Lit Socrates in Star Wars: Vergere in the NJO and philosophy

Discussion in 'Literature' started by DigitalMessiah, Aug 2, 2013.

  1. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    I am troubled by what I perceive to be most discussions of Vergere, or the philosophy of Star Wars and the Force in general, as barely scratching the surface. My initial premise for a thread was to ask if, over a decade later, Traitor ultimately failed as a novel in what Matthew Stover set out to do.

    Questions are raised, and instead of answering them, a lot of fans and subsequent EU publications chose to interpret these questions as a philosophy in itself, one which wasn't keeping with "Jedi orthodoxy."

    A few questions I have for folks are the following:

    What was Vergere teaching Jacen? Is this what Jacen really learned? If not, what did he learn? What was the significance of what was being taught, and what was learned? Why was it important?

    I'm going to cheat and presume at least one answer that I saw in another thread: if Vergere was teaching Jacen there is no external dark side and only an internal one, what is the significance of this? Did Jacen learn it? How did he apply it if he did?

    How about the ethics idea I've seen: if Vergere taught Jacen that action is equally important to intent or more so, why? Didn't Jacen already know this? He didn't want Anakin to fire Centerpoint. Isn't that Jacen prioritizing action over intent? Are we sure Vergere was teaching Jacen that at all or are we getting too fixated on the Socratic method?

    Folks, we're going to go deep here. No scratching the surface.
  2. AlyxDinas Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 12, 2010
    star 4
    I don't have time to really rifle through Traitor right now but I can if the need arise.

    The simple answer is that she was teaching him to learn. She wanted nothing from him. Now, this is not entirely true but it's possibly the most direct way of addressing things. But it begs the question. What was being taught? Personal responsibility, for starters. The stern insistence that we are the masters of our own actions. That's the single most important thing. That saying "I lost control" is not an excuse for your actions. Outside of this, is the idea that the dark side does not exist as some snarling predator that reaching into you and pulls you into darkness. Rather, it is manifest in your actions.

    Luke basically comes to the same conclusion at the end of TUF, truth be told. The only difference being that he seems to conclude that dark action and thought extend beyond the limitations of the act to actually create an external dark side that is real. Vergere would dismiss the notion as likely say that the moment of darkness is temporary, albeit one that might leave some type of indelible mark on the soul.

    The significance of what Jacen learned from his time with Vergere pales compared to his moment of connection with the Force in TUF but let's get to that in a moment. What did he learn? He certainly learned the lesson about personal responsibility, almost as Vergere taught it. I also believe that he truly learned that an individual is something of a wellspring for the Force. As much as the Force is a wellspring for the individual.

    It's not quite the lesson Vergere's teaching because I've always gotten the notion that Jacen's understanding of the Force, even following this, was tempered by a notion of the Force having a strong external reality. I just don't know if he ever considered what occurs in a dark action, in the Force, before he drew upon Force Lightning on Coruscant. That he himself was performing an act of transmutation that occurred from the inside and extended outwards. Beforehand, he thought it was the opposite. Pulling on something outside himself. By the end of it, it's something closer to both. Dark action is caused through a fault of the self which leads to an imperfect relationship with the Force.

    But that's all waxing philosophical. Jacen's major discovery is in TUF. Namely, his re-discovery of true surrender to the Force as a means to achieve a perfect relationship with it. That boundaries between the self and others are largely illusions of the mind. And that bliss within the Force comes from letting go. Vergere doesn't teach him any of these things but he learns them nonetheless. Partially because he learned her lesson about personal control. When he's in major concert with the Force, he realizes the temptations within himself to use his moment of power to impose his will onto others. But he understand the lesson about control well enough that he purges his mind of those thoughts, which leads to a moment of bliss that he never again will experience.

    I'm going to cheat and presume at least one answer that I saw in another thread: if Vergere was teaching Jacen there is no external dark side and only an internal one, what is the significance of this? Did Jacen learn it? How did he apply it if he did?

