"I see!" cried Wonrat, clapping his furry, clawed hands together and twitching his nose in a manner that indicated that he was extremely pleased that Rattoo had taken the time to clear up that uncertainty regarding the reference to Anderson's classic tale for him. "It seems that, in the course of summarizing that tale, Brother Rattoo, you have also provided an example of how ignorance of the obvious -- or at least a refusal to acknowledge the obvious by speaking it aloud -- can cause one to look quite foolish indeed! But looking foolish does not necessarily entail that one is in danger, unless we mean to imply that one's reputation and feelings are in danger. So now, then, I request that you return to the story of Chicken Little and, after summarizing that story for me, show just how one's ignorance of the obvious can result in that individual's injury."
"Very well," replied Rattoo. "I must warn you, however, that there is some confusion regarding the specifics of this tale. For one, the original author of the children's story is unknown, as this is a very old tale that was apparently passed down orally throughout the generations. Furthermore, there are several different variations on the tale, as I will now relate, but until the end, for the most part, the different versions of the story proceed much the same. On a particular farm on which the animals can, for some reason, talk -- as I have previously noted -- one little chicken, that is, Chicken Little, had something fall on his head, thus prompting him to cry aloud, 'The sky is falling!' Now, some of the tales are very clear and insist that what fell on Chicken Little's head was, in fact, an acorn; others specify that it was a raindrop; and still others leave it open to the reader to decide exactly what it was that fell on Chicken Little's head -- thus providing for the possibility that, in fact, a bit of the sky actually did fall on Chicken Little. At any rate, Chicken Little runs about the farm and tells a number of his friends that the sky is falling, after which he entreats them to come with him on his quest, for he has decided that he must warn the king of the region about the dire situation at hand -- for the falling of the sky is certainly something about which the king of a region should know, don't you think? Chicken Little and his friends certainly thought so, and so they rushed off to tell the king.
"Along the way, however, they met a fox, and asked him to come along as well -- and here the crafty and hungry fox pretended to comply, telling the others to follow him, for he knew a shortcut to the castle. This shortcut, however, really led to his den, where he planned to devour the poor hapless creatures -- and upon reaching his den, this is where the versions of the story diverge. In one version, the fox does indeed devour the poor animals, and they never reach the king to tell him of the impending danger. Usually, however, these versions are ones in which it was specified that the sky was not really falling, but rather that an acorn or a raindrop had been the cause of Chicken Little's distress, such that the moral of these stories is that one should not jump to conclusions or make too much of too little. These versions of the story, then, show the dangers of not pointing out the obvious -- for of course the sky wasn't falling! But because Chicken Little did not have someone to point that obvious fact out to him and, pointing to the acorn, for example, say, 'See! The sky isn't falling; it was merely an acorn!' and because the other animals who joined him on his journey lacked knowledge of the obvious as well, they were all devoured by a crafty creature who was well aware of the obvious.
"So my insistence that one have a friend on hand to point out the obvious is shown to be a useful suggestion -- because if one does not have a person to fulfill that role, one might very well end up in grave danger due to the presence of others who are aware of the obvious and seek to use their advantage to bring about the downfall of others. In another version of the story in which the threat of the sky falling is not real, however, the king arrives on the spot and rescues Chicken Little and his friends from the fox, which again proves my point that it is very useful to have friends around who are aware of the obvious -- in this case, the obvious fact that a fox who befriends a chicken and a group of small animals and leads them anywhere probably intends to gobble them up when they reach their destination."
Here, Rattoo paused to look back at Santa Claus, as if to say, "Yes, Kris Kringle, I have not forgotten that you are standing there, and we will be with you momentarily."
"And finally," the leather-clad Rattoo continued, turning back to his brother, "in some versions of the story, the sky actually does fall -- right on top of that devious fox! So in this case, once more, my point holds true, for Chicken Little was quite right about the sky falling and was necessary to warn the others of that fact -- and where that fact was ignored by a fox who sought to take advantage of ignorant fools (but who really attempted to prey on those more knowledgeable than himself), the reality of the situation crushed him. So in this case as well, the fox who ignored the obvious -- for the fact that the sky was falling was very obvious to Chicken Little, and it must have been obvious to his friends, who joined him on his journey to warn the king without protesting that the mere idea that the sky could be falling was ridiculous -- was killed, and, as we know, any situation in which a creature is killed can be said to have been a dangerous situation. Do you not agree, Brother Wonrat?"
