The Palimpsest of Sawbones Surio

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

The Limerick of Box stacking

with one comment

Or, How I developed an awareness of the insidious art of sidestepping a problem

One of the many memorable experiences that I’ve carried away from my time as student is the totally unexpected Shayari sessions (the Western equivalent would be Limerick sessions) that would suddenly take place in the midst of a seriously raging technical debate. All the more memorable, because we were all engineering students whose street cred is measured in how geeky your responses are, and not how poetic you are. So, once in a while when we let down our hairs we get some brilliant outlooks about this and that and everything else. One particular “shayar” always stayed with me, for reasons I will explain presently. You may be forgiven for thinking this is a variant on the famous Bottles on the Wall, but it is not. The suspect in question goes something like this (translated for ease):

A box, upon which rests another box,
Upon which rests another one, and carries another on top,
And there’s one more, and another box on top…………………
…………………………………………………………………………………………….
And another box on top……………………
………………………………………………………another box on top

This is repeated ad nauseam, until someone in the group loses patience (there’s sometimes a plant to ask this question, if the group is not too sharp to catch on fast!) and asks the narrator, “Excuse me, but is there a couplet in this somewhere”? At this the narrator feigns anger and put a frown and retorts, “Why you Philistines, don’t you appreciate what a delicate stack of balancing I’ve done with those boxes”!!!


I always retained in my memory, this incident from the past, because it provided me with a psychological lesson to watch out for in all my human interactions from thereon. That is, a lesson into the insidious art of sidestepping a problem by highlighting a different aspect within the problem, which is usually a) tedious to refute, and, b) cleverly worded to make the refuter look bad! Looking at that “box couplet” above:

  1. It was evident from the start of the couplet that the group has been strung up!
  2. Also evident as the “box song” progressed that the joke’s going to be at the expense of the group, not the narrator.
  3. The phrasing of the response, when the joke has reached its tether is another valuable lesson!
  4. Here, the narrator conveniently places the blame on the unappreciative “philistines” for not showing their appreciation at the stacking of the boxes,
    1. So, the stupidity of having suffered a “box song ” which adds neither profundity nor profanity (one of the two main intended purposes of any Limerick) is now forgotten,
    2. Any attempt to refute the narrator has to begin with the deconstruction of the “wonderful stacking” point, which defeats the point of a friendly, relaxed session, and does make you look a right ol’ git!

A weak version of this is played out in the The Monty Python’s Life of Brian sketch, “What have the Romans done for us”, when John Cleese goes:

All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?

Yes, I think it is a gloriously funny film, and no, I am not reading too much into it. Just consider this: Not to sling mud on the Romans (or anyone else), but

  1. Isn’t it self-defeating to assume that nobody but the Romans are capable of bringing these “modern marvels” to the others?
  2. The Roman civilisation itself was an offshoot of the other “great” Etruscan Civilization, so wouldn’t it be better to have said “What have the Etruscans done for the (Romans/) us?” and somehow set the record straight after all these years of misinformation?
  3. And besides…………..at this point I’ve also become the anal retentive klutz who can’t take a joke!

If you think I am laying it thick, check out how many school study websites on the Net push this very same jaded worldview! And there are some others who take it to doombat levels indeed!

The slightly stronger form of this comes to play in:

Internet “opinion wars” that usually revolve around TEOTWAWKI: pollution, environment, deforestation, man-made climate change (Boo-Boo!), peak oil, genetically modified food discussions. Usually there are three proven sidesteppers in these arguments:

  1. Insisting that some technology being done somewhere by someone else, which we may or may not adopt (depending on our NIMBYism meter at that time) will bail us all out of all our predicaments,
  2. Displaying a brazen machismo by imagining a future that is more nihilistic, and more awful than what others may have suggested already and/or
  3. Finding somebody to blame for all this, and evoking a rage that mostly makes other recall the famous Jungian shadow projection theory.

Have you seen these “holy” wars end in any other way ever? Typically when sidestepping is employed, the net result is one where, locally everyone is right, but globally everyone is wrong!

The monstrous versions usually play out in global level politics:

Since I don’t want this blog to be a political one, I will finish this by pointing out, one just needs to look at all the “smoke and mirrors” and the volte-face of all the major actors in the latest Iraq war. Of course, as one famous ad-campaign for toffee in India used to put it, “The Argument continues”. I rest my case. ! 😐

What do you think? Am I being guilty of that famous “Maslow’s law of the instrument”, or were you able to recall several insidious sidestepper incidents of your own to back this point? Let us know. 😀

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Written by Surio

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Posted in Musings, Philosophy

One Response

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  1. […] some truth in that!). But there was no politician to defend their point of view. So it is a boo-boo in my dictionary (see post – look for “Jungian […]


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