    How about the ethics idea I've seen: if Vergere taught Jacen that action is equally important to intent or more so, why? Didn't Jacen already know this? He didn't want Anakin to fire Centerpoint. Isn't that Jacen prioritizing action over intent? Are we sure Vergere was teaching Jacen that at all or are we getting too fixated on the Socratic method?

    This answer should also cover much of your question about Vergere teaching about the existence of a dark side that was solely internal so I'm not going to repeat myself on that other than to say that Jacen fundamentally learns that his relationship with the Force is one less where he is the receptacle and more one where he is the conduit.

    Because she's teaching him more than the platitude filled notion of consequentialism that he adhered to before. The issue of Centerpoint was based on scale and consequences of the act and not the worth of the action in and of itself. Vergere teaches two lessons, morally. The first is that good intent is not enough to justify all action...that killing and killing and killing just because you don't get emotional about it doesn't make the killing any morally "better".

    The second thing she teaches, almost paradoxically, is the notion of good faith. The idea that actions must be made with honesty behind them. This honesty and sincerity makes the actions worthwhile (but not necessarily a "good" act). That is to say that while certain actions hold a flat moral worth in and of themselves, like..say...her physical torture of Jacen...Vergere was still acting in good faith because she was honest with herself about her intentions and what she was doing. This doesn't excuse her actions or justify them. Indeed, she's willing to submit to punishment for them if Luke so desires but it gives the action more worth than if she lied to herself about what she was doing.

    In simpler terms: "Don't lie to yourself about what you do. The most important thing is that you understand your choices to be *your choices*. And that you make your decisions knowing full well the consequences."

    This is where DNT begins the misinterpretation. Vergere teaches, morally, intention doesn't justify actions because actions have an intrinsic worth. But she also teaches that actions need to be made in good faith. Denning goes of the rails with this to make it mean "Because I act in good faith, my actions are not evil". But that's not true. Rather, Vergere teaches that for an action to have worth, they are honest. But this worth doesn't translate to moral goodness. If she saw what Jacen did to Ta'a Chume...she'd have quite a bit to say.
  3. Likewater Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 31, 2009
    star 4
    Star Trek has a similar problem with some hard core Prime Directive advocates.

    Vergere teachings was more along the lines, self understanding and acting with certainty. Jacen previous to traitor had problems with taking action. His vision and subsequent failure during Vector Prime caused him to doubt in himself and his connection to the force.

    Centerpoint, Duros, and especially his relationship with his brother in Star By Star, really showed how his decisions kept blowing up in his face. While he was not crippled with doubt he was extremely passive in his decision making.

    Vergere seems to have used a humanist philosophy when it comes to spirituality and the force, That while the force is natural, morality and social responsibility is not, that people hold moral actions not a force of nature like "The Force".
  4. DarthJenari Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 17, 2011
    star 4
    A major point she attempted to get across was simply that once a person has acted (the person in question here being Jacen) that no matter the consequences of the action, good or bad, that person must accept the fact they made that action of their own free will with a sound mind (Another of her lessons). Act and accept the consequences of your actions, no matter what they may be. As has been mentioned before, early on in Traitor Jacen would give in to his anger and then proclaim that he "wasn't in control" of himself when he did these things. Vergere looked down on him for this because in a way saying that allows a person to comfort themselves. They are in a way absolving themselves of any wrongdoing that happened during the action, and shirking any possible guilt or consequence that may stem from the action.

    What Vergere wanted Jacen to understand was the silliness of this notion and that it was in itself selfish. She taught lessons that dealt with actions being taken when there was a certain amount of information present, and that one couldn't spend forever worrying about the consequences of their actions, because that is simply doing nothing, and doing nothing doesn't solve anything. What Jacen had to learn to do was act with the information he had on hand at the time, to become more self assured and confident in the paths he chose to take. Jacen had to be able to act in any given situation with whatever knowledge he knew at the time, and at the same time accept the future consequences of said actions, while at again the same time not letting those consequences or any possible consequences impede him from acting.