"I do agree, my dear brother," replied Wonrat, "and I now see what you meant when you said that it can oftentimes be necessary to have someone about to state the obvious, for there are times when what is obvious to some may not be so obvious to others -- though I still maintain that, when discussing such matters, we need to specify degrees of obviousness in order to clarify our statements. Still, as I have said, your argument was rather effective, and I did enjoy learning about these classic children's tales in the course of discussing the matter. I forget, however, how we got started on this topic at all, and why we are discussing the obvious here now. I only recall that, earlier, we were having an argument about, I believe, the meaning of something, and then something happened to throw us off course. Refresh my memory, if you please, Brother Rattoo?"
"Aha!" shouted Rattoo, turning to Santa Claus, who had been standing there very patiently all of this time, though, in truth, he had found their conversation to be more than a little interesting -- not necessarily because he was all that interested in the discussion itself, but more because of the fact that the two interlocutors just happened to be two giant sewer-slicked wharf rats clad in black leather jackets adorned with metal zippers and studs. "You see?" Rattoo said as he gestured to the red-suited fat man who was standing in the muck a few yards from their location. "He's forgotten all about you! This" -- and here, Rattoo turned back towards his brother, Wonrat -- "is why it is good to have someone on hand to state the obvious! But we needn't argue that point any further, as we seem to have come to some agreement on the matter. What we were arguing was, in fact, the meaning of Christmas, when suddenly, in the midst of our heated conversation, Santa Claus himself came tramping down the slimy subterranean walk! And then in the course of acknowledging his presence we got sidetracked and began discussing the virtues of pointing out the obvious. But now we are back on track, and with Santa Claus here, surely we can return to our previous discussion and, with his help, reach a conclusion regarding the meaning of the Christmas holiday." With a smile and a nod, Rattoo turned back to Santa Claus. "So, what do you say, Saint Nick ol' boy? Will you join in our reindeer games?"
Santa Claus stroked his great white beard with his red suede-gloved right hand and thought about the matter for a moment. "Certainly," said the jolly old elf. "It may be true that I am running a little late, but I can't imagine that there would be much uproar in the sewer if Christmas came a few minutes late, as I haven't seen a single clock down here since I found myself tramping about this sewer. And I have an excuse, for I'm not even sure whom I'm supposed to be helping! So perhaps, once I've helped to resolve your disagreement as best I can, you can help me as well. Quid pro quo, that's the way!"
"What's this about squid?" cried Wonrat. "It's been so long since I've enjoyed some good calamari! Back when the sewers were new and clean and fresh, the constant flow of ocean water ensured a delicious assortment of seafood at one's virtual doorstep, but now? Mire and gunk and dead mutant creatures and monsters not seen in respectable areas for hundreds of years. Hardly appetizing fare, if I dare say so myself! But no, I understood your meaning -- I was merely making a joke. Shall we bring Santa Claus up to speed regarding our discussion about the meaning of Christmas, then? Though perhaps it is not accurate to say that we were debating the meaning of Christmas, for we could care less whether Christmas has become so commercial that it really only means spending money and rushing about to buy various things and being bombarded with a number of advertisements for holiday films and toys and whatnot, nor were we debating whether it is about the birth of that supposed God-man who would later be crucified in order to atone for the sins of mankind, as the story goes. No, being wharf rats, it matters not a whit to us whether this man was born and died for the sins of mankind or not, as any blessings that he bestowed upon the humans do not, according to the story, extend to us poor sewer-dwelling creatures. So bollocks to that, I say! But maybe it does make sense to say that we were debating the meaning of the holiday after all -- at least as it manifests itself in our lives and the lives of the humans. Or perhaps the end of the holiday would be more accurate? I'm not sure. Will you fill him in, Brother Rattoo?"
"Indeed, Brother Wonrat," replied Rattoo, stroking his leather jacket, "though what my brother has said may have been in error -- just a little bit. For while we were not discussing the holiday season with respect to its commerciality in a primary sense, the position I held and maintain is that, for the most part, the winter holiday season -- and not just Christmas, I might add, but the entire season that revolves around the various winter holidays -- is about consumption. And when I say "consumption", I do not mean pulmonary tuberculosis at all, but rather consuming, as it relates to both commerce and food. During the winter holiday season, for example, owing to the emphasis on the giving of gifts that a number of the holidays require of those who celebrate them, virtually everyone is transformed in to a rabid consumer in an economic sense, rushing to and fro to purchase various knickknacks for their loved ones and friends, as well as to ensure that their holiday decorations are acceptable in the eyes of whomever it is gives a shit about the appearance of holiday decorations and that their holiday plans go, well, according to plan.
