopher #3:  Well, how very Humean of you.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  It didn’t sound very human to me.

Philosopher #1:  What? You’re still here?

Philosopher #3:  I didn’t say ‘human’… i said ‘Humean.’

Geoffroy the Waiter:  So, you have trouble pronouncing ‘human’? Nobody’s perfect. We’re only human. Or ‘humean.’ Heh heh.  [immensely pleased with himself for holding his own amid such august company]

Philosopher #1:  ‘Humean’ is a reference to the philosophy of David Hume, an important philosopher of the 1700s.  [mutters under breath]  Imbecile.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Oh.

Philosopher #2:  Among other things, he said that if all of your knowledge is based on observation… which he believed to be the case… then you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, even if the same thing has tended to happen over and over in the past. For instance, just because tipping a glass over has tended to cause water to splash all over the table every time you’ve done it before…

[He deliberately knocks a glass of water over onto Philosopher #1’s lap]

…that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the next time. Oh, will ya look at that. I appear to have made a boo-boo.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  I just thought you had a funny speech impediment.

Philosopher #3:  I do have a funny speech impediment. It’s extremely rude of you to point it out.

Geoffroy the Waiter:  Um. Uuhhh…Sorry?

Philosopher #2:  What does that have to do with David Hume?

Philosopher #3:  Nothing, so far as i can tell. I’m not going to be tipping this embarrassing specimen of a table server–i can tell you that.

Philosopher #1:  Me neither!  [hitching on to an apparent excuse to leave off tipping]

Geoffroy the Waiter:  [slinks off, unnoticed]

Philosopher #3:  I think i’ll have the ‘Southwestern Eggrolls.’

Philosopher #1:  What an incoherent concept. Eggrolls are not associated with the American Southwest, either historically nor as a cuisine.

Philosopher #3:  I think you’re demanding too much philosophical rigor from a popular family restaurant.

Philosopher #1:  If a food makes no sense, i’m not putting it in my body, that’s all i’m saying.

Philosopher #2:  Well, um, okay. So, do you see anything that appeals to you?

Philosopher #1:  I find nothing in here that meets my standards for logical coherence.

Philosopher #2:  Dude, how do you not starve on a regular basis.

 

Epilogue

As it turns out, the three philosophers did end up receiving nourishment, although it was not Geoffroy the Waiter, but the Chili’s restaurant manager who ended up making sure they got hooked up with the appropriate foods. Geoffrey was meanwhile quailing in the back, trembling slightly, and peeping out from time to time to see if the three philosophers had left yet. His life would never be the same. Shortly after the events recorded in this blog post, Geoffrey quit his job at Chili’s and has since been happily employed as a vacuum cleaner salesman…just a few miles, interestingly, from the place where “Southwestern Eggrolls” were invented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Bit of Discussion — Long Overdue — of the Concept of ‘Your Mom’

 

Abstract:  It’s the classic rejoinder: “Your Mom!” Jeepers… I’m laughing uproariously right now, just typing the words! But what is this ubiquitous bit of linguistic magic all about? Where did it come from? What exactly does it mean? Is there, in fact, a Real Thing called ‘Your Mom’? Is it, you know, some sort of insult… and ought your actual mom to have an opinion about it? I bet she does. [snicker]


 

So here’s the thing. We spend so much time on this blog analyzing terms like ‘logical coherence,’ ‘metaphysical grounding,’ ‘epistemic hoo-ha,’ ‘frozen ontological patties,’ ‘what the heck,’ ‘wamwam,’ ‘treadknicious,’ ‘um-bum-bety-boom,’ and ‘eWeeWee,’ that we appear to have overlooked one of the classics.

What about the expression “your mom” [snicker]?

Perhaps it should be noted, by way of introduction, that linguistics and metaphysics are not the same thing and do not necessarily cover the same territory.

“Dang!” i can hear you saying. “What the consarn tootin’ heck are metaguistics, and that other one you said right afterward?”

Ah, an excellent line of inquiry, gentle reader. What we mean here is simply that just because we have a word for something, that doesn’t mean that the something actually is a real thing in the real world.

‘Unicorns,’ for instance. We have a word for them, but they’re not real.

 

Unicorn #1:  Up yours, buddy!

Unicorn #2:  Paul! Calm yourself. The man spoke in ignorance.

Unicorn #3:  If he’s going to go around listing off the things that aren’t real, why doesn’t he start with his own intelligence quotient?

Unicorn #2:  [sigh]  You fellows just need to chill out for a bit. Why don’t we go graze awhile. Maybe by the time we come back, he’ll have said something sensible.

Unicorn #1:  Not much risk of that, if you ask me.

[The three unicorns exit, stage left. Meanwhile, the Blogger continues, unaware that his blog has been host to three unicorns.]