    And this is all in contrast to how his character existed before Traitor where a problem would come up, he'd be struck by indecision and fear, and the moment for acting would pass, and it was all taken out of his hands. Or he'd specifically choose not to make a certain decision because he feared the consequences of said decision. Not because the decision was a wrong one, or because it couldn't work, but because it might lead to an unwanted outcome.
    Last edited by DarthJenari, Aug 2, 2013
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  5. Big Fat'Lya Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jun 16, 2013
    star 1
    She taught him to rely on his own capacity to learn, his own capacity to err, and his own capacity to arrive at useful answers. She taught him to embrace true responsibility and independence. As she says, is it what the teacher teaches or what the student learns? The latter, is what she's essentially stating. This is part of her overarching lesson, that Jacen (and the rest of the Jedi) need to change their perspective if they're going to understand/save the Yuuzhan Vong and in doing so save their galaxy (both literally and in spiritual terms). And a large part of that change involves less worrying about the dark side as some external (excuse the word here) force that they must avoid the clutches of, and understand that it is *within yourself* that the battle is waged and the balance found, and that you need to be embracing the Force, acting with it and navigating it as you go, rather than refusing to engage with it because there's darkness in there.

    Why does she strip Jacen of the Force? Partly to help him understand the Yuuzhan Vong, of course, but partly to show him what he currently is - someone refusing to actually immerse in the Force due to his self-enforced passivity. Philosophically, spiritually, he was infantilizing himself. He needed to actually embrace the Force and his talents, not shy away from them. She even compares him to a child playing with something he wasn't ready for - so she took it away from him until he grew up, as she puts it. Jacen was being passive, afraid to commit to anything, afraid to act on his own natural capacity to explore and learn and grow (a capacity that was always stronger in him than in many others), because he was afraid it would be dark to do so in the context of fighting the Yuuzhan Vong. He was projecting responsibility for his passivity onto external forces - "but I can't, because out there lies the Dark Side, and it will get me if I stick my head up!". A large part of Vergere's lesson is that Jacen can't go looking for others to give him the answers, he must find the courage to pursue his own - hence, everything Vergere says is a lie; you will find no truth in her. The truth is within Jacen, if he's willing to learn. She can guide, but he must find his own answers. And yes, she's partly steering him, but never to the extent that she's going to tell him what to do - that's the thing she's trying to avoid. He has to choose.

    Is it what the teacher teaches or what the student learns? For this, I think of a conversation I had on a Star Trek message board, wherein we were discussing something in the modern Trek novels - the rise of the Typhon Pact. The Typhon Pact is an alliance of former antagonist nations who have embraced a cooperative unity that is both inspired by, and politically opposes, the United Federation of Planets. When presented with the question of what the Pact represented to Trek storytelling, this was my response:

    "The influence you have on others doesn't necessarily correspond to what you'd particularly like, but that doesn't make the influence any less valuable. The Federation's quiet message of cooperation and the value of peaceful, widely-dispersed alliance is finally being picked up and replicated elsewhere. The immediate result is... the Federation surrounded by a new superpower which doesn't really like it very much. Many in the Federation are probably thinking, sarcastically, "The Romulans, Tzenkethi, Tholians and Breen are suddenly all chummy, right when we're at our weakest? Oh, frabjous day!" But that's how these things work. I suppose it's a lesson in humility; one that, like many such lessons, is more uplifting than it might seem. Other people are not you. Perhaps you think that they should be more like you, that this will be better for them, for those they interact with, and for the community as a whole. And maybe you're entirely right! But when they see the wisdom in your ways, don't expect them to suddenly become you, or to submit to your system precisely, or necessarily keep you in your comfort zone. They will do what they think is best, and when you see yourself in them to a greater degree than you did before, you can be content that you've made a difference, but you cannot control what they do with what you've given them. Well, you can try, but you'll fail and you'll surrender much of your own integrity in the process. Other people and cultures are not blank slates onto which your advice can be uploaded to configure them into duplicates of you; they're alien to you, with different histories and different personal and social demons. So the Pact nations have their ways, which aren't the Federation's ways, and they have problems - internal tensions, worldviews defined by paranoia, etc - as well as policies troubling to Federation ethics (and vice versa). They've looked to the Federation and found strength and worth in its ideas, but will they use them wisely? And who defines wisely?

