The Riddle of the Five-Legged Dog

Most of what’s in this  installment is taken from the blog of a friend of a friend. It begins with her asking how the reader feels about living in a post-truth era. She asks, “Are you convinced there are no such things as fact

This is a relevant discussion nowadays.

She tells us, “My father was no philosopher, but an engineer. A just-the-facts-kind of guy? Well he also had a fanciful side that came out in a long-running serial bedtime story about a family of squirrels, and he inclined enough toward dreams that he encouraged me for years to enter the Kentucky Club Tobacco contest to name a thoroughbred racehorse, and win the horse. That is, he was enough of a story-teller and dreamer that, when I was a child, we shared common loves and interests.”

She continues: “On the other hand he was a lifelong Republican and a proud army reserve officer, with very traditional conservative values, and our relationship grew strained during my adolescence. He was gung-ho for the war in Vietnam and adamantly opposed to th4e E.RA. So if he were still alive, where would he stand today?”

Her father delighted in doggerel and shaggy dog stories and riddles and one of his favorite riddles, sparking many riotous debates with his small daughters, was this puzzler.

Q. If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does the dog have?

“When we were little, my sisters and I readily feel for the trick question, eagerly shouting “Five!” Then came the implacable, rock-ribbed parental lesson.

A. The dog has four legs. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

Long after my sister and I had ceased to be gullible enough to off the wrong answer, my father continued to trot out his old, tired riddle.

But here’s the thing. The answer never changes. The answer would not have changed even if my sisters and I had insisted for all those years that the tail was a leg and that the hypothetical dog in question, therefore, had five legs. We could have chanted in a deafening chorus ‘Five legs, five legs.’ It wouldn’t have made a difference.

Repetition would not have made the wrong answer right then, and it doesn’t make it right today. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. Repeating a lie as the truth does not make it true, no matter how many times you tell the lie, no matter how long and loudly you shout and chant and intoxicate yourself.”

I agree with my friend’s friends’ thoughts, but I also know that whoever issues the first lie and gets it into the mass media is likely to have that lie accepted as truth, (or fact) and not much can be done to undo the damage.  Most of my life news was considered to be facts: Who, what, when, where, why, and how. Now we have false news sites parading fantasies as facts. No big deal? Think again.  Not many days ago some jamokey-dope from North Carolina with a rifle went into a Washington DC pizza joint and touched off a round. He was there to investigate, he told cops. False news reports claimed Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the pizza place. Sad comment on our times, but we’ve had this stuff around for years – think National Enquirer, think Jerry Springer, etc. Those things were meant to be  laughers and now similar things seem to be at the center of an information shift  — meaning  whatever gets dumped into the fecal mixing bowl of the Internet must be true.  It ain’t so.

Thanks to Laurie Darlin’ for sending this stuff along to me.