Chapter 5. The Birdcage of the Gods

Day after day as we drove through the prairie country of the Midwest, not a cloud appeared in the blue overhead. Except for an ever-receding horizon, we were surrounded in every direction by the immensity of unlimited space. We felt very small, insignificant and out of place. As night fell we regained some assurance. Looking up we could still see the same constellations of stars that had been our old friends back in Ontario. The same helpful moon always shone down upon us when we set up camp after dark. But next day we once more became a mere ant making its way along a narrow ribbon over the far-spreading land under a boundless sky.

Iowa and the Dakotas rolled with corn and wheat as far as our eyes could see. But the face of the land was not entirely unmarked—a house here and there with farm buildings. Every so often a line fence would take off from the highway and run straight away into the distance. Along some sideroad or railroad right-of-way, telephone or electric wires would swoop from pole to pole under the glass birds that perched on their crossarms. Occasionally we would pass a column of ungainly invaders from some other world, robot-like towers awkwardly carrying some high-tension electric cables under their long-stiffened arms.

We were passing through the great grasslands, where once the deer and the antelope had played and the buffalo had roamed. In the old days there were no fences or fields, no roads or railways, no straight lines anywhere except the horizon. Then came the surveyors, who divided the whole landscape into blocks and strips. These divisions were recorded as lines on a map.

A land surveyor relies upon the sense of vision, and light’s unique habit of traveling in “straight” lines. A straight line can be established by sighting between any two stakes that are visible at the same time. In rough, hilly country where the next stake is sometimes out of sight, a land surveyor has to know the geometry necessary to carry the line through gullies and over humps.

Another problem arises: how to tell the distant land registry office just where a certain survey line begins, in what direction it runs, and how far. Official survey reference points must be set out with great care by government surveyors, and the exact longitude and latitude of these “benchmarks” recorded for posterity. Even if the durable brass markers should be lost or destroyed, the location of the original benchmarks can be established once more by reference to that celestial grid which astronomical surveyors set up among the stars.

Lines and distances laid out by one surveyor are supposed to join up exactly with those laid out by another surveyor, because both of them used the same set of reference points for measuring and both obeyed the same rules for their geometrical calculating. The description of a parcel of ground or a right-of-way as detailed for the land registry by each surveyor ought therefore to fit with the legal descriptions of all previously registered properties.

The whole complex of property lines is bound up not only with the rules of geometry and the official benchmark starting points for measurement: it develops out of arbitrary axiomatic presuppositions concerning ownership.

The land surveyors who divided up the West didn’t do their job just for the fun of it. The country was cut up into blocks and parcels because immigrants from Europe and the eastern states seriously, even desperately, wanted some land for their own exclusive use. They grabbed off all the acreage they could, wherever they could get it. The surveys helped to keep peace among the landholders. If everybody knows where the Neufeld farm ends and the Slade farm begins, and if the law backs the Neufelds’ and the Slades’ right to hold their land without interference by the neighbors or by strangers, good relations would be more likely to prevail. The army would drive off the Indians, who had “neglected” to survey all that land and register their claims.

The old song asked for a “home where the buffalo roam.” That bit is nonsense. After the settlers arrived, the buffalo didn’t roam around there very long. The newcomers fenced them out with barbed wire, and shot them by the thousands. Nobody wants herds of buffalo tramping through fields of grain. The great grasslands rapidly turned into plowed fields and ranches that somebody owned and defended. The railways cut great gashes across the open spaces. Outpost settlements quickly grew into towns on the way to becoming new cities. Soon the big country had all been carved up—and so had most of the remaining buffalo.

As we drove past the fences of the Midwest, I realized that those long stretches of posts and wire were what made visible the otherwise unseen boundary lines of the farms and ranches. Without a fence no one could tell the difference between one side of a property line and the other. The soil was the same on either side. A tree might throw its shade onto a neighbor’s land. Weed seeds blow freely from one place onto the other. Prairie dogs don’t respect survey lines. Those imaginary lines, like “the emperor’s new clothes,” are quite invisible to child and adult alike. That’s why people put up fences.