    "Understanding is a three-edged sword", as someone once said. Who knows where it will cut? When you help someone see things differently, when they learn from your example or your advice and build a more functional, stronger, more contented version of themselves with what you gave them, then haven't you triumphed? Even if the stronger, "better" them turns around and disappoints you? Why does it disappoint? Does it disappoint that natural egotistical part of you that wanted them to *be* you? Does it disappoint because "they didn't really get it" - has the idea been warped beyond worth? Or has it gained a new variant form through the new perspective and thus "evolved"? Does it disappoint because their growth is a threat to you? After all, some in the Federation might say, "if the Tholians have learnt cooperation but see it primarily in terms of "now we can gang up on the Federation!", then wouldn't it have been better if they hadn't learnt it? Better for us, anyway!"

    I think this is the Pact's most valuable purpose - it takes everything that makes the Federation appealing as a protagonist nation and says "the Federation is part of a community. Members of a community influence each other. What happens when the Federation's ideas start getting "loose" and distributed elsewhere?" We all probably accept that the result will be beneficial for most of the aliens who adopt Federation values...but what does it mean for the Federation? If I see myself in you, but you are not me, then what and who am I? How does my identity change? The Federation was the prime superpower and the voice of cooperative, equalized alliance. Now it's not the prime superpower and someone else has adopted the voice of alliance, somewhat shakily. Time to redefine yourself? A learning opportunity, an opportunity for reflection and growth.

    Vergere is, I believe, teaching something similar. It's not what the teacher teaches, it's what the student learns. And any teacher's proudest moment is when the student surpasses her, as she asserts at the novel's end. Jacen needs to act on his capacity to learn, to take responsibility for himself instead of believing that he's paradoxically being responsible by refusing to act, in case the dark side "gets him", or else by looking to others to define his relationship with the Force. He needs to learn how people and cultures can influence each other and change without needing to find concrete answers, without using adherence to dogma to avoid their personal responsibility - think the mistakes of the Yuuzhan Vong, to the very core of their corrupt culture, or to a lesser but still significant extent, the Jedi of old. Don't be like them. Take responsibility, and learn that you can't control others but can only control yourself. Don't fear the darkness without, fight it within, on your terms. And whatever you do, stay in the game, don't turn your back on the Force and your responsibility as a part of it.

    I suppose I should explain how I see Vergere, so I'll repeat something I wrote in another thread:

    Vergere is a Jedi, who served the cause of life and civilization - or in other words, the Force, and the Republic and its satellites, respectively. But then she found something shocking - a culture which lay outside both the Force and the confines of galactic civilization (or so she thought). To stave off further violence, she agreed to leave with these Far Outsiders, and learn of their ways. For fifty years she saw upfront how twisted, rotten and terrible the Yuuzhan Vong culture was, but also learnt that these beings deserved her compassion like anyone else - the Jedi purpose that she took so seriously extended to this, her second world, just as it defined her love for the first. The Yuuzhan Vong, while apparently outside the Force, were life, like any other race; their worldships, so very alien, a civilization every bit as grand in its way as the GFFA. Now Vergere, we might imagine, always had unique perspectives on life, death, social morality...after all, her species are so rare, apparently, as to be near extinct - "outcompeted" by adaptable humans, as she puts it - I believe other sources have suggested that the Fosh were one of the civilizations in what became the Corporate Sector which were wiped out by the humans and the megacorporations? If so, she knows the darker underbelly of her Republic and her galaxy. Is it any wonder her perspective is different? After fifty years, the Yuuzhan Vong and the GFFA clash head on. She knows what this will mean - the death of definitely one, quite possibly both. Both the worlds she loves are tearing into each other. She has to do something to save them - both of them. Her Jedi oath will allow nothing less. But her understanding has long, long surpassed and moved beyond Jedi dogma - her own naturally different outlook combined with fifty years of mediation on and experience of Yuuzhan Vong philosophy has forced her to adapt her thinking, and her morals, to something that bridges Yuuzhan Vong and Jedi, Yuuzhan Vong and (New) Republic. Maybe she's a little nuts. Who wouldn't be, seeing two worlds on the path to annihilation? So Vergere teaches, Vergere takes an opportunity, Vergere molds Jacen Solo into the instrument that will save her worlds, and bridge them.