 

The Blogger:  So, the first question we have to ask is this: does the term “Your Mom” mean anything at all, anything that actually exists in the Real World?

The Good Reader:  Well, MY Mom certainly exists. I got a letter from her just a few days ago. And she calls about once a week to see if i’m married yet.

The Blogger:  Ah, but that’s not what we mean when we use the expression “Your Mom.” We’re not talking about your mom.

The Good Reader:  Oh. Wow. I could have sworn.

The Blogger:  No, it’s more of a universal expression. It means something more like, “One’s Mom,” or, “That sort of philosophically-defined Mom over there.” Or even, something like “You’re a weenie.”

The Good Reader:  Ah. But when you say to me, “Your Mom,” i figure you mean, “My Mom.” You know. It just sort of figures.

The Blogger:  Well… i suppose that is one possible meaning of the expression.

The Good Reader:  Well gee. Thank you.

The Blogger:  There’s probably a range of possible meanings of the term “Your Mom.”

The Good Reader:  [dubiously]  Maybe.

The Blogger:  Well, let’s experiment! Let’s see how many possible definitions we can come up with for the expression, “Your Mom.”

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay. Knock yourself out.

The Blogger:  So, to begin: One possible definition of the expression ‘Your Mom’ is, “the woman at whose o’er-brimming paps you nursed as a wee, itsy-bitsy infant.”

The Good Reader:  Okay. That makes sense. You said it kind of funny, but i guess we can let that go.

The Blogger:  And another definition of ‘Your Mom’ would be Russia. You know, as in “Mother Russia.”

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay. I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they say the expression, ‘Your Mom.’

The Blogger:  …and of course, ‘Your Mom’ can also mean, “a Crock Pot somewhat in need of being washed because it’s got cheesy material encrusted on it.”

The Good Reader:  That’s not even a thing!

The Blogger:  It most certainly is.

The Good Reader:  What? You’re a wee wee.

The Blogger:  [chuckling]  At least you didn’t call me an eWeeWee.

The Good Reader:  Um. What.

The Blogger:  Didn’t you notice? Oh dear…”eWeeWee” was one of the technical terms listed at the beginning of this blog post.

The Good Reader:  That… what? I don’t even.

The Blogger:  But back to the topic at hand. Your denial that the expression “Your Mom” as indicative of “a Crock Pot somewhat in need of being washed” is a real thing.

The Good Reader:  I can’t even think about that anymore. I’m still thinking of “eWeeWee.” Is that a sound that you made up yourself, or did you overhear one of the kids on the street corner saying it?

The Blogger:  [somewhat irritated]  Never mind. You’re missing the point.

The Good Reader:  “eWeeWee.” It is kind of fun to say, isn’t it? “eWeeWee. eWeeWee.”

The Blogger:  Stop that! We’re talking about Your Mom.

The Good Reader:  Let’s not do that. She isn’t here to defend herself.

The Blogger:  [on the verge of blowing his top]  Not THAT Your Mom! The other one! Er, the other ones! Or something.

The Good Reader:  Golly, there must be at least, what, two or three billion of ’em? Out of our total population of about seven billion?

The Blogger:  Okay, you need to cut that out right now. We’re trying to have a serious philosophical discussion here!

The Good Reader:  Correction: Neither one of us is trying to have a serious philosophical discussion. I’m certainly not. And your idea of philosophy appears to be “making odd sounds with your mouth and then trying to justify them intellectually.”

The Blogger:  [pauses for a moment, decides the best course of action is to ignore this]

Okay. So, one possible meaning of the expression “Your Mom” is a Crock Pot that very much needs to be washed. On account of the cheezy material, and whatnot.

The Good Reader:  [rolling eyes]  Okay. Sure. Go on.

The Blogger:  And another is, a meteorite that left a Volkswagen-sized crater just a couple of miles outside the city of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The Good Reader:  No. I’m sorry. Just no.

The Blogger:  …and another possible meaning is, “what you ate for breakfast this morning, but with the strawberries removed.”

The Good Reader:  What? Stop that! You’re just making up random nonsense.

The Blogger:  [somewhat huffily]  I am practicing philosophy at a level that you, perhaps, as a layperson, are not able to appreciate.

The Good Reader:  Um. Okay, i’ve got another one. Your Mom can also mean, “the little flakes of dead skin that come off when you scratch your butt.”

The Blogger:  Uh…hmmm. Maybe. What’s your justification for that definition?

The Good Reader:  You’re impossible.

The Blogger:  I’m a philosopher!

The Good Reader:  Indeed.

 

Epilogue

As of the publication of this blog post, The Blogger has since come up with another 27 possible meanings for the expression “Your Mom”… and he doesn’t seem to be tiring of the subject. This may be worth following up at some point.

The unicorns do not appear to have returned.

