Because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.
This riddle has been around for a few centuries and is often attributed to Lincoln, but actually goes back further.
It’s a useful thought to keep in mind, especially when you consider that governments often find it easier to redefine reality rather than do something about it.
At the same time, existing definitions may come under fire because they describe something as reality that people no longer think is the case.
An example is the definition of marriage.
You have a religious definition that is based on a relationship between a man and a woman.
And then you have a secular definition that is based on a relationship between two people.
Depending on how you have reached your own opinion on the matter, you may disagree with others as to which one should accurately represent reality.
In 2015, the government decided to redefine child poverty as based more around a lack of family morals rather than a lack of cash.
Campaigners for poverty reduction disagree.
In this TED talk by Rutger Bregman, he talks about how Margaret Thatcher called poverty a “personality defect”.
Bregman argues that if everyone had a basic income guarantee you would eradicate poverty and it would be much cheaper than all the programmes that try to remove it through education and helping the poor to help themselves.
The energy industry has suffered from this too.
In the period from 2006 – 2008, there was an effort by the government to redefine everything in terms of carbon rather than energy.
The focus became how to reduce carbon, rather than how to reduce energy.
When we look back at this period, it is possible that we will see that this has led to distortions in the market, and that change in definition has led to reducing efforts to invest in energy efficiency while increasing efforts to invest in green generation.
This means we use the same amount of energy – but use less carbon.
Not that making cleaner energy isn’t good for the planet.
It’s just that not using it at all in the first place is even better.