My Summer Vacation
Dear Dr. Xavier. I had a great summer. My family usually goes on vacation, but this year, we had a baby instead. While most people were on the water or rollercoastering, I was up every night trying to figure out how to do 8 hours of work in a row with two 3 hour spots of sleep interrupted by baby who’s maybe hungry, maybe dirty, maybe bored, maybe just in the mood to “sing”. She fits in well with the other two we already have. Nothing spells success for a budding blog like 2-3 months inexplicable absence. The End.
Yes, yes, congratulations all around, but what that means in the “now” term is that it was time for this hermit crab of a family to grab up a bigger shell (poetry is easy!). We are moving, you see. In any case, in the process of the move I was able to witness an encounter I had not expected.
Recently, I had watched Son of Batman on Netflix and saw a story that, on top of entertaining, had a universal theme. If you have a son you have tried to get into the same sport as you, you know the theme. If you have a daughter who, no matter how often you caution, warn, threaten, or/and lock up, demands to make the same mistakes you have made, you know the theme. It isn’t about your own progeny, not entirely. It’s being in a place of authority that isn’t recognized, even though it should. Flip side, it’s about being told you have to respect an authority you don’t trust and aren’t sure you want at all. It’s a theme that plays out in comic books all the time (at least in Batman and Robin stories). The reluctant side kick.
Following? Let me back track. The encounter I speak of I had hoped to avoid all together. Amongst those who graciously gave up a Saturday morning to help us move were Caped Persuaders very own CPC, a good friend of ours who went to college a conservative, Christian girl and came out a firey, liberal college grad, and, on the other side of things, my father, who, despite the fact that we told him we had enough people to help as it was, showed up anyway. Upon his arrival my wife looked me in the face with both genuine concern and real drama to explain “They can NOT interact!”. Oh, my father is a 68 year old conservative, recently retired from the USPS where he had all the opponents he could ask for to verbally spar with over politics. Now, he spends his time with my mom who says she’s a Libertarian in no small part just to mess with him.
While we had done a commendable job keeping them separated for most of the day, there was one point we could not deprive anyone from, the ageless American ritual of eating pizza as payment for helping a person move. While we gathered around the pizza boxes and drank warm soda out of easily cleanable cups I recalled a thought experiment I purposed to my liberal friend a week or so previous and wanted to expand on it. I felt safe because, as it happened, Caped Persuader C was there and was inadvertently running interference on Griping Old Person (G.O.P.). For those interested, I had run the Trolley T.E. with the New College Liberal (N.C.L. Hey, it’s not my fault the liberal spectrum hasn’t given itself an acronym for me to use), and was following up with what I consider an equally compelling T.E., the Ticking Time Bomb scenario with the daughter additive (I’ll explain it if you ask me to). While I was explaining what it was I found so intriguing, my wife noticed that my dad’s attention had peeled itself from Caped Persuader C and it had been honing in on NCL and me. She (Mrs. Caped Persuader J) then immediately began to try to stop me, but it was too late. I was talking philosophy, specifically political philosophy with a passionate, politically aware, intellect, a treat to be sure. I couldn’t be stopped. Then I realized what was happening. NCL started to respond and I started to cut her off and end it when GOP stepped in, waved me off and said, “Hey! You let her finish!”. It was too late. The very fear of Mr and Mrs. CPJ was realized, and for the next several minutes, they were firing shots at each other instead of working on moving us out! I tried my best to move the momentum towards putting boxes into a truck, but the energy was already firmly allocated in fact-for-fact punch swapping. Eventually, both sides, having got in their shots, reluctantly put down their arms and agreed to a no-loss mutual truce.