 

Let’s Go Through a Whole Post Without Once Mentioning Flockbinkers

 

Abstract:  In which our cast of characters–in a decided departure from common practice–attempt to go for an entire blog post without once saying the word… well, you know, THAT word. The word. The word floc… ooohh, you know. The word. THAT one.


 

The Blogger:  [addressing a small group of people gathered in his living room]

So hey there, fellas. Thanks for coming! I wonder if each of you would mind glancing down at the piece of paper that you’ve been handed. It explains the one big, basic ground rule for this particular post. Note that your attention is being called to one word in particular: the one word that none of us is going to use in this here blog post.

Jennifer Smith:  Blog post? What blog post? Biffy, what does he mean by ‘blog post’? He’s making strange remarks again. I’m already feeling disoriented.

Little Biffy:  Just roll with it. Pretend he’s talking about a “log post” that you tie your boat off to, right when you’ve returned from a satisfying morning of fishing.

Jennifer Smith:  You just made things ten times worse. NOW i seriously do not EVEN.

Little Biffy:  Oops.

Jennifer Smith:  No, come on. Log post? I’m feeling disoriented.

Little Biffy:  Heh heh. Forget i said anything. Post? Where’s the post? I don’t see a post. Nobody said anything about a post. There’s no post. Not a post in sight.

Jennifer Smith:  [begins breathing heavily; her eyes start to roll back in her head]

The Good Reader:  It’s okay, Jennifer. Here, come sit next to me. We can be sensible together in the midst of a whirlwind of chaos and nonsense.

Jennifer Smith:  Thanks, sort of. Um.

Elvis Wu:  [gazing intently at the note he’s been handed]  Ahh! So we are to conduct ourselves normally, except that there is one word, one particular word, that we may not, under any circumstances, allow ourselves to say.

The Blogger:  Precisely.

Elvis Wu:  And that word is Flo–

The Blogger:  [with hands over ears]  Aaaahhh aahhhhhhhhhhh aaaaaaaaaaaahh aaahhh aaaaaaaahhhhhh aahh aaaaahhhh…

Elvis Wu:  Just kidding, my good man. I just wanted to see what you would do. That reaction was actually a bit more interesting than whatever i was expecting.

Aristotle:  Hmmm. Interesting. I can’t help thinking… hmmm.

The Blogger:  [consumed with curiosity–after all, this is ARISTOTLE we’re talking about]

Um, yes? What’s on your mind? Something profound and philosophically spiffy, i’ll bet!

Aristotle:  Well, it’s just that, if we were to think of all human behavior, or perhaps all human tendencies of personality…

The Blogger:  Yes, yes, hmmm?

Aristotle:  …as being laid out on a kind of grid, with one sort of extreme at one end, and the opposite extreme on the other end, and a satisfying, happy medium in the middle…

The Blogger:  Uh-huh, yes?

Aristotle:  Well then, we… hmmm. I’ll need to put a bit more thought into this one.

Confucius:  Sounded like you were on a roll there, o most eminent among Greeks. Don’t let that one drop. I think it’s going to lead somewhere.

The Buddha:  First we go through the fire, then we go through the water, and then we go through the, um, the wasteland of ice, and then we go through, uh, umm, the place where, uh, earwigs come from, and then, then, uuhhh… that bottom dresser drawer that we rarely open and there’s no telling what’s in there.

Confucius:  The wise man know when to remain silent; the fool go on and on about ridiculous fire and earwigs and other nonsense.

The Buddha:  Bearded Greek is allowed to make no sense, but not the Lord Buddha?

Confucius:  Sometimes we must take one for the team.

The Buddha:  Um, okay. Not fair.

Scotsman #2:  My bonnie lies over the ocean.

The Good Reader:  Wait. What?

Scotsman #2:  My bonnie lies over the sea.

The Good Reader:  No. Stop.

Scotsman #2:  My bonnie lies a couple of blocks past 57th street, but you gotta jog left when you get to that stop sign where it looks like the road comes to an end, but it really doesn’t.

The Good Reader:  He can’t even hear me. Hello! Hello!

Scotsman #2:  Oh bring back a couple of ham loaves, some ginger and cinnamon and clove, a box of cigars, two earwigs…

Confucius:  Again with the earwigs! What is this, National Earwig Day?

Scotsman #2:  …and maybe one of those oversized lollipops with all the colors in them.

The Good Reader:  Of course.

Scotsman #2:  [triumphantly]  …to ME.

Your Mom:  [enters]  Hi, i hope i’m not late! It was really sweet of y’all to invite me.

[The Blogger hands her one of the explanatory cards, which she glances at for half a sec and then stuffs into her purse]

The Blogger:  Welcome, Someone’s Mom–perhaps yours! Well, i mean, not YOURS [glancing at Your Mom] but probably someone else’s. As long as you’re prepared to observe our one simple rule, come on in and join the party!

