From petehip@cogsci.ed.ac.uk Tue Oct 21 09:15:31 1997

Newsgroups: alt.slack

Subject: Archive Material

From: petehip@cogsci.ed.ac.uk (Peter Hipwell)

Date: Tue, 21 Oct 1997 16:15:31 GMT

Here's some old stuff I found, which you probably haven't seen before,

and probably won't read now. Oh well.

[***]

This started off as something else, then it suddenly became THIS. That

stuff that it was going to be about turned out to be EVEN MORE idiotic

than this has turned out to be. Now, I don't really need an excuse,

other than saying "Bob" or poking my tongue out, or pretending that

I'm just such a LOVEABLE OLD PRANKY WANKY WACKY DIPSTER that I don't

care -- which I'm not, and don't. But what if I did? Is "Bob" REALLY a

good excuse? Here's the competition.

 

EXCUSE #1: "I didn't do it ON PURPOSE."

Obviously, this excuse suggests that the whatever the now-dubiously

valuable action in question was, it was purposeless. Given that this

classification covers a large realm of human behaviour, it will be

impossible for me to provide a totally adequate summary of this

concept, but there are a few worthwhile notes to be made.

 

Firstly, (1), the denial of purpose reduces the offender to the level

of a non-goal-driven inanimate, such as a horseshoe that an

incompetent farrier has put a policeman's horse that flies off

unexpectedly when the horse rears because a lunatic has just prodded

it with a toasting fork and sails across the road, braining a

white-haired old granny that is taking her poodle for a walk: which is

just one of the many futile deaths imaginable that I have

imagined. The obvious consequence of which is that the excuse-giver

should be treated appropriately as a non-goal-driven inanimate and

nailed into place securely to prevent them purposelessly repeating the

action.

 

Secondly, (2), the excuse is ambiguous, also conveying the impression

that, on purpose, the excuse-giver did not carry out some action. So

clearly it stinks.

 

Thirdly, (3), the phrase "I didn't do it off purpose" is

ungrammatical, as is "I didn't do it on unpurpose". I don't see why

this should be, but presumably there is some kind of reason for it,

because otherwise we'd have to believe that language is only a

partially systematic ragbag of heuristic devices cobbled together from

random spurts of intuition that have been haphazardly piled up on top

of one another over thousands of years, which would deliver a sharp

blow to the very concept that excuses deliver any kind of exculpation

other than a ritualistic weaselling actuated only when some miscreant

is backed into a corner.

 

EXCUSE #2: "It wasn't DELIBERATE."

It is possible to carry out an action on purpose, but not

deliberately, i.e. using deliberation. This, at least, was the

argument used by the defense council in that remarkable case of 1777,

wherein Lord Peregrine Thwackery prosecuted a "small, impudent

cumulonimbus". The case is historically notable, being the penultimate

example of an inanimate object being charged within the English legal

system (the last two examples being "Spanwick vs. Marsh Gas" in 1794,

and "Spanwick vs. Misconceptions", also in 1794, both of which were

responsible for important precedents being laid down).

 

The cloud was accused of spoiling one of Thwackery's legendary nude

boar hunting expeditions by uncovering the sun without permission,

"behaviour indecorous and brash above its station". The sudden burst

of light startled both "quarry and quarrier", the result of which was

a rapid unhorsing, an equally rapid outburst of "robust, voluble

ejaculations" directed Canute-wise to meteorological factors, and a

hideous buttock tusking. Although it did not turn up in court, it was

defended in absentia by the Hon. Bernard Spivey-Knowlton, a notorious

dandy with a taste for frivolity and poisoning whores. Spivey-Knowlton

stated that although the cloud may have carried out the action on

purpose, probably moving away from the sun to avoid being permanently

scorched on the rear, it certainly had not moved deliberately,

"deliberation of the results of its thoughtless action here being

impossible, for the faculty of ratiocination is absent in all such

vaporous masses as have so far been examined, notwithstanding the

existence of judicial proceedings". For this, Justice Postlethwaite

would have ruled Spivey-Knowlton in contempt of court, but the wily

man argued that he hadn't meant to be contemptuous deliberately. The

cloud was dismissed with a fine of a guinea.