The sociology of geometry

With nothing else to think about in the drowsy noon, I once again lost myself in mulling over one of my favorite obsessions—the nature of imaginary lines. By the Laws of Clear Thinking, anything must either exist or not exist. What exists is clearly not-imaginary. Does what is merely imaginary exist, or not exist? Does the equator exist? You could walk back and forth all day on equatorial land or tack port and starboard for weeks on the equatorial oceans without ever spotting that “imaginary line which runs around the middle of the earth.” Before a surveyor came through, there were no property lines in the Midwest. Only after the surveyors came were there any posts and fences to indicate where the invisible lines were located. Without those posts and fences, no actual lines previously existed at those places.

I saw in a flash why geometry teachers have to convince everyone that an “imaginary line” makes sense. In our society individual landholding is believed to be very important. Without geometry we would have no way of locating our property lines and real estate. If people’s private property is to be respected, every child must be brought up to accept the existence and importance of lines that aren’t actually there. A society of landowners pays teachers, law enforcement officers and judges to train the young how to think in terms of boundaries. Not having yet owned any land of my own, the social significance of geometry had escaped me. I had never before connected the exercise of personal power over land with the mathematical exercises of Pythagoras, Euclid and Descartes. I had known from the Greek roots that “geo-metry” meant “earth-measuring,” but no one had ever pointed out to me that such measuring was tied to personal claims for exclusive rights over the land which was being measured.

Every society believes and accepts certain primary principles as basic, needing no further justification. Most Western countries take as one of life’s “givens” the right of individuals to hold property for their own exclusive use.

If a township council calls a land-use meeting to develop new zoning regulations and a group of North American Indians is participating, some awkward “difficulties” may arise. The Indians may question the council’s “right” to restrict their activities on lands where their ancestors once roamed freely to fish and to hunt. Tempers will flare. The councillors will undoubtedly remind the Indians once again about some treaty, land purchase or lost battle.

The Indians’ point, however, is not whether the original inhabitants of the country were treated fairly. Whites seldom understand that Indians question the right of anybody, white or Indian, to own land exclusively and privately. This of course challenges the validity of the whole business of land surveying, title deeds and real estate sales. To discuss such matters is unthinkable, for in our society of landowners, the right to own land is simply not open for discussion.

For the first time, I could see at least one reason young Indians might not be altogether happy even in the best schools run by white society. The whole Indian approach to land is based upon wide-open spaces, not upon survey lines and barbed wire fences. For the Indians’ ancestors, property was largely a matter of common tribal usage rather than individualized possession. Almost everything taught in white schools runs contrary to the native people’s traditional understanding of the world. Openly or subliminally, day after day, young Indians are reminded that the Neufeld place and the Slade farm used to be entirely open to their whole tribe. They can easily understand the biblical story of how Cain, the way of life of the settled farmer, killed off the nomadic shepherding life of his brother Abel. Classroom experiences keep rubbing Indian noses in basic Western ideas that spelled destruction for their ancestors’ way of life.

Geometry is by no means a purely theoretical, intellectual game devoid of social implications. I had always thought of mathematics as the most colorless, bloodless subject anyone could ever study, altogether as neutral as logic, its first cousin.

LOGIC? Did I say logic is NEUTRAL? Could logic, like geometry, be also deeply involved in our kind of social system?

Logic has social implications

I had been taught that logic simply helps us to think straight and come to the right conclusions. If I take certain clear statements to be true, then it follows logically that certain other clear statements must also be true. For example: “People can do what they want with their own property. This car belongs to me, therefore I may drive my car to Vancouver if I wish.” Logical-enough a conclusion, isn’t it?

If some of the statements which I take to be true are really false, ambiguous, or too inclusive, I will likely come to some unreliable, false conclusions. For example: “Since people can do what they want with their own property, and since this is my car, if I wish I can drive it up the other lanes of the freeway against the oncoming traffic.” The statement that people can do what they want with their own property says both too much and too little. The provision “. . . providing they comply with existing laws” should have been included. Even in a “free” country the law always puts some limits on the ways in which people can use their property.

Logic is supposed to help you to think clearly. It helps you to recognize mere claptrap and to avoid being misled by unsound reasoning. Logic appears to be a nice practical subject, benevolently shepherding easily confused people along the well-lighted paths of truth.

I had long been harboring certain misgivings about the universal infallibility of the Laws of Clear Thinking. Having discovered that social, economic and political interests stood behind the door of geometry, I decided to check out what might be under the bed of pure logic.