The Good Reader:  The joint’s rockin’. You got here just in time.

Jennifer Smith:  I still don’t understand what he meant by the word ‘post.’ Isn’t this bothering anyone else?

Little Biffy:  Think of a ‘post office.’

Jennifer Smith:  Is there a word that means “the opposite of a helpful comment”…? Cause that’s the word i’m looking for right now. [Gazes menacingly at Little Biffy]

Elvis Wu:  Biffy’s a good fella. He means well. Perhaps we ought to be thinking of ‘post’ as meaning, in the present context, something like, “that bounded range of trans-rational yet rule-bound [within a subjectively established set of expectations] experience, in which The Blogger is able to enact any one of a potentially infinite number….”

[Jennifer, bless her heart, has summarily yet placidly passed out cold by this time]

Your Mom:  So, okay–[glancing again, oh so briefly, at the card she was handed]–sorry, i’m just curious–what ARE flockbinkers, anyway?

The Blogger:  Dammit! Oops. Sorry.

The Good Reader:  Okay, calm down. It’s not an emergency that someone said the word “flockbinker.”

The Blogger:  Oooff! Stop that!

The Good Reader:  It just means we can start taking ourselves a bit less seriously about this admittedly stupid blog post.

The Blogger:  Doggone it!

Your Mom:  Did i say the wrong thing? I just wanted to know a little bit more about these, what did you call them? FLOCKBINKERS.

The Blogger:  [hacking, gagging, hopping about on one foot]

The Good Reader:  Oh, come on. You know i’m right. Setting yourself the goal of having a blog post in which no one says the word “flockbinker”–

The Blogger:  Owww! No! Cut it out!

The Good Reader:  –ranks waay down on the list of significant things for you to be concerned about.

Your Mom:  Am i pronouncing it right? Flok – bing – ker?

The Blogger:  [the agonized eruption of a thousand dying suns upon his face]

The Good Reader:  Now now. Be nice. She’s your guest.

The Blogger:  But doggone it, The Good Reader, it’s MY blog–i should be the one determining what people do or don’t say on it!

The Good Reader:  You just go on believing that. We all need something comforting to hold on to in the darkest days of winter.

Jennifer Smith:  But it’s summertime. Well, okay, as of a few days ago, it’s fall. As if you could tell that from these temperatures.

Little Biffy:  Which leads us, if you think about it, to this ultimately arbitrary (and really, somewhat unhelpful) cultural habit of ending ‘summer’ and beginning ‘fall’ on the same day–well, you know, basically–every year, as if the annual shifts in temperature and seasonal dynamics…

The Blogger:  [to everyone’s consternation, he begins to expand, turn green, sort of roar–sort of–kind of loudly, and transform into The Incredible Hulk]

Elvis Wu:  Now there’s something you don’t see every day. Great party, guys!

 

 

Epilogue

[A few hours later. The room has pretty much cleared out.]

The Good Reader:  You’ve thrown another winner, buddy!

The Blogger:  [sniffling]  It was awful.

The Good Reader:  Oh, come off of yourself. You have the worst attitude. I think they all liked it. It was fun!

The Blogger:  It was an unmitigated disaster. I throw the worst parties.

The Good Reader:  What! You’re a weenie. Buck up. Everyone had a great time. [a glint in her eye]  Especially Your Mom. My goodness, i don’t think i’ve ever heard anyone say the word ‘flockbinker’ that many times in a single setting! She was great.

The Blogger:  [gazes, glumly, a man bereft of hope, off into deepest space]

 

Marketing and the False Dilemma: or, “I don’t know which one to click on!”

Here, o most excellent reader, is a quickie lesson in critical thinking. You’re about to learn about false dilemmas, and then you’re going to learn to recognize them when you encounter them in sales scenarios.

If the expression “false dilemma” sounds familiar, it may be that you’ve read one of the recent posts to this blog (“There Are Two Kinds of People in the World“) in which The Good Reader, The Blogger, and Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major, discussed the idea of false dilemmas at some length. If you read that post, then you’re already ahead of the game. If you didn’t, then fear not: here’s a bit of a primer to get you started.

 

When i was in the 6th grade, the following joke was popular among certain of the fellows:

Dude #1:  Are you a [something unpleasant] tied to a tree?

Dude #2:  Um, no. Of course not.

Dude #1:  Aaaugh! Aaaagh! [unpleasant thing] on the loose! [unpleasant thing] on the loose!

Nicely done, Dude #1! Do you see what he did there? He craftily set up the scenario such that only two possible answers were provided: either you were a [something unpleasant] tied to a tree, or you were [same unpleasant thing] at large. And that, my friends, is a classic example of a false dilemma.

