ARGUING WITH OSTRICHES
- Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Prov. 26:4-5, NIV)
And so he waited, and while he waited he grazed and waited some more. After some time, he wasn’t sure how long—he had never done very well in time-telling class—he decided his best bet would be to ask someone. This, if you were wondering, is how our hero found himself wandering through some unnamed field.
This is also how he met Eugene.
“Hello,” said Bob. Bob was the sheep’s name. “My name is Bob. I was wondering if you could help me.”
“Nice to meet you, Bob. My name is Eugene. What do you need? I’m sure I can help,” said Eugene.
“Well, it seems that I have lost my flock, and I need to get back to them. Have you seen them by chance?”
“Hmmm,” said Eugene. “Your flock, eh? Well where did you last see them?”
Bob thought for a moment. “I was grazing in the pasture and when I looked up, ‘poof’ they were gone. Just like that.”
Eugene smiled a smile of satisfaction. He loved being able to help people in need. He had been told it was his gift. “Oh, well it is quite obvious. They went away.”
“Where exactly is away?” Bob was confused.
“What do you mean, ‘Where exactly is away?’” Eugene asked. “It is away—oh wait. I see. You’re lost. So you can’t be a man, because men don’t ask for help when they are lost. You clearly aren’t a woman, because your name is Bob. You have a flock, you lost them when they went away, and you don’t know where away is, and thus you must not be incredibly smart. You must be a sheep.”
“Why yes, as a matter of fact I am a sheep. You must be very smart. What exactly are you, might I ask?” Bob was surprised. He had never met something as smart as Eugene before.
“I,” he said with a victorious tone in his voice, ”am an ostrich.”
“An ostrich? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an ostrich before,” said Bob.
“No?” Eugene was almost taken aback, but then he reminded himself that he must be patient. He was talking to a sheep. “Ostriches are birds—the wisest of all birds on all the earth. If someone needs help, they almost always come to us.”
A look of awe (which wasn’t unusual for Bob) came over him. “That must be why you are named Eugene. It is a very smart name.”
“Yes,” Eugene chuckled. “And your name is Bob.”
“Why yes, I suppose it is.” Bob chuckled, too. He wasn’t sure what was funny, but if Eugene thought it was, then it must have been. After all, he was an ostrich.
“Anyway,” continued Eugene, “as for your problem of being lost, like I said, just go away. That’s where they went. Then, we will both be happy.”
Bob smiled. “Go away. I can do that, and then I will find my flock. Yes, that helps, thank you. But, no it just occurred to me, this is the hot part of the day. I have to wait until the sun goes down a bit. Then it will be cooler. I can go away then.”
“Why must you wait until it is cool? Walking in the heat won’t kill you,” said Eugene.
“Oh no,” insisted Bob. “I can’t go now. You see all this wool makes walking in the heat very exhausting. Besides, wool is very itchy when it gets hot, and I don’t really like to be itchy, so no—that just would not be very smart. I’ll just wait a little while, and then I’ll go away. My flock should still be there later.”
Eugene was getting irritated. He liked to help people, but somehow, he always ended up with the idiots. “Nonsense,” he said flatly. Bob looked surprised (though again, this was not an entirely uncommon expression). “You won’t get hot by walking about in the sun. You don’t even have any wool.”
Bob was now thoroughly confused—more so than usual. “What do you mean, I don’t even have any wool. Of course I do. I’m a sheep, and sheep have wool.” He checked himself to be sure he was right. He was.
“No, no, no,” said Eugene. “Sheep don’t have wool. It’s all a figment of your imagination. It’s something like the placebo effect. The whole reason you think you have wool is so that on cold nights you will think you are warm. It’s a wonderful concept, really. It is one of the few very smart things that sheep have ever done. But, on days like today, when it is hot, it can get you into real trouble. You just have to realize that you don’t have any wool, and then you can go away.”
Bob said nothing.
Eugene sighed. “Look now—just trust me. You don’t have any wool. Other animals don’t have wool and we all keep warm. On top of that, we can all go out in the hot part of the day. So why should you have wool?”
Bob looked at himself again. “I don’t understand how I don’t have any wool. I see it right here. Eugene, have you ever even seen a sheep?”
Eugene was flustered. “What? Have I ever seen a sheep? Why would I have to see a sheep to know the very obvious truth that you don’t have wool? It’s totally logical. Animals don’t have wool. Sheep are animals. Therefore, sheep don’t have wool.”
“But,” said Bob, “I DO have wool. So you must be mistaken. Here, prove to me that I don’t have wool . . . that might help.”
“I don’t have to prove anything,” Eugene sniffed. “You can’t prove nonexistence. The burden of proof is on you. You have to prove that you actually do have wool.”
“OK then,” said Bob. He looked at his wool. “I can see it, therefore, I must have it.”
“Subjective,” said Eugene. “You may as well say that trees exist because you can see them. Just because you can see something doesn’t make it real. I can’t see it, so does that mean it isn’t real?”
