Who’s On First: FOR IDIOTS (c) 2015 ROGUESUPPORT INC. under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

For anyone still lagging behind in the “name game” confusion surrounding systems relating to law and money, I present, “Who’s on First?”

Also for your edification, I have copied/pasted the opening sentences from Wikipedia describing the comedy routine, below:

“Who’s on First?” is descended from turn-of-the-century burlesque sketches that used plays on words and names. Examples are “The Baker Scene” (the shop is located on Watt Street) and “Who Dyed” (the owner is named Who). In the 1930 movie Cracked Nuts, comedians Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey examine a map of a mythical kingdom with dialogue like this: “What is next to Which.” “What is the name of the town next to Which?” “Yes.” In English music halls (Britain’s equivalent of vaudeville theaters), comedian Will Hay performed a routine in the early 1930s (and possibly earlier) as a schoolmaster interviewing a schoolboy named Howe who came from Ware but now lives in Wye. By the early 1930s, a “Baseball Routine” had become a standard bit for burlesque comics across the United States. Abbott’s wife recalled Bud performing the routine with another comedian before teaming with Costello.

Bud Abbott stated that it was taken from an older routine called “Who’s The Boss?”, a performance of which can be heard in an episode of the radio comedy program “It Pays to Be Ignorant” from the 1940s.

The attribution of “Who’s The Boss?” and “It Pays to Be Ignorant” as the forerunners or contemporaries of this comedy styling, amuses me. Who doesn’t love an interesting coincidence?

One of the fascinating things about human beings is their love of categorizing and quantifying virtually everything. We name everything from our pets, to our cars, to our summer properties, to our stuffed animals, to our body parts. We like to know how old you are, your upbringing, your point of origin, educational qualifications, your hobbies and affiliations, that we may determine how we fare in relation to your triumphs or defeats. If you did something when you were six year’s old we might consider it miraculous; the same activity at the age of thirty might be considered “sad”. In the eyes of the masses, everything must be timely, measurable and quantifiable. It might be useful to think back to your childhood and ponder whether this is inate or learned behaviour. At what point do we begin the lifelong process of deriving our self concepts, and worth, by comparing ourselves to others?

For most of mankind’s history, we sat around scratching ourselves, having prolific sex with multiple partners, seeking shelter from the elements, and finding new and interesting ways to kill, and eat, plants and animals. Along the way, some came slowly to the realization that more could be done with our our opposable thumbs and 350 megabyte brains. Here I would be remiss in not mentioning I see no major change in the behaviour of the masses. That supposition notwithstanding…

Subsequently, and over a long period, a relatively small segment of our global population has attempted to understand, and to document, the “nature of things”. This notable minority has conjured into existence what would at most times in history, have been considered beyond the realm of human invention, let alone practical thought. Whether by accident or intent, these advances have enabled otherwise frail bipeds, with pitifully few natural defenses, to prevail against much larger, more powerful animals. For a practical example of just how ill-equipped we are against other “dumber” creatures, you have but to roll down your car window while driving through one of those Safari theme parks.

To quote Christopher Hitchens, “Evolution has meant that our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee; a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder.”

During the darkest times in human history (which some might say have not been completely eradicated), you could be staked, stoned, burned alive, or otherwise persecuted for even entertaining alternate or progressive thoughts. On any given day you are still, directly or indirectly, “encouraged” by the masses to think appropriately, dress appropriately, speak appropriately, <insert your own requirement> appropriately, and to respect the “beliefs” of others. You are not encouraged to evaluate the nature and veracity of these requirements, only to act “appropriately”.

“Human evolution is the evolutionary process leading to the appearance of anatomically modern humans” (Wikipedia again). Despite what some (hell many) may believe, we did not spawn fully articulated from the imagination of an omnipresent deity, or through the repurposing of a bow-shaped piece of collagen, calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. As you have heard more than once from Scott (I assume you looked this up), there is barely a 1% difference in the genome of the average human, and those fun, furry, poo-flinging creatures we observe in the barred penitentiaries affectionately known as “zoos”.

In this, the most abridged synopsis in the history of the universe, we will nonetheless postulate that humans are only slightly more evolved than the animals we consume or enslave, woefully fundamentally and physically mismatched against these same creatures, and yet hell-bent on categorizing practically everything. So how does this all relate to “Who’s on First”?

Funny you should ask. The humour and confusion in this comedy routine derives from the use of commonly “understood” words, employed in a manner for which they were not commonly intended. Some might say this holds an eerie similarity to our legal system.

