Last week, I was interviewed by the Beeb about the strikes. Here I am, with the TV cameras making some pretty persuasive points. When the Six O’clock News came on though, they’d cut me out, and only included one of the humans saying that she thought that if there was a pensions deficit, it should be redressed with the Vice Chancellors’ enormous salaries. Cutting me out was a missed opportunity, in my opinion.
In contrast, the Guardian got it right, and put a picture of my friend Rosie on the front page.
Who could refuse Rosie pension biscuits?
One of the things the BBC cut out from my human's interview was that the deficit only needs to be redressed in this way if we accept that there is a deficit. That this point wasn’t made is part of a wider trend for the media to represent the pensions dispute in the following way:
As Tom Stern and Luke Fenton-Glynn point out, the sensible response to this situation would be to say to the workers: “Well, of course you don’t want to lose £10,000 per year in retirement. Who does? But, if the money’s not there, the money’s not there.”
But the fact that there’s a deficit is far from obvious or certain – deficits are not just like overdrafts, where you can quickly check whether you’re overdrawn or not. Instead, that there is a deficit is based on speculation about the future, and of course the future is really hard to gauge. The alleged deficit in the pensions dispute is based on some really unlikely speculations – for example, that a number of major universities will simultaneously go bust.
Stern and Fenton-Glynn draw an analogy here to the possibility that there might be a ‘food deficit’ in your cupboard. If the shops maintain usual opening hours, or there are people who will deliver, there’s probably no reason to worry about your supplies. But if there’s a big emergency – say a nuclear war – then it’d turn out you had a food deficit because you didn’t have enough cans to tide you over till crops could be regrown or aid supplies sent. But you probably haven’t invested all your money in building a nuclear bunker and filling it with cans – in fact, someone who had might be considered ‘recklessly cautious’, or just plain silly.
On the subject of silliness, I like pretending there’s an imminent crisis, and burying my bones so that I’d have a good supply. But I think this is probably an example of a useful or fun fiction or pretence. Human philosophers have sometimes understood all sorts of things as a bit like this: from mathematics to religion, possibilities, talk about morality, and even dogs writing blogposts. Whether or not they're right (silly humans - as though it's not true that 2+2=4, or that I write this blog) it's an interesting position. Perhaps I’ll it about that another time.
In the meantime, you can find Stern and Fenton-Glynn’s great piece about the pensions dispute here.
The humans have been on strike. This means that I have been spending even more time with them. The more I do this, the more I realise how odd they are.
One of the ways in which they are odd is that they don't understand that I'm a highly intelligent dog. So they try to talk about me without me noticing. They say things like "shall we give the dog another biscuit?" rather than "shall we give Lola another biscuit?" They even sometimes use different names for me. Sometimes they call me 'Patch'. You can see why if you look at this photo of me as a puppy.
So I have two names: 'Lola' and 'Patch'. Now here's a puzzle. Do these two names mean the same thing?
You might think that they do. They are both names for me. Their use in human language is simply to refer to me; it's as though each of these names points at me verbally. And that is all they do. They don't give you any information about me. They just refer to me. 'Lola' is a name for me, so is 'Patch', so they mean the same thing. This is how the human philosopher John Stuart Mill thought
You might think this is silly. After all, doesn't the name 'Patch' give you some information about me, that I have beautiful patches around my eyes? It's important not to get confused here. The patches around my eyes might explain why the humans called me 'Patch' in the first place. But it doesn't seem obvious that it is part of what the name means that I have patches around my eyes. After all, somebody could call a dog with no patches 'Patch', perhaps as a joke (think about 'Little John' from the Robin Hood stories). Or perhaps I will lose my patches as I grow older; I'd still be Patch, because Patch is who I am.
So maybe 'Lola' and 'Patch' do mean the same. Now, here's the puzzle: if two words mean the same thing, I ought to be able to swap them over in a sentence without changing what that sentence says. But look at this sentence:
If you accept this line of reasoning, it would be a good idea to come up with some account of how 'Lola' and 'Patch' mean different things. Frege tried to do this with his theory of Sense and Reference. Myself, I'm not so sure. I often find myself thinking that humans just aren't very good at knowing what their words mean. Some humans just don't realise that the words 'Lola' and 'Patch' mean the same thing, just like other humans don't realise that my feeding bowl is empty.
Mental walkies with Lola,