A false dilemma is any situation where only two options are presented as the possible answer to a question, and you are expected to select one of the two… despite the fact that there are actually other possibilities that have not been mentioned. Here, let’s look at another one.

Is a grilled cheese sandwich an example of (1) a meat casserole, or (2) a sports utility vehicle?

You see the problem. I have provided you with two answers, but regrettably, the correct answer was not one of them. Yet i seem to be expecting you to choose one of the wrong answers that i gave you.

Let’s look at the issue of the “false dilemma” from another angle. If i were to ask you the following question, you would be correct in choosing precisely one of the two options i set you up with:

“Pardon me. Are you a postal delivery worker, or something else?”

If you are, in fact, a mail carrier, you could select the first option. And if you’re not, you could select the second one. There’s no problem. I have given you a logically satisfying range of options. It is possible for you to give the correct answer, based on the options i’ve presented you with.

But what if i were to ask you the following:

“Hello. Are you a postal delivery worker, or an aquatic crustacean?”

You would be quite within your rights to say, “Excuse me, i’m not either one… perhaps you’re confusing me with YOUR MOM?”

This would be a philosophically sound approach to the situation.

The person setting up a false dilemma will usually be either (1) a sloppy thinker who doesn’t realize that the scenario he’s setting forth is flawed, or (2) a canny manipulator who is very much aware of what he’s doing, and wants to shepherd you into choosing one of the two options: the one that he agrees with.

Which leads us to today’s topic.

 


 

Is it just me, or have online vendors been making increasing use of troubling false dilemmas? They’ll present you with an advertisement of some kind, and then offer you two options to click through, like this:

  • Yes, i want to learn more about this exciting offer!
  • No, i am a moron and should not be allowed to breed!

I have been noticing these kinds of dilemmas with increasing frequency. The other day as i was making a purchase using one of those vast, behemoth-scale online retailers… i won’t identify the company, but its name rhymed with “diazepamazon”…i was met at one point in the checkout process by what i thought was an odd choice (and here i indulge in the liberty of paraphrase):

  • Yes, i would like to be charged an additional fee to enroll in a program that will result in superior customer service, substantial eventual savings (if, that is, i end up spending at least nine grillion dollars a year through this website), and a streamlined checkout experience!
  • No, i am content with the irritating, substandard shopping experience to which i have grown stoically accustomed!

Something just didn’t feel completely right about the choice i was being offered. What i wanted was superior customer service and substantial savings, without being charged an additional fee! But [sigh] they did not offer that as one of the options. So i selected the second one, even though it wasn’t really what i wanted.

Once you train yourself to recognize them, you begin to see false dilemmas everywhere throughout the world of marketing. For instance, you’ve probably seen this sort of thing. A certain whiskey is being advertised, and, although the ad doesn’t come out and say it directly, it is strongly implied that you have two options before you:

Either (1) you are a drinker of Whiskey X, and a favorite among the ladies, or (2) women look at you with pity in their eyes, similar to the way they would look at a fellow who has a yellow discharge draining out of one ear, and they whisper to each other in phrases that sound as if they include the words “welfare recipient” and “venereal disease.”

Never mind that you have never touched their whiskey and, nevertheless, seem to get along perfectly fine with women. The advertisement does not appear to take this possibility into account.

Here’s another one. An advertisement in which two women are pictured, one decked in the athletic gear that is being advertised, and the other wearing some other perfectly reasonable athletic wear. And, just through the photograph and the brilliantly worded text, an implied false dilemma is set forth:

Either (1) you wear our athletic gear, you’re fit, gorgeous, self-possessed, and the cool slogan “Just Go For It” applies to you, or (2) you are 23, already going through menopause, and look as if you are no stranger to snack cakes filled with trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.

Never mind that you wouldn’t be caught dead in the athletic gear being advertised… you tried it on once and found it hot and uncomfortable… yet you just got finished running your third half-marathon and finishing in the top ten percent.

Here are some more examples.

Imagine a laxative company with an advertisement that says, “…so the next time you’re feeling a bit irregular, try StoolExpress… unless, of course, you enjoy feeling bloated and having a painful bowel movement once every five weeks.”

It’s entirely possible… hear me out… that those are not the only two options.

Or this:

“So join the multitudes of homemakers who have discovered that they don’t have to live with perpetually sticky countertops, accompanied by a faint but apparently ineradicable whiff of cat urine. Switch to ultra-absorbent WipeOut paper towels!”

Could it be that there are other solutions to the problem of soiled countertops? Just thinking out loud here.

Or imagine being presented with an online poll set up in the following way:

  • Yes, i support Congressman McDrennahanahan in his fight against the forces of wickedness and injustice!
  • No, i hate my country and feel that the sooner the Bill of Rights can be forcibly ripped out of the Constitution (which, by the way, i also hate), the better.