“Well, why don’t you take your head out of the sand there, and look for yourself? Then you could see that I do have wool.”
This infuriated Eugene. “Take my head out of the sand! Why would I do such a thing? You don’t understand the first thing about the ostrich laws of logic, do you? I am not going to stoop to the same silly levels that you do to try to figure out what is real and what is not.”
“What silly levels do you mean,” asked Bob.
“You, Bob, are a sheep. I, Bob, am an ostrich. Sheep are not very bright creatures, no offense intended.” Bob shrugged. He didn’t mind. “Now, I’m not going to get all high and mighty and say like some ostriches that I know that we are the most intelligent species alive. I could make a good case for it, but that really isn’t the point. The point is that we are brighter than you. You have to use silly things like sight and taste to tell the truth. We just use our minds—we know that truth is relative, so truth exists only in the mind. Therefore, only the mind can comprehend the truth. So why, Bob, should I trust you and your word and your proof when we are smarter than you? I mean, our minds are more advanced than yours, and the mind is the tool we use to discern truth. Really, if you were an ostrich, it would all make sense.”
Bob frowned. “I don’t know about all that, but I do know that I do have wool, and if you would just look then you would see that, too.”
“And that is precisely where you and I differ,” Eugene mused. “You see, as long as I keep my head here in the sand, I won’t be distracted by all those silly things you get convinced by. I can keep focused on the truth, which of course, is in my mind. It would be self-defeating to take my head out and look at you, because even that wouldn’t prove you had wool. It would only prove I thought you did, assuming I my eyes were to say you had it, and that I were to believe them—which I probably wouldn’t—and that I even chose to call it that. Wool is kind of a silly word anyway. Leave it to a sheep to come up with that. Kind of like ‘Bob’.”
“It all sounds very interesting,” said Bob, “and I’m not sure I understand it all. Perhaps that is why you are the ostrich and I am not. But, may I ask, where did you get the idea that sheep do not have wool in the first place?”
“Oh, well that is very easy.” Eugene was very excited. This was something even a sheep like Bob could understand. “I was standing here one day considering the reality of bananas and their sociological impact on various species, when a sheep came to me with the same problem you did. The difference was that he was cold, so he wanted to get back just as fast as he could. ‘But you have wool,’ I said. ‘Why would you be cold?’ This sheep then told me that he, in fact, did not have wool, so he needed to get back very quickly. It was then I realized that the only reason I ever believed sheep had wool was because other animals had told me so. I had never met a sheep with wool; it was just an assumption I had grown up with. So, I abandoned my false belief for the truth that, like everything else, the existence of wool is relative to the person doing the considering.” Eugene was really getting going now. “So you see, you may have wool, but it is only in your mind. That is why you need to realize you don’t have any, because then you would not think you were hot, and you could go away.”
Bob thought for a moment. “Did it not occur to you that perhaps he had just been sheered?”
“Sheered?” The thought startled Eugene. As he pondered it, he forced his head deeper into the sand. “No, that couldn’t be it. In order to be sheered, you have to first assume that sheep have wool, and that is the very thing being discussed. It’s a circular argument. So no, I am quite right. It’s all in the mind. Unless you can prove you have wool, you don’t, because the burden of proof is on you.” Eugene smiled into the sand. He loved being an ostrich.
“Well,” said Bob. “You may be right, but I can see my wool, and I can certainly feel it, and that is enough for me. It was very nice to meet you, but its getting cooler now, and I think if I hurry I can get away before my flock leaves.”
“I hope you find your flock,” Eugene said.
“I hope I do, too. Have a nice day, and I hope you solve your banana problem”
“Oh yes, I think I will. You see, the very idea that bananas exist . . . “ Eugene continued on, but Bob was already gone.
Later that night, a wolf was sitting with his pack telling a story.
“Yeah, you wouldn’t believe it. I came up on this ostrich just standing there talking to the air—something about bananas and the eastern import industry. I asked him what he was going on about, but it didn’t make much sense. Finally, I threatened to eat him if he didn’t shut up. He was giving me a headache.”
The pack was listening intently. “So what did he do? What happened?” asked one.
“The strangest thing. He started arguing with me about the need for food, about teeth—he ended up concluding that I didn’t exist. I tried to convince him I did, but he just wouldn’t believe me. He said that he was the ostrich, and I was only a wolf, so I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about. I told him to take his head out of the sand and look, but that only seemed to upset him.”
“And, and?” the pack urged.
“So, finally, he told me to prove it to him that I existed. So I did.”
“How did you do that?” another asked.
The wolf paused for effect, and then said: “I ate him.”
They all laughed.
A few miles away, Bob was sleeping comfortably with his flock. His shepherd was very excited to find him—so excited that he cut off all that extra wool that Bob was carting around. It was nice, because he didn’t like itching, and wool made him itch when he got hot. Maybe, he thought, Eugene will find out one day that we do have wool.
"Oh well, I can feel it," Bob thought, "and that’s good enough for me." And with that, Bob slept.