 

EXCUSE #3: "I was only TRYING TO BE HELPFUL."

Where help is not requested, the actions of one who shoves their oar

in are, indeed, trying. Curiously, there is no excuse that "I was only

SUCCEEDING TO BE HELPFUL'', even though a display of superior

competence is eminently resentable.

 

EXCUSE #4: "I did it BY MISTAKE."

Anyone can make a mistake. Some people seem to make a habit out of

it. And I personally know people whose every action is a mistake of

some kind. Obviously, they shouldn't be able to get away with anything

more idiotic than normal by pleading this as an excuse. And if "anyone

can make a mistake", then to admit having done so is to debase

yourself to the level of the lowest common denominator, to admit that

you class yourself along with the least functional types of human

being. That's not an excuse: you deserve everything you get.

 

Because mistakes are generally thought to be directly attributable to

the inadequacies of individuals, in present times it is thought vulgar

and irresponsible to admit to making them. Luckily, most important

mistakes are made within the context of such complicated social

constructs that they evaporate by being divided across the shoulders

of a number of people, each of whom bears a tiny portion of blame, but

not enough to actually cause any physical or psychological discomfort.

 

EXCUSE #5: "I didn't MEAN TO."

A close analysis of things that people "mean to do" shows that such

actions are not, in fact, "done" in the overwhelming majority of

cases. This, in turn, suggests the hypothesis that the correlation

between meaning and doing actions is not a particularly strong one:

this is strengthened by the observation that many of our deeds are

"meaningless" (see also EXCUSE #1).

 

However, this is disputed by Sarah Puce, the celebrated Drambuie's

Professor of Moral Effort at Wholesales College, Oxford, who argues

that the meaning of a deed is, indeed, that which is meant-to-be-done,

viz. to deem that the needed meaning metes deep need of demonstrably

made meantness is a needful mode of neat deeds done on the basis of

the denotation of purely subjective attributions to quasi-animate

characteristics that impel the substitution of a symbolic reprographic

infolding iconolclasm that is, itself, manipulated as part of the

overall nexus of actionic potentialization first localizable as a

stream of iterated intercalation that constitutes the interpretability

of social effects. But it seems that this definition doesn't do very

much.

 

EXCUSE #6: "I APOLOGIZE."

In this situation, the excuse does not rely on any disingenious

dismissal of one's own competence, merely an acknowledgment that

either (a) no competence was present, or (b) that such competence as

was displayed was misapplied, i.e. was reflexively damaging to the

applicant during its application . In either case, maximal culpability

is admitted, and this situation should be exploited to the full by the

recipient of such pathetic grovelling.

 

EXCUSE #7: "I did it BY ACCIDENT."

Accidents are responsible for some great discoveries. When an accident

is fortuitious, it is dignified by the resplendent sounding label of

"serendipity". When it is not fortuitous, it is christened with mirth:

the accident has been one of the richest sources of comedic pleasure

in human history, along with deformity and torture. Entertainment

based on sophisticated and highly contrived enactments of blatantly

preposterous accidental situations is revered as art by many humans,

who also adopt such performances as the basis of many of their social

customs.

 

As the saying goes, "accidents will happen". Accidents are

supernatural forces, unstoppable, unconquerable, and above all,

occurring at random. If accidents were avoidable, they would not be

accidents: they would be members of the commonplace "cockup"

species. An accident is unpredictable, playing hob with puny human

conceptions of mastery over circumstance. Accidents frequently "wait

to happen", and this circumspection on their part is one of the most

important factors that allow our fantasies of an ordered existence to

go unchecked.

 

Clearly, with this kind of revered pedigree, this is one of the most

acceptable of all excuses: and the connection of this excuse to "Bob"

is undeniable.

 

 

--

"The interrogative mode is one of civilized man's most effective

devices for putting the other fellow on the defensive." -- George A. Miller