Maybe… just maybe… it’s possible to love and be committed to one’s country, even if Congressman McDrennahanahan’s agenda does not entirely represent your civic ideal.

 

I hope this little tutorial has been helpful to you, o gentle reader, in your struggle to sift through the messages that we are all bombarded with on a daily basis.

If not, then i’m afraid you’ll just continue to be a witless, gullible weenie who is utterly at the mercy of ad agencies, politicos, and snake oil salesmen.

 

The Long-Awaited Flockbinker Pop Quiz #2!

From time to time… well, let’s just be brutally honest, about once every couple of years… the Blogger undertakes to test how closely attentive his readers have been. The first time we offered a pop quiz on this blog (“Your Very First ‘Flockbinkers’ Pop Quiz“) the thing really was a roaring success, and….

The Good Reader:  That’s not how i remember it. I seem to recall that lots of people were seriously bothered by it. Many of your readers found it confusing and pointless. People accused you of mocking the very idea of philosophy. You got hate mail. You even had to devote a whole post to MY objections. And i’m your most devoted fan.

The Blogger:  Oh, golly, The Good Reader, this really isn’t the time or the place….

The Good Reader:  That first Pop Quiz was a bizarre mishmash of random silliness and even more random silliness; and the one thing it was NOT, was an informative test of anybody’s knowledge of philosophy, or of anything else.

The Blogger:  It seems to me that we’ve covered all of this ground before, haven’t we? Anyway, Good Reader, i’ve turned over a new leaf. I’m a changed man. I no longer include strange, sad attempts at humor or oddball bursts of surreal self-referentiality in my quizzes. You’ll see.

The Good Reader:  Hrmmff. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and at least have a look.

The Blogger:  Although, be warned, you know i can’t control what the readers are gonna do once they start taking the quiz and getting into discussions with each other about what the right answers are.

The Good Reader:  No. Just no. Do not do that again. Don’t even think about it. See, that’s just the sort of nonsense that i’m talking about!

The Blogger:  Hey, what? It’s not me doing it, it’s the people taking the quiz! I can’t control people who have free will and internet access.

The Good Reader:  You are so full of baloney! You and i both know that it’s you inventing those “readers” who are “taking the quiz” so that you can get a few cheap laughs.

The Blogger:  Oops, ahem… will you look at the time! Sorry, The Good Reader, i’m afraid we’re gonna have to wrap up this introduction. Onward ho, to the long-awaited follow-up to that first, epic quiz. It’s been a couple of years, and we’ve covered a lot of territory since then!

Your answers, o my faithful readers, to the following ten questions (each with ten possible answers, numbered ‘a’ through ‘j’) should give a fair indication of whether you’ve been paying attention of not.

 

1.  According to this post that went up during the last week of October — later supplemented by this follow-up post (“A Philosopher Hands out Candy — and Philosophy Classics — to Trick-or-Treaters“), which of the following are terrific ideas for something to identify as, for Hallowe’en?

a.  A character that Jane Austen would have included in her novel Persuasion, if only she’d known what she was doing as an author.

b.  An accident over on Aisle Five involving a small child, a rogue shopping cart, and several dozen boxes of breakfast cereal.

c.  A family of five aliens whose civilization has been destroyed by other, even meaner aliens from a neighboring planet.

d.  Your Mom.

e.  A mathematical impossibility.

f.  The vicissitudes of Justin Bieber’s career.

g.  A duck.

h.  The entire inventory of a Dollar Tree.

i.  Conan O’Brien’s haircut.

j.  Conan O’Brien’s bank account, including whatever he’s got hidden away offshore.

 

2.  As represented in a recent post to this blog, which of the following might accurately be said of Confucius and the Buddha when they are dining together in a public restaurant?

a.  Confucius has a rough time getting Buddha to stay on task, i.e. look at the menu and decide what he wants to order.

b.  Buddha has a distressing tendency to say mysterious, metaphysically odd things to the server, who — bless his heart — is just trying to find out what they want to eat.

c.  Confucius and the Buddha are frequently joined by Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu, Mao Tse-Tung, The Wu Tang Clan, Amy Tan, Bruce Lee, Chuck D, and Fred Ho — the proprietor of a little Chinese short order place on Market St.

d.  Buddha has an appalling habit of chewing with his mouth open, a habit which sends Confucius around the bend.

e.  Confucius tends to talk in phrases that sound like they came out of a fortune cookie: i.e. “You will come into an unexpected sum of money.”

f.  Both Confucius and the Buddha tend to order off-menu; for instance, “No, i want you to bring the goat in here and kill it right next to our table so we can see if you’ve done it properly.”

g.  Buddha’s tendency to fade in and out of nirvana is not only problematic for their interactions with the waitstaff, but infuriating to Confucius, who considers such antics to be out of keeping with proper social decorum.

h.  Their favorite restaurant is Panda Express, followed by Logan’s Roadhouse, Taco Bell, and CiCi’s Pizza.

i.  Buddha never tires of pulling out his favorite joke, “Make me one with everything.”

j.  Confucius tends to have a way with the ladies, which may have been all cool and stuff in the 500s BC, but can get you into seriously hot water in the year 2017.