Take the claim that logic teaches us “how to think straight.” Doesn’t that sound like an ideal that would be dear to the heart of a land surveyor? Is there any connection between them?

Why do educational authorities want you and me to think straight? They tell us that it’s for our own sakes. But there’s more to it than just keeping us from driving to our deaths up the wrong side of a freeway. They want us to fit into their society. To do that, we must define things the way everybody else defines them and act accordingly. A bed tells us where we are to sleep—on the bed, not on the floor or on the desk. We are to stretch ourselves out horizontally on the bed and not sit upright upon it. A bed implies a good deal about a “proper” resting position.

Society does its best to have us conform to its ways—generally to those ways which are preferred by the people who control society. Unless a large proportion of the population goes along with the wishes of those who hold the controlling power, there likely won’t be any widespread society.

Just as land surveying starts measuring from official benchmarks, logical thought starts from statements which are generally accepted as true—the ones which we are taught. The surveyor measures and calculates in conformity with the rules of geometry, and in a similar way the logical thinker must obey the Laws of Clear Thinking.

Logicians may talk a good deal about truth and falsity, but they are really not at all concerned about the actual truth or falsity of the statements with which people begin their reasoning. You can take anything to be true, for all they care, as long as you reason from those first propositions correctly according to the rules, using the proper meanings for words. Logicians watch the way you do your thinking, not what you happen to believe. They will quite happily reduce even your most passionately held conviction to a purely formal p (proposition) or a generalized x, as in algebra.

The social authorities, on the other hand, are deeply concerned about which initial statements we accept as true. They know that, if they can persuade us to accept the set of primary “truths” which they and their kind of “right-thinking” people accept, and that if we do our thinking logically, we must come to share the opinions held by themselves and “all reasonable people.” Independent spirits, or people from nondominant cultures, who start their reasoning from different primary “truths,” are likely to be labeled “unreasonable,” “unenlightened,” “out of their mind” or “inferior.” Like children and the insane, they may be disqualified from certain social privileges. The aboriginal peoples of many countries experience this in an acutely explicit and bitter way.

Through education and publicity, logic can be employed to convince people that whatever has been said, thought and done by those in charge of things was right. Logic is inevitably involved in establishing social order, supporting scientific research and promoting helpful devices.

Unfortunately, like everything else, logical thinking may be used for questionable purposes. A walking stick is a blessing to someone with a game leg; but that same stick can be used to beat another person into submission. Seldom is there an instance of bigotry, injustice or folly which cannot be justified by logical reasoning. An orator can present deceitful greediness in terms appropriate to bighearted generosity. Didn’t slave owners, after all, “provide food, housing, security and full employment for ignorant, unskilled laborers”? Racial oppression, inhuman exploitation and the sales promotion of dangerous materials all make good sense—if you follow the vested economic interests down the smooth intellectual road they pave for you. “Everything that makes jobs for people is good for the nation. The tobacco and alcohol industries, as well as uranium and armament exports, make jobs. Therefore all these are good.” Legal logic all too often appears to be much more concerned with “the law” than with justice. The result is “one law for the rich, and another for the poor.” After all, who make the laws?

Without a goodly measure of cooperation, obedience and conformity, no society can continue to exist very long. No doubt logical reasoning is a more humane way of obtaining a smoothly running social organization than the use of brute force. Nevertheless, the powers that be often care little about human suffering. At its worst, logic can become a nonphysical means for herding a lot of people down the same intellectual chute to those conclusions that mainly benefit the society’s controllers. Aggressive pressure in logical argument can have the same feel as driving cattle into a slaughterhouse. When logic is used to force people to accept what is patently false, distorted, immoral, unjust, ugly or cruel, it is simply despicable.

People generally accept the common patterns of beliefs that characterize their society’s view of the world. They believe what they have been trained to believe. The more obviously those beliefs support their own privileges, property and power, the more intensely they will hold those beliefs. If you ask people why they believe something, their answers will be like these: “I believe it because my mother told me so.” “My teacher said it.” “It’s right there in the Bible.” “Science says . . .” “Ask Joe. He’s an expert.” They always ground the truth of their statement in the authority of someone or some group or some standard commonly accepted by their social grouping.