It is usual to ask “Who did something?”; it is unlikely to think first of “Who” as someone’s name. It is usual to think that a name belongs to us and defines us; it is unusual to think of ourselves as semi-evolved, sentient mammals who are “mistakenly” accountable for anything and everything by virtue of having being identified, catalogued and quantified through the use of a constructed designation. This confusion of AGENCY (more about this in a separate article) is what stops most from effectively navigating the legal and monetary (and other) matrices rampant in this society.

Starting shortly after your birth you are inundated with the concept that your name is synonymous with who, and what, you are. You are encouraged at every opportunity to say the name, spell the name, respond to the name, identify with the name. You are not a name, or for that matter, a number. You are, in the words of the redoubtable Scott, “a semi-evolved chimp that has made it this far”. If this is confusing to you, consider watching or re-watching, the original versions of the Prisoner series, and Planet of the Apes (this movie becomes more disturbing with the passage of time).

I recall a conversation I had with an acquaintance years ago, who earned his living (I say that extremely loosely) by performing printing services – restaurant menus, flyers, advertisements – using, I think, an ancient Commodore 64. At this time having a computer was still an expensive luxury small to medium-sized businesses frequently could not afford. This guy was basically a kid who spent his day hanging around the business I worked in, and otherwise lived in the back of a store. The problem with his business model was that being young, and not particularly self-confident, he tended to provide his services at, or above, his actual cost. He understood that this was a losing proposition, but just couldn’t seem to justify to himself or the businesses, that he deserved to make a modest profit. I still remember explaining to him that he wasn’t representing “himself”, the man, he was representing a business entity. If he(the man), didn’t do an adequate job for himself(the business), he(the man), would starve. If he worked for a corporation that serendipitously had a man’s name, underselling the product would not be tolerated. I suggested he think of himself not as an ineffectual man, but a corporate entity. I recommended he determine the actual cost of the materials, the preparation time, and a fair remuneration for his services. In the event he was unable to separate himself from himself, I recommended he establish a corporate entity to represent. With the exception of encountering him several years later in a bicycle courier uniform, I don’t recall his name (that’s ironic), and am unsure of his eventual fate (he’d be about 40 now). While I didn’t realize it then, these were my first Mesozoic steps into contemplating AGENCY, a concept which my bicycle-riding friend wasn’t quite able to grasp.

The lives of “early man”, while short and probably brutal, were infinitely simpler than those we live today. In almost every facet of our modern existence there is a level of abstraction that separates us from the reality of things. To eat in a restaurant we need appropriate dress, table manners, and the ability to use the abstraction of money. To use a computer we must accept certain concepts and abstractions that allow us to employ our chimpish/childish communication abilities, to interact with a system that relies on alternating voltages representing on’s and off’s, or 1’s and 0’s.

To participate in the benefit of law or legal tender we must participate as an abstraction of ourselves. Here we forgo the reality of being animals who breathe, eat, defecate and procreate, in favour of being labelled and enumerated for the purpose of participating in these “higher” pursuits. This is not necessarily a disadvantage. The tool of AGENCY, when used appropriately, can have many wonderful benefits. However, a hammer is only useful if you need it to drive in a nail. Like any tool it must be used appropriately, and in the correct circumstance. Thus, you must be ever vigilant in reminding yourself of who, and what, you fundamentally are.

For Shakespeare fans (William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Jaques in Act II Scene VII):

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

Expressed another way, know what part you are playing, and when it is appropriate to play it.

Frequent visitors to THE TENDER FOR LAW, are familiar with Scott’s assertion that, ‘There are no homonyms…’,

“Homonyms (also called homophones) are words that sound like one another but have different meanings. Some homonyms are spelled the same, like bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (the outer layer of a tree trunk).”

‘…or synonyms…’

“A synonym is a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy.”

‘in LAW’.

Being somewhat evolved, sentient chimps we should all know that killing, stealing from, or defrauding others is fundamentally wrong. This just makes good sense when you’re part of a society. As for the other abstractions we’ve conjured into existence, should you really be responsible to a collection of strangers when no one has been fundamentally harmed by your actions? That’s for you to decide. However, I do recommend you navigate this system from a position of knowledge and not ignorance.

As you have heard more than once, it is important to determine what words actually mean. Those “in the know” can deftly and successfully reap the advantages of the many abstractions this world has to offer. That assumes you’ve done your homework, and you know, really know, who and what you are. Otherwise you’ll always be just a dumb chimp in a suit.

If you can’t identify who “Who” is, and you don’t eventually realize that “What” is “Next to Which” you will never learn to be amused by the routine, as you’ll always be part of the joke.


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