 

3.  Which of these statements is the Buddha unlikely to have said?

a.  The self is an illusion.

b.  The self is an elf on a shelf.

c.  The self is in a state of constant evolution, and is in fact living under an assumed name in a duplex in Des Plaines, Illinois.

d.  Make me One with Everything.

e.  Make me one with two patties — medium-well — double-cheese, hold the lettuce, and could i have some of those little hot peppers?

f.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Noble Eightfold Path.

g.  To achieve enlightenment, you must follow the Yellow Brick Road.

h.  Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

i.  I have heard the sound of one hand clapping… geez, is this an audience, or an oil painting?

j.  To transcend the limitations of the physical form, you must gaze into the yawning emptiness of the infinite abyss… naw, i’m kidding, i’m kidding. Calm down! I didn’t mean it! Jeepers! You people.

 

4.  In a recent post to this blog (The Blogger Encounters the Security Guard), an interesting discussion occurs between two philosophers representing very different walks of life. Which of the following took place during that discussion?

a.  The Blogger is surprised to find a philosopher working security at a medical center.

b.  The Blogger is even more surprised to find a medical center located in the middle of the seventh hole at Bud’s Putt Putt Golf Paradise.

c.  The blogger and the security guard agree that philosophy is no longer popular or well understood among the masses.

d.  The blogger and the security guard agree, furthermore, that the KFC on Highway 2 needs to bring back their all-you-can-scarf-down buffet.

e.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by sheer force of logical argument.

f.  The Security Guard takes out a criminal by quoting to him the first 357 lines of Beowulf, in the original Anglo-Saxon.

g.  The security guard takes out a criminal and pays for dinner and drinks, but not the movie… who can afford 12 bucks for a movie on a security guard’s wages?

h.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for a moron.

i.  The security guard is frustrated over constantly being mistaken for Kevin James.

j.  The blogger and the security guard discuss the fact that security guards, in general, tend to be viewed as intellectual giants with a vast breadth of knowledge of history, philosophy, the sciences, literature and the fine arts.

 

5.  Logical syllogisms, as represented in the recent post “Now, Boys and Girls, Let’s Look at Some Syllogisms“….

a.  are typically made up of two premises and a conclusion.

b.  are often regarded as the basic building blocks of a logical argument.

c.  are examples of deductive reasoning.

d.  are generally regarded as superior to ‘illogical syllogisms,’ because hey, honestly, what would even be the point?

e.  sometimes get into frustrating conflicts with emotional syllogisms.

f.  are kind of like recipes, and kind of like instruction manuals, and kind of like graphic novels, and kind of like Shakespeare’s play “A Comedy of Errors.”

g.  very often have technical terms in them like ‘flockbinker’ and ‘wamwam’ and ‘throckwhistle’ and ‘ooga-booga.’

h.  were pioneered by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and Christopher Walken.

i.  form the basis for several popular party games.

j.  can be found in the darnedest places, like, oh, for instance, the third stall from the end in the men’s room at the Carmike 18 Theater over on South Terrace Road.

 

6.  Flockbinkers and unicorns…

a.  are probably not the same thing, and certainly don’t hang out at the same nightclubs.

b.  are both (probably) varieties of small slippery fishes with eight legs and a stinger.

c.  have this in common: that they both refuse to eat cheese sandwiches that have had the crust trimmed off.

d.  are rarely seen together in public, but can occasionally be found together on medieval tapestries.

e.  have this in common: that they are both awfully fun to say out loud. I mean, seriously: “Flockbinker.” “Unicorn.”  Dude, i’m in stitches!

f.  are both nonexistent, but in different ways.

g.  Wait, how can two nonexistent things be nonexistent “in different ways?” Either something exists, or it doesn’t.

h.  Well that just shows how much you know about philosophy. Blogger, may i make a suggestion? Perhaps the younger ones should be given a simpler quiz.

i.  “The younger ones”…? Why, you slimeball, i oughta….

j.  Hey guys, sorry to arrive late to the party. May i toss my two cents’ worth in? About nonexistent things being nonexistent in different ways? Like, maybe, Moby-Dick is one kind of nonexistent, and a square circle is a different kind of nonexistent, and an efficiently run government bureau is even a different kind of nonexistent. I’m just spitballin’ here.

j2.  Oh, my gosh, i’m surrounded. These people are everywhere. Beam me up, Scotty.