But who gave authority to the authority which they acknowledge? If you can find out who or what, try in turn to find out who or what gave authority to that authorizing person or group. The game of looking for a source of authority beyond any given authority can go on and on forever. You may wish to stop somewhere in the retrogression, having gone beyond all earthly sources, and be satisfied to call the unknown ultimate authority “the Lord God Almighty.” Even then people will argue about what exactly is “the will of God.” Who settles that? Usually some earthly power.

Questions about the rightfulness of social authority all too often come down to something like this: “If it’s your opinion against mine, since the power and influence of wealthy, knowledgeable people are on my side, the law and the judges will say you’re wrong.” For all practical purposes, like it or not, “might” generally does make “right.” The muscles of the powers that be are very skillful at working the jaws of logic to chew up and spit out any opinions which pose a threat to their privileges and power.

Language as social control

The laws of logic are not the only means by which social control is maintained over divergent—therefore dangerous—opinions. The very speech which people must use in expressing their beliefs is already loaded in favor of society’s most cherished conceptions. The accepted definitions of words and the structure of sentences embody assumptions about the world, assumptions which are seldom if ever questioned. Society was here long before you or I came on the scene. Our society had already adopted a dictionary, grammar and rhetoric which reflected its general approach to the world and its philosophy of life. If newcomers to our society wish to communicate with the people, they have no choice but use the existing language in the way the people use it. Now that women have taken on a number of new roles in the contemporary world, speakers have difficulty in finding inclusive expressions in English which will avoid offending feminist concerns. This difficulty arises because for so many centuries, the structure and vocabulary of the language have been reflecting the male dominance that has characterized English-speaking society.

In a society which features the notion of private property, we will predictably find many possessive nouns and pronouns such as “John’s,” “my,” “mine,” “yours,” “ours,” “his,” “hers,” and “its,” as well as possessive phrases such as “of the king.” Prominent among auxiliary verbs will be “get” and “have.” In the terminology of chemistry, certain substances “possess” certain “properties.” Sins are “trespasses,” but sometimes go commercial as “debts.” The moral word “ought” comes from “owe,” which is related to debts.

Each society has different presuppositions and preoccupations. In each the words, meanings and structures of the language will likely be related in depth to the basic principles which underlie that society’s characteristic view of the world and its social, economic and political understanding of life. The relationship between language and culture is by no means tightly coupled, but it would be strange if there were no mutual influence and correlation whatsoever.

Japanese culture, for example, has traditionally maintained a great concern for matters of personal honor and social status. Consideration of ranking and relationship, with the appropriate speech and behavior, give distinctive flavor to Japanese culture and language. Word choices and sentence structures reflect the delicate distinctions which are made between superiors and inferiors. Even the commonest things of life may be treated honorifically.

The Western Laws of Clear Thinking and the logic which insists that you must say what you mean and mean what you say, do not seem to operate very obviously in Japanese. Westerners are therefore perennially baffled by the way the Japanese “beat around the bush” and don’t come right out saying plainly and directly what a situation actually is. The Western mind resents having to play all those little “guessing games.” When the meaning of a conversation or of some “strange” social activity finally dawns on a westerner, it’s hard to keep from blurting out, “Oh, I see! Why didn’t you say so at the beginning?” The Japanese may offer only a few gentle roundabout clues as to what has been going on. They credit bright, thoughtful people with the ability to grasp intuitively the way things are, without having to tell them bluntly and plainly. To give people direct instructions places them in an inferior position, and they “lose face.” Exactness of meaning is somewhat sacrificed at some levels in the Japanese language to allow for all the intuitive relating which is required by that rank-conscious society.

Any radically new vision which appears in a society is a potential threat to the way things have traditionally gone. The message of the prophet Amos, the teachings of Jesus, the views of Galileo, Darwin, Marx and Einstein all called for new attitudes, relationships and institutions. Daring thinkers may draw attention to matters that have long been neglected, or they may place a high value on what has traditionally been suppressed. They may divide up the world in unprecedented ways, discarding the old definitions in favor of ones that they themselves have newly minted.

