Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Cueball has apparently been invited to join an honor society, but he considers the reason he should join to be a circular argument: because honorable people are in honor societies and people who are in honor societies are supposedly honorable. He objects that this is a tautology: a claim that something is true because it is true (and thus a meaningless claim). From this he concludes that he might as well be in a "tautology club" and then starts one. Thus Randall mocks honor society clubs for being pointless.
In the final panel where Cueball has formed the club, Ponytail asks a new member (a Cueball-like guy) how he found out about them and he tells about their Facebook page. The reference to Facebook mocks Facebook groups whose names refer to a number of members they hope to attract (such as I Bet I Can Find 1,000,000 People Who Dislike Romanian Dog Abusers), usually ostensibly to raise awareness for some issue, but perhaps in fact just for the ego-stroking pleasure of amassing a large number of followers. Tautology Club employs this tactic only for the sake of creating yet another tautology.
Cueball is listing the rules of the club from a podium. The phrase "The first rule of _______ Club" is a reference to the 1999 movie Fight Club (see also 922: Fight Club), which contains the famous line "The first rule of Fight Club is 'You do not talk about Fight Club,'" a reference to the club's intended secrecy. This phrase has been appropriated for myriad other varieties and parodies, such as the one mentioned in the comic.
The short guy with glasses could be Jason Fox from the FoxTrot comic (see the first two frames of 824: Guest Week: Bill Amend (FoxTrot).) Although it takes a little imagination to see, the hair, the height, the glasses, and the geek factor fits. Three of the other characters from the audience looks like regular character but also with slightly different hairstyle that the usual. There is a buzz cut version of Hairy, a curly haired version of Hairbun with a ponytail (also seen later on) and Megan is drawn with an uncharacteristically white stripe in her hair.
The answer to the title text would also be a tautology: he gets to be the president because he is the president.
Tautologies were mentioned again in 1310: Goldbach Conjectures. Tautology Club was mentioned in 1602: Linguistics Club.
- [Cueball sits at a desk, while some one off-screen answers his question.]
- Cueball: Wait. I should join this honor society to show colleges I'm honorable, and I'm honorable because I'm in an honor society?
- Off-screen voice: Basically, yes.
- [Close up of Cueball.]
- Cueball: Sounds like I could save time by joining the Tautology Club directly.
- Off-screen voice: That's not a real club.
- Cueball: Then I'm starting it.
- [Inserted in a frame crossing the top of the third panels frame is a caption. Cueball is standing on a podium in the right part of the panel speaking. From left to right we find Ponytail, a Cueball-like guy, a short guy with glasses, a buzz cut version of Hairy, a curly haired version of Hairbun with a ponytail and to the right of Cueball, a woman that looks like Megan although with a uncharacteristically white stripe in her hair.]
- Caption: Tautology Club:
- Ponytail: So how'd you learn about us?
- Cueball-like guy: From your Facebook group, "If 1,000,000 People Join This Group, It Will Have 1,000,000 People In It."
- Cueball: Listen up! The first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club.
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A tautology is a statement that is always true and that doesn't convey any information. A classic example is 'A or not A', which is true if A is true, but also if A isn't true. 'Either it rains or it doesn't rain' is true, no matter what weather it is.
"If 1.000.000 people join this group, it will have 1.000.000 people in it" is, strictly speaking, not a tautology, since it wouldn't be true if - somehow - 1.000.000 people were able to join the group without it having 1.000.000 people in it (I don't know - maybe if people leave the group before the counter hit 1.000.000?). It would also be true if there were somehow 1.000.000 members of the group without 1.000.000 people joining it. It is of the form 'if A then A' which is pretty much a much longer version of just 'A'. It's true if it's true, and it isn't if it isn't - so it isn't a tautology.
The same goes for 'The first rule of the tautology club is the first rule of the tautology club' - It's just a long way of saying "This is the first rule of the tautology club' - which can be true or false.
- No, it's saying that, whatever the first rule of the club is at any given moment, that's the first rule of the club. Which cannot be false. 188.8.131.52 16:39, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
Granted; the statements hold enough implied information that we will agree that they are true in a trivial sense, and they are much more fun than 'either there are 1.000.000 people in this group or there aren't 1.000.000 people in this group' and 'either this is the first rule of the tautology club or it isn't' 184.108.40.206 22:15, 2 September 2013 (UTC)
- While I do understand what you're getting at, you are surprisingly wrong on a few accounts. First, A or not A (i.e. A V ~A) is not always a tautology. I've spent enough painful time around intuitionists to say this whenever I can.
- How is that not a tautology? For any proposition A, if the proposition is true, then A; if not, then ~A. Logic doesn't allow for a proposition to be both true AND false, nor does it allow for a proposition to be neither true NOR false, so the only remaining possibilities are A and ~A; ergo, A v ~A. 220.127.116.11 16:44, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
- Unnecessary nitpick aside, then, there are more serious things. I presume the sentence, "It would also be true if there were somehow 1.000.000 members of the group without 1.000.000 people joining it," should be, "It would also not be true if there were somehow 1.000.000 members of the group without 1.000.000 people joining it." (Otherwise, the "also" is used incorrectly, and the sentence is useless.) Unfortunately, this would make it wrong; a statement of the form "if A then B" is not false if B is true and A isn't. (This is the difficulty of making formal logic: the traditional conditional leads to bizarre, vacuous truths.) Also, more seriously, you say that "if A then A" is a longer way of saying "A", or, more formally, that "A → A" is logically equivalent to "A." Unfortunately, this is not the case. The statement "if A then A" is always true, and hence a tautology. You also assert that "A = A" (or "A ↔ A") is logically equivalent to "A", where "A" is "The first rule of tautology club." This is even more obviously false. Even if "The first rule of tautology club" yields falsehood, it is still equivalent to itself.
- Serious issues aside, I do agree with your sentiment that "[i]f 1.000.000 people join this group, it will have 1.000.000 people in it" is not necessarily a tautology, but removing the ambiguities (did they all join at the same time? did anyone leave?), which would necessarily be done in any formalization of the statement, would yield the tautological "A → A." -- Quicksilver (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Why does this comic have the Philosophy category? Am I missing something? GameZone (talk) 08:27, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
- Logic is technically philosophy, or at least they're closely connected. Sciepsilon (talk) 20:23, 30 December 2013 (UTC)
It is worth noting that this comic is Randall's commentary on certain honor societies, who don't do anything except for selecting new members. Feynman once made a remark to that effect, and may be Randall's influence on the matter. (Or not.) Regardless, this explanation is missing the viewpoint. 18.104.22.168 20:53, 28 November 2013 (UTC)
I see that nobody's pointed out that the third figure from the left in the third panel appears to be Jason Fox (see 824: Guest Week: Bill Amend (FoxTrot))- known to be one of those nerdy types who would join a tautology club. He is (to my knowledge) perpetually in the fifth grade, though, which does make me a little suspicious. --22.214.171.124 00:03, 2 January 2014 (UTC)
The official transcript actually identifies him as "a shorter male with glasses that bears a striking resemblance to Jason Fox". I'd say the chances of it being him are a little more than "could be". 126.96.36.199 07:02, 15 February 2016 (UTC)