 

7.  Which of the following statements can accurately be made of ‘Horse People’…? You may refer to this post from a couple of years ago if you need a refresher on what ‘horse people’ are.

a.  Horse People are essentially indistinguishable from unicorn people.

b.  Horse people and unicorn people are two completely different categories. A unicorn person would not be caught dead owning a regular horse, and many horse people don’t even believe in the existence of unicorns.

c.  Horse People are not at all the same people as the people who travel to neighboring planets in a space vehicle made by strapping 40 toaster-ovens together.

d.  Horse People tend often (but not always) to also be into centaurs, though not usually those winged horses, which honestly are not even a real thing.

e.  Horse People constitute one major category of humanity, the other category being ‘guinea pig people.’

f.  Expert opinion is divided on the issue of whether people who would be into horses, if they were ever exposed to one, ought to be considered ‘horse people’ or merely ‘people.’

g.  Horse People generally, and for reasons not yet fully understood, have difficulty distinguishing between flockbinkers and wamwams.

h.  Horse People are not necessarily all that good at navigating taxonomical frameworks.

i.  Horse People can be mighty touchy when you try to apply philosophical analysis to their putative truth-claims.

j.  There is a tiny subset of horse people called “horse with no name people.” These people are often found in deserts and have selective memory issues.

 

8. Which of the following statements would be true in reference to ontology and categories?

a.  Ontology is that branch of philosophy that deals with being: what existence is, what it means for something to exist, what kinds of things there are, and how they are related to each other.

b.  “Ontology, shmontology” is a statement often heard around philosophy conferences.

c.  One of the more interesting debates in ancient and medieval philosophy concerned the question of how ‘real’ categories are. Do categories actually exist, or only the things in them? Are categories mere conveniences that we develop in order to make sense of our world? All of that, by the way, was one answer to the question.

d.  Scattergories is a great game for training kids in the basics of philosophy.

e.  A few more good philosophy games would include “Go Fish,” “Twister,” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Cow tipping is also a favorite.

f.  There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy setting up categories, and those who do not.

g.  Heh heh, i saw what you did there.

h.  Dude, this is a quiz. You can’t just randomly make comments in the section that’s supposed to be for the answers to the questions.

i.  Well, i can, and i just did. Maybe you’d like to try doing something about it.

j.  I have never been more terrified in my life. I am literally trembling in my boots.

j-point-5.  Come over here and say that. Come on. Come on. Let’s see what you got.

j-point-7.  Fellas, fellas, geez, can you take it outside? We’re trying to run a quiz here.

 

9. Which of the following can accurately be said of philosophy?

a.  Philosophy is a fool’s game.

b.  Philosophy is something your mom would probably really get into.

c.  Philosophy is a rapidly disappearing intellectual discipline.

d.  Philosophy is for people who lack the people-skills to go into business, and aren’t coordinated enough to operate heavy machinery.

e.  You’ll very likely be better at Philosophy if you have a Greek or German name, than if your name is, oh, for instance, Donnie McDonald.

f.  Philosophy concerns mainly a bunch of fancy terms and arguments about obscure things like the ontological status of your mom.

g.  Dude, the  references to someone’s mom stopped being funny a long time ago.

h.  Hey, big fella, why don’t you do you. Hmmm? I’ll do me, and you do you.

i.  Please. “You do you” is one of the most incoherent suggestions you can make to somebody, right up there with “be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.”

j.  Watch it, son, now you’re getting personal. I’ve got that one about “be yourself” as wallpaper on my computer screen.

j-and-one-third.  Fellas! Please! Seriously, we’re trying to conduct a quiz here. Take the argument outside.

 

10. Which of the following are characters that have, at some point or another, made an appearance on this blog?

a.  Elvis Wu, the Last Philosophy Major

b.  Little Biffy and Jennifer Smith

c.  Confucius and the Buddha

d.  Smokey and the Bandit

e.  The Captain and Tennille

f.  Three Scotsmen sitting on a fence

g.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

h.  The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse

i.  The Blogger

j.  The Good Reader

j.1.  The Decent Reader, So Long as the Book Isn’t Too Long

j.2.  The Reader Who Struggles with Words of More than Two Syllables

j.25.  Chuck Norris

j.5.  Your Mom

j.75.  The kid with the wonky nose and a haircut that looks like an abstract sculpture gone terribly wrong, who works at the McDonald’s on E. 3rd Street

j.9.  A mob of crazed orangutans, pelting good boys named ‘James’ with frozen waffles

j.92715.  A mob of boys named ‘James,’ pelting crazed orangutans with frozen waffles

 

Epilogue

The Good Reader:  I knew it. I knew he was going to do it again. I just knew it.

 

 

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

 

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