    Vergere, a Sith? Vergere's the least Sith-like character there is. Sith are about the self. Vergere loved two entire civilizations, and never betrayed her oath to serve life and civilization - ALL life and civilization.

    Vergere, I’d say, wants Jacen to stop hiding from responsibility, stop looking to external factors to tell him what to do, stop seeking answers from others, from dogmas or from teachers, and instead embrace his responsibility to himself as an extension of, and wielder of, the Force. Who is responsible? You. Always. Where lies the truth? You must search and decide yourself; never surrender responsibility by accepting someone else to do it for you. Vergere won't allow you that crutch - in her lessons, you will find no truth.
    Last edited by Big Fat'Lya, Aug 2, 2013
  6. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    At times, I'm led to conclude that Vergere's only purpose at all in the story was to give Jacen a lesson in epistemology, with her intended emphasis being on knowledge proceeding from self-knowledge. This sees repetition throughout the novel with Vergere stating "everything I tell you is a lie," or "I speak nothing but the truth." She tells Luke in the next novel that Jacen had to be bereft of everything, including guidance, to discover himself. Who is Jacen Solo? Ask yourself. Where else can one look? She emphasizes to Luke that serenity, as stated in the Jedi mantra, "there is no passion, there is serenity," is not an absence of passion, but serenity from self-knowledge.

    Vergere plays the role of Socrates for Jacen, and Plato's Socrates states that it is absurd to try to understand obscure subjects when one does not yet know thyself. Self-knowledge also plays a role in the monomyth, as it is the objective of the "descent to the underworld" which Traitor -- originally titled Underworld -- is in the New Jedi Order's hero's journey (as an aside, note the meaning of the word "Mortis"). In Jungian terms, it is integrating the shadow, which explains Vergere's emphasis on Jacen's inner darkness.

    You really can't put it better than the author:

    "It is the responsibility of those who CAN look deeper to do so. I say: by the end of TRAITOR, Jacen is a better Jedi than he has ever been, because he has learned to LOOK DEEPER... I think SW is more about dealing with the darkness in your own heart -- Luke had to do that, in order to face Vader and the Emperor; and then instead of killing Vader he could lead him back toward the light.

    "I should also point out that "the Force is One." The darkness inside is reflected outside, and vice versa. What Vergere is really teaching Jacen is to seek truth within, because it will reflect truth without. To trust his feelings, you might say...

    That about sums it up."

    With regard to what Jacen learned, I think his conversation with Anakin, as it were, does much to enlighten on what Jacen learned, and is substantially more important than anything which Vergere taught. And there's a noted and substantial difference between what Vergere says compared to what Anakin says:

    "The Force is one, Jacen Solo. The Force is everything, and everything is the Force. I've told you already: the Force does not take sides. The Force does not even have sides."

    "The Force is one, Jacen. It encompasses all opposites. Truth and lies, life and death, light and dark, good and evil. They're all each other, because each thing and everything is the same thing. The Force is one."

    Jacen has a dualistic view of the Force. Vergere tells Jacen that the Force is monistic. Jacen realizes that the Force is dialectical monism. Boom. Vergere was absolutely right. What a shame.
    Last edited by DigitalMessiah, Aug 2, 2013
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  7. darth fluffy Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 27, 2012
    star 2
    The question then becomes, how to reconcile Vergere's philosophy with what's shown in the Mortis episode?
  8. AlyxDinas Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 12, 2010
    star 4
    Why is that the question?
  9. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    Monism isn't Vergere's philosophy. Is it what the teacher teaches or what the student learns? She told Jacen exactly what he needed to hear. Dialectical monism is more compatible with Mortis than dualism.
    Last edited by DigitalMessiah, Aug 3, 2013
  10. dp4m Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Nov 8, 2001
    star 9
    Vergere clearly was teaching Jacen Solo how to be a Sith.