Of course, it is true that virtually everyone is a consumer to begin with, since humans must pay for their food and clothing and whatnot, but the onset of the winter holiday season seems to increase their consuming drive by leaps and bounds -- by exponential amounts, even. So there is that. And then there is the emphasis on food, which we rats understand, but nevertheless seems even excessive to us during the winter holiday season -- starting with Thanksgiving towards the end of November, people seem to be obsessed with cooking and baking and eating during the entire season, or at least until after the commencement of the new year. You have them rushing out to buy ham, turkey, stuffing, all manner of pies and cakes and even manifold varieties of pudding, and you see them buying sugar and eggs and red and green sprinkles and frosting en masse for the purpose of baking truckloads of Christmas cookies to give to persons who probably don't even need them because they're too busy standing over the stove with a mixing bowl and a cookie tray doing the same damned thing -- baking Christmas cookies, that is. So you see the excessive emphasis placed on and attention given to consumption in all of its forms -- except, as I have pointed out, the form of pulmonary tuberculosis. But my brother, Wonrat, disagrees on this point. What do you think, Saint Nicholas?"
Again, Santa Claus stroked his beard as if deeply considering the matter, though, in truth, he was still marveling at the fact that these two sewer-slicked wharf rats of immense proportions and clad in black leather jackets adorned with numerous metal studs and zippers were capable of carrying on an even remotely intelligent conversation, let alone one so complicated as the one in which he had been asked to participate and to which he had, several moments earlier, had offered his first contribution. To think that he had stood there imagining doing battle with and, indeed, killing these fascinating creatures! But that lengthy and violent daydream was in the past now, and, in the present, the wharf rats were staring up at him and awaiting his answer with respect to their discussion about the actual import of the winter holiday season.
"I think," said Santa Claus finally, "that you have made some very good points, Rattoo, and there is much in what you have said with which I agree wholeheartedly. However, I shall have to hear what Wonrat has to say about the matter before I offer my own thoughts and come to a decision." And then, with a twinkle of his blue eyes and a red blushing of his cheeks, Santa Claus smiled down at the two wharf rats. The great red-suited fat man had, of course, utilized the most useful answer with which one can respond to someone who has offered up his or her opinion for your scrutiny -- to tell that individual that he or she has made some worthy points and that you agree with something that the individual has said, but without specifically pointing out what it is. Usually your interlocutor will be so pleased that he or she will inquire no further and will assume your tacit agreement with all of what has been said, even though you have not stated in the least exactly what it is with which you agree. In the speech above, for example, Santa Claus might only have agreed with the fact that, during the winter holiday season, persons busy themselves with baking Christmas cookies -- which cannot be doubted -- or with the fact that, while the term "consumption" has also been employed to refer to pulmonary tuberculosis, that was not the sense in which Rattoo used the word, which, again, could not be doubted, especially given that Rattoo took pains to point out that he did not, in fact, mean to discuss pulmonary tuberculosis. For all we know, Santa Claus might not have agreed with any of the substantial claims that Rattoo made -- and, indeed, this is often the case with those shrew debaters and interlocutors who, for the purpose of pleasing their companions, reply with a vague and nondescript statement of praise and unspecified agreement.
Of course, an interlocutor who is really thinking at the time and is, moreover, listening to this reply -- and is, of course, really interested in hearing what the other party actually thinks of his or her thoughts -- will respond with a question along the lines of, "Is that so? Well! If I might trouble you to speak further, then, I'd like to know exactly which points you think are so worthy of praise, and exactly what it is that you agree with out of the whole of what I have said." At this point, however, the discussions will usually take a downward turn, because upon the other party's answer it will usually become quite clear to the interlocutor that that party was, in fact, not listening at all to his or her speech -- or that the other party really has no opinion about it one way or the other -- because the answer to this question will again be couched in vague terms and filled with praise for nothing in particular. And, the author must admit, it surprises him that Rattoo did not respond in this manner, for he seems to be a very intelligent rodent indeed, and far too smart to fall for the oldest debating trick in the book. But then, perhaps he was well aware of Santa Claus's avoidance to offer any substantial thoughts with respect to his speech, or perhaps he really believed that Santa Claus wished to hear his brother's thoughts before offering a joint commentary -- which, we might add, may well have been the case. Or perhaps the presence of Santa Claus, and the fact that the great Saint Nicholas said anything to him at all, let alone a statement that seemed to indicate praise, was enough to satisfy him. Or maybe the stink of the sewer kept him from thinking at maximum operating capacity, to liken the workings of Rattoo's brain to those of a machine.
By way of reply, Rattoo simply said, "Very well," and, with a polite bow, he ceded the floor to his brother.