Noam Chomsky and the Proper Use of Language (A Discussion with My Son About Crime)

Daddy, is it okay for us to kill robbers?

- Umm, no. As a general rule, we don't kill people. Even robbers.

Just the bad robbers? NOT the good robbers?

- Again, our family policy is that we don't kill people, even bad robbers. Just out of curiosity, son, what is the difference between a bad robber and a good robber?

Well umm...bad robbers have a sword and shield. Good robbers just have a sword. 

- So...the only difference is the kind of weapons they carry?

Yeah. Good robbers don't have shields.

- Okay...so you've described the difference in the weapons they carry, but what actually MAKES a robber bad?

If they rob good robbers, then they're bad.

- Alright, I'm trying to understand: so if a bad robber robs a good robber, then they're bad...however, that seems like circular logic. I want to know how a robber became bad
BEFORE that. How does a robber
become good or bad in the first place?

Bad robbers eat grass. Good robbers eat rice.

- That makes no sense to me in terms of causation. But at least I know a little more about their dietary differences. Help me understand: what is being robbed to begin with? And how can a robber be GOOD?

Well, good robbers steal lollipops from bad robbers.

- Now we're getting somewhere! So where did the bad robbers get the lollipops to begin with?

From their house. 

- The bad guys had lollipops in their house? Where did they get them from before that?

They robbed them from us.

- From us?! I didn't know we had lollipops!

Yep. In the story I'm telling then we had lollipops and the bad robbers robbed them and took them to their house and then the good robbers robbed the bad robbers' house and got the lollipops.

- So where are our lollipops now?

The good robbers have them.

- So the good robbers didn't return them to us?

No...the bad robbers are trying to rob them.

- Oh. I'm a little confused now. One last time...what is it that makes a robber BAD or GOOD?


Daddy! Because the bad robbers are bad!

So now it is all clear.


Your three-year old son is staring through the glass of a tattoo parlor longingly; exuberance and excitement and curiosity.

"Daddy, can we go in, can we please go in? I really want to get a skeleton tattoo. Please?"

What do you do? Nobody really knows. There's not exactly a right or wrong answer, per se. Hopefully I made the right decision in the moment. Hopefully my wife will agree when she sees our son.

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