    It's not her fault he was as bad at that as he was being a Jedi.
  11. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    An addendum to my prior post:

    "You need not like someone to love him. Love is nothing more than the recognition that two are one. That all is one."
    There's Vergere's monism revealed as a dialectical monism, in the Epilogue, page 288.
    [IMG]
    Hmm, where have I seen this?
    [IMG]
  12. Likewater Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 31, 2009
    star 4
    I think the in and you symbol would be more appropriate

    [IMG]
  13. Gamiel Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2012
    star 5
    A question: do anybody know what a three-edged sword look like? I have hard to visualise it
  14. LarryG Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 4, 2012
    star 1
    Everything I tell you is a lie. Which means the previous sentence is a lie. Which means somethings, but not all things, she tells you is a lie. You just don't know what. So take others' point of view with a grain of salt and rely on your own instincts.
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  15. Iron_lord Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    I'd think of it as like a fencing foil- but triangular in cross-section with three sharp edges.
  16. Gamiel Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2012
    star 5
    Do you have any pictures? I have still hard to visualise it
  17. Iron_lord Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 2, 2012
    star 6
    No pictures- it's just a mental image I have. You may have seen triangular prisms. Imagine the end of one, sharpened to a point- and you've got your sword blade.

    Maybe extend the edges a bit- like the Klingon Empire symbol in Star Trek.
  18. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    "See, the thing is, everything everyone tells you is a lie. The truth is always bigger than the words we use to describe it."
  19. Jedi Ben Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 19, 1999
    star 6
    Yet that doesn't mean language can't get to some of the truth or that everyone is a lying, deceitful being.
  20. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    Is that what you think Vergere meant to get across to Jacen?
  21. Jedi Ben Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 19, 1999
    star 6
    Quite seriously, you tell me everything you say is a lie and my reply is going to be: And I'm listening to you because?

    More seriously, what was your point in quoting it?
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  22. DigitalMessiah Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 17, 2004
    star 5
    Jacen explains Vergere's meaning in saying "everything I tell you is a lie" in the quote I provided from Jacen, which is that the truth is bigger than the words that convey it. Language is just a complex system of symbols and if it was perfect there would be no misunderstandings due to language.

    Fan response to Traitor demonstrates Vergere's point rather well. Of course, you could choose to interpret Vergere differently if you want, but then I'd ask if it is what the teacher teaches or what the student learns, and Jacen's quote demonstrates what the student learned.
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  23. Gamiel Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2012
    star 5
    Now I see it, thanks.

    I believe it only would be useful as a stabbing sword, Vergere may need to work on her metaphors
  24. HWK-290 Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 29, 2013
    star 2
    Language, as a human - and therefore inherently flawed - device of communication, is incapable of ever conveying the totality of the user's intended message. Hell, this entire point of discussion arises from a linguistic difficulty in English where "lie" stands in for both "deliberate, intended falsehood" and "partial truth".

    Show a car to a group of folks and you'll receive varying feedback on what color it actually is - teal, dark cyan, blue-green, etc. Show a '98 Honda Accord to three individuals of varying socioeconomic status and you'll get three distinct responses - "it's a great car!", says the immigrant with empty pockets, "it'll get me from point A to point B", says Mr. Middle Class, and "what a piece of $#!t", says the gentleman from Bel Air.

    Vergere's "everything I tell you is a lie, you will find no truth in me" shtick was a little more than a mental exercise to get Jacen to start critically thinking outside the confines of a dogmatic worldview, and the setup for a play on words intended to help her manipulate Nom Anor and by extension the Vong.

    Look, I just lied to you and told you the truth in the same sentence. Weird. Hey, look, I did it again, because it's both weird and not-weird at the same time.

    Think of a three-edged ruler.
    [IMG]
    Now imagine that as a sword that narrows down to a point.

    Wasn't this a quote from Babylon 5 originally?
    Last edited by HWK-290, Aug 5, 2013
  25. Jedi Ben Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Jul 19, 1999
    star 6
    Vorlon saying, yes.

    Maybe it's just me, but I've never considered lying to have the dual meaning you've brought up here.
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