When someone speaks differently from others, that person is either a foreigner or a deviant—both being possible instigators of dangerous social change. Those who protect their vested interests by controlling a society do everything they can to preserve the language as it is, with its “correct” dictionary definitions, its “proper” grammatical forms and basic principles of thinking. The French Academy and the Holy Office of the Church of Rome are examples of official social controls upon language and thought. But there are many unofficial means of control.

Prophets, poets and reformers of all kinds tend to climb the fences and head for open country. They refuse to look at the world through regimented eyes. The old language just isn’t at all adequate for saying what they have to say. Unless they coin new words and expressions, they know that the freshness of their vision will lose its original flavor. The clarity of their insights will be blurred and blunted by the old words and sentence structures. They refuse to be tamed by conventional speech.

But when such a “visionary” addresses an audience of “old ears,” few listeners will be immediately “converted.” The radical message will not likely awaken a great deal of enthusiasm. Too much is at stake. When the old ways are threatened, everybody’s life will be affected. The old-timers adopt the usual strategy. They take the cutting edge off the new message by treating it as only a minor variation upon accepted traditional truths. One of the ancients, you see, said much the same thing ages ago. This latest innovative thinker will be ignored by the tolerant as only another curious ripple shortly to disappear into the irresistibly running tide of cultural heritage.

Revolutionary changes within any particular culture are very difficult to produce. The old conventional terms which were developed for communicating an older view of the world will not adequately convey the meanings of a new approach to things. For a long time any new meanings will not be comprehended by most people. Culturally defined meanings are massively stable. The same problems that beset the translation of one society’s culture into the language of another make it very difficult to translate the beginnings of a new culture into the terms of the old one. Nevertheless cultures do change throughout history. They are changed by agencies from both within and without. Inspired reformers therefore will ever keep on trying to change things and minds. In days to come their societies may erect monuments honoring the courage and insight of the very men and women whom they initially scorned and rejected.

Such were the shreds of thoughts that passed through my mind as we drove across the sun-drenched land on our journey west. Not all these things were as clear to me then as they are now. I believe that fences, geometry, logic, language and worldviews are culturally interconnected. Linked together as long-lasting cultural patterns, they can give strong support to existing social structures.


After a long day’s driving, when everybody else was in bed, I would sometimes lie on my back on the cool sod outside the tent, looking up at the stars. Those constellations up there were the same ones that Euclid had scanned. Whatever else may have been warped and reworked by human hands, the configurations of the stars were still inviolable. The heavenly stabilities remained undistorted.

For ancient peoples those unchangeable, invulnerable patterns on high spoke of the gods and goddesses who forever ruled over human affairs. Recognizing the permanence of the “fixed stars,” astronomers had used them to establish the time reference for that celestial grid—the “birdcage” we had seen in the planetarium in Chicago, by means of which any known object could be located.

In the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, the gods were said to have revealed geometry, the science of land measuring, to priestly rulers. The temples forthwith became land registry offices, for the priests took charge of all matters pertaining to real estate. They supervised the land surveying and, as the agents of the gods, their land markers were held to be sacred. Anyone who changed a survey stake without authority to do so would risk the wrath of the gods. Land titles were transferred at the temples. The necessary oaths were witnessed by the gods.

This ancient connection between divine power (easily confused with the powerful social authorities), property law, geometry, logic and language, has never passed away. Alliances between religious organizations and conservative landowners have been common in all cultures. Despite their high-sounding emphasis on “things of the spirit,” religious organizations often display intense interest and pride in their buildings, possessions and real estate. Apparently the mystique of the heavens has always been quite easy to transfer to one’s own particular patch of the earth, which accordingly is often called “God’s country.” Any place which we call our own is likely to be considered as “holy land.”

Public places are supposed to belong to everyone. Because they don’t seem to belong to anyone in particular, too often they are treated as unholy land. People tend to abuse public places. On our trip west, when we would stop for lunch at some small park we would sometimes see more empty cans on the ground than grass. Washroom walls had been broken through and the remaining plaster bore the unrepeatable scribblings of ambitious writers. In some places we could easily tell which roadside signs were the newest ones—they had not yet been riddled with bullet holes. Too many streams had become open sewers, public dumping grounds for anything that would flow or float—or sink. In campgrounds, though the signs commanded us not to gather wood, many of the trees had been badly hacked. Public places can suffer severely from predatory free enterprise.