Now, I know both of these individuals just enough to know how this would go. The style of debate they were having was just a fact-off. An initial point was made then sides taken. They would argue in a somewhat linear manner using acquired facts as ammunition. Whoever held the most facts would be the “winner”, indicated by the other party simply running out of ammo. There is never satisfaction in this style, never resolution, although it is the most popular method. Given this game setting, I could guarantee that GOP would be the winner. The reasoning is simple; NCL has been a liberal for around 5 years, give or take a year. In that time, her intelligence, fueled by her passion, has taken her quite far. However, GOP has been conservative from 1990 on and liberal from, let’s say, ~70 to ~90. He had dual classed, he had been passionately involved in citizen level politics all of my life. He has accrued so many facts, that his place in the verbal battle field was assured the moment NCL decided to play his game. Or it would have been if both parties had not been good enough people to pull themselves out of the contest to eventually go back to work. I know GOP’s strats well. He has so many pocketed statistics, studies, anecdotes (which he rarely uses), letters, histories, books, radio shows (my gosh, the radio shows) and on and on. Not just the republican side of things, either. He listens all year long to NPR to “know what the enemy is doing”. He watches any news source available. He was a charter subscriber to Mother Jones magazine. He owns several folk albums. It doesn’t stop there, though. He also has specific techniques. He aims to piss off his opponent to keep their heads flurried and hard to respond. While this may seem counter productive to guide towards Truth (which usually doesn’t belong in a true political fight), it is more about seeing what happens when a person has no ability to fight back. He is not new to the debate. It is more his home than the building where he sleeps.
The fallout was interesting, too. Immediately afterwards Caped Persuader C and I went with GOP to drop off a bunch of boxes at a storage unit and during the trip my dad was still in an argue grind in his mind and needed to still spit out points that I didn’t care about. To CPC’s credit, he was interested and swapped a few notes about proper tactics and ammo, a few personal anecdotes to hammer a point home and the like. On the other hand, I was working through my own brain as to how I have come to handle such a debate. It should be noted that I mean this as just political topics, and also that it is my goal, that I have missed the target from time to time. As much as I would love to say that I have matured to a point beyond such childish bickering, I’m afraid I can’t. You see, that was weeks ago. Mere days ago, staying with my in-laws until while we get our hunk of house sold and move into a new shell, my father-in-law and I had one ourselves. Not political, exactly (though that certainly depends on who you ask), we dug ourselves a trench, set foot, and lobbed facts like water balloons for 5 hours. Real hours, not like 5 Netflix shows. The only reason we stopped (despite the fact that it was 3:00am) was because my wife first texted me, then got out of bed, and then “indirectly” led me back.
What can I say we got out of the back-and-forth? What could G.O.P and NCL have gotten out of their deal? One thing I have learned, and really all four of us have learned prior to the encounters, is that there is never an immediate winner in these things. The rarity of being both mature enough to accept a new and contradictory point in the moment of heated battle and be wrong in that battle keeps everyone thinking they can just use one more point. So why do it? It’s the same reason the X-Men have Danger Room. It’s sparring. You can point spar, sure, but it can be so much more fun and rewarding if you know how to keep plowing ahead after taking a body blow.
There is good in all this. Different good that takes similar path, but still good, with a catch. That catch is hard one, too. To turn any opponent into an ally takes humility. To accept truth takes humility, and make no mistake, truth can only be accepted. You can’t brand someone’s mind with it against their will. This is hard because most of the time, it seems like you can. At some point, you know you got it somehow and after a time of repeating it to yourself, it seems to be the only thing that makes sense and all it took was saying “ok”. We see in books and movies a person being beaten and admitting defeat. Yet, IRL, we more or less see an attack and two people reaching a point where they would rather stop than continue, admitting nothing. Whether it was Jason Todd starting off too angry and not compassionate enough or Dick Grayson having to watch his family murdered and wanting that revenge or Damian Wayne raised by assassins with goals to topple the world’s corrupt powers into dust with an iron fist, each first had to accept that Batman was Batman and that there is authority in that. Until then, even if they wore the tights, they could not be his partner, only a child he had to watch over.
The irony (or maybe a straight up Catch-22) is that it takes wisdom to be humble, too. I tend to Virtue Ethics and ancient philosophy, if you were wondering, so I do have what I feel like is an easy in. Pick any virtue and really learn it, really study it, and really absorb it. Pick one virtue and you will find that you have to pick them all. You need wisdom and humility to be properly courageous, for example. It also takes courage and wisdom to be properly humble. They feed off of each other. They are each other. They manifest differently, maybe have a different color or sound, but they are all the same on the inside.
Let me bottom line this post here (said the writer to himself). There can be value in that conflict. Digging through the words and taking that step back to see if you know what you’re talking about or if your opponent knows better builds a better fighter and a better person. It seems a waste to let all the energy and work go to waste just because you haven’t read this weeks blog of “Know Everything, All the Time”. Even if you don’t throw the last water balloon, yours may still have been true.