There is certainly something to be said in favor of the institution of private property. People generally care about what happens to their own things. Fences on both sides of the highway serve as much to keep passing travelers out of the adjacent land as they do to keep farmers’ animals from straying out into the traffic. A cow which belonged to everybody would lead a miserable milking life.

In a world of private property, a public road must be numbered among the most useful human inventions. If all available land were personally claimed and defended by individual owners, we couldn’t get off our own land without trespassing onto somebody else’s. We couldn’t travel except by perpetually negotiating our way with the incumbent landowners. A public road, however, offers an open passageway to all of us through and between all the private lots to wherever we’re going.

But to whom does the road itself belong? In England the highway was originally the monarch’s highway. It was maintained by means of taxes and pressed labor exacted from the owners of the lands through which the highway passed. Some other roads were privately owned “toll roads.” Travelers had to pay landowners in order to use them.

Today the highways belong to “the government” or to “the public.” But who is that? Everybody? All of us?

Illogical ownership

Ownership in common seems inconsistent with and foreign to the basic idea that the right to own property is vested in individual persons. The individual, being visible and locatable, may be held accountable for any harm done to anyone else by property such as animals, vehicles or pollution. If certain possible wrongs are to be righted, all property holdings should belong to someone in particular. Someone must always be held responsible.

Since persons are distinctly separated from one another, logically speaking, clear lines of individual ownership should also be recognized and preserved between each person’s set of possessions and those of others. In traditional marriages, the husband was considered to own everything in the household—even his wife. In those days, therefore, marriage was never a threat to the simple principle of individual, personal ownership, despite the problems it created for married women.

The Laws of Clear Thinking back up this individualistic approach to property law. A certain parcel of land or goods may belong to Smith or to Jones or to Robinson. No particular assortment of things should belong to more than one of them at the same time. Otherwise no one person could be held responsible for land and goods which no particular individual owned.

That makes good logical sense. “Ownership in common” would contravene the Law of Noncontradiction. Property held in common would have to be at the same time on both sides of any lines separating the private possessions of two or more people. That would be illogical.

But, illogical or not, someone back in history thought up a way of rationalizing ownership in common. Although the Christian church was composed of many individuals, they were held to be “members” (parts) of one “body” (or corpus), because the one spirit of Christ dwelt in each and all of them. The “Body (corpus) of Christ” provided a model for secular imitations. If an aggregate of ecclesiastical people could be considered to be embodied in one Person, holding church property in common, other groupings of people could also be officially declared to be “incorporated,” i.e., constituted as one body, and therefore recognized as a “legal person.” As a corporate body they could then hold property in common. In this way the idea of a “corporation” was born.

Some individuals saw that they could amass greater power collectively if they pooled their resources. A conspiracy between the ruler and wealthy, powerful persons thus created a deceptive imaginary entity: the purely fictional but nonetheless legal “corporate person,” a company chartered to hold property like any actual living individual person. This piece of legal fantasy rewarded the king with an opportunity to raise additional taxes from his new “taxpayer’s” profits. When a monarch granted the first such charter to a “company,” the modern world of corporations made its debut.

Citizens founded a kind of “corporation” known as a city. Craftspeople joined together to form guilds. Teachers banded together and founded universities. All citizens of the state were considered to be part of “the body politic.” Then came the great trading companies, trade unions and transnational corporations.

These fictional secular imitations of the corpus Christi belong in the same general class as the imaginary lines of geometry, international boundaries and the celestial birdcage.

Such are the incorporated authorities known as “the municipality,” “the public,” “the people” and “the government.” Notwithstanding the basic principles of individualized property, logic and common sense, incorporated governments nevertheless today own and maintain the roads and other public property. Only unsophisticated people still believe that all property should belong to some specific person. Public places don’t seem to belong to anyone in particular. Since vandalizing public property doesn’t hurt the feelings of any specific living owner, vandalism doesn’t seem culpable.

The Laws of Clear Thinking express the absoluteness of logical dividing. They don’t help me at all, however, when I try to understand the corporations of big business, big government and big education. Organizations cannot be seen or precisely located. Transnational corporations operate on both sides of national boundary lines. No single country can entirely control one of these sprawling organizations, just as no individual citizen can totally control any level of government.

Who within a great corporation is really in charge of it? Who takes responsibility for the deeds or misdeeds of such a conscienceless, fictional entity? Any single official in a corporation, of course, may be fired or demoted, but someone else will be quickly appointed to fill the vacant post. Despite the incident the corporation itself will roll right along with its usual momentum as if nothing had ever gone wrong.

How can an unfeeling production company be punished? Fines levied against it will be simply paid for by next year’s consumers, who will likely have to pay higher prices for similar goods or services. Thus the victims may pay for the wrongdoer’s misdeeds! How can a personal complaint be addressed to an unlocatable, faceless “it”? The road from the lodging of a complaint to the receiving of “justice” may be long and hard. The corporation may be able to sustain years of litigation, while the one who is wronged may not possess sufficient resources to see the process through.

A third strikes and logic is out

Why should things that don’t exist be treated as if they did? If chimeras such as these legal fictions are not utter falsehoods, sheer nonsense or blatant contradictions, we should grant a more respectable status to outright fiction, and thus recognize “the imaginary” as a class of bona fide reality. If the monarch was able to do it, why can’t the rest of us dream our own dreams? Producers of “historical” movies and TV presentations rewrite history to suit themselves. So do propagandists. I wonder what would happen if we all got into the act. Bye-bye, truth!

If our logic does not support corporations and collective institutions of all kinds, should we discard our naive beliefs in personal property and in the validity of the Laws of Clear Thinking? Were those beliefs wrong? Does the actual individual no longer have real significance? Was the logic which was so soberly taught to us along with geometry somehow defective? Is corporate society today playing a morally slippery game of “Let’s pretend . . .” or “Just suppose . . .” or “Consider it true that . . .”? Who is responsible for anything anymore? What has happened to ethics?

If children thought about these things, they could easily and intensely resent the way common sense and logic have been legally twisted to subvert what they have been taught to believe. Some of the youthful rebels of the 1950s who turned against “the establishment” were actually sticking to traditional beliefs which the corporate world had largely abandoned. What will happen when a generation of practical, logical, houseless, landless children comes along and resolves to take a sharp poke at the overswollen bubble of corporate ownership? The thought that what belongs to everybody belongs to nobody in particular has already been used to justify vandalizing public property. The same reasoning could also justify taking over the holdings of corporations.

Lawyers, those notable practitioners of rational logic, already accept without qualms these imaginary, fictional corporate entities. This encourages me to coin a word by which we can refer to this third sort of world, which consists of things that neither are nor are not, a world which operates only in the imagination. I call it the “mentacosm” (from mens, having to do with the mind, and cosmos, the orderly world).

Rational scientists already take very seriously many mentacosmic things, such as imaginary lines, imaginary numbers, imaginary abstractions, imaginary assumptions, virtual particles, and the legal fictions of the corporations from which they often draw their funding. These great minds regularly handle all sorts of imaginary matters without batting an eyelash. Nevertheless, rather inconsistently, it would seem, many of them reject the notion of “God” on the grounds that God is only “an imaginary being.” Yet without all sorts of mentacosmic beings, openly acknowledged to be imaginary, modern society, including all universities, would be out of business. Mentacosmic entities that evade the cleaver of traditional logic are today not only acceptable, but powerful and essential.

Although these incorporeal fictional entities do not visibly exist, obvious and important effects upon human behavior seem to be grounded in them. They therefore cannot be said to “not exist.” The traditional logic of dividing has no place for a mentacosmic figure such as Cinderella, who never existed, but cannot be said not to have existed, for everybody knows Cinderella. Neither does she exist nor does she not exist. We have now become quite accustomed to living with a vast accumulation of images, fictions and plans: an influential mentacosm, the realm of the “neither-nor.” It demands to be acknowledged as a third kind of reality alongside “existence” and “nonexistence.” Since the mentacosm is the realm of culture, it can be more influential than either existence or nonexistence. Bye-bye, logic!

Despite our complete lack of a logic capable of dealing with three realms at once, we travelers to the far west continued driving along publicly owned roads, through American corporate municipalities, all the while burning gasoline supplied to us by multinational legal fictions. Somewhere ahead we would be crossing an imaginary international boundary, so that I could be employed by an incorporated institution associated with a respected legal fiction, a university.