I have a friend that I've known since I was in middle school -- I probably knew him before then, but other memories like playing Homeless Bears with my sister (an activity that dictated wandering around like bears, pretending that we were homeless. We were very literal in our naming of activities) has clouded them. Let's call him Mr. Max to hide his identity: MM for short. The thing about MM is that he has the uncanny ability to get me into an argument about what on the surface can be a very mundane topic. A vision: high school Tolo. Tolo, for those uninitiated or being from the East coast (this is not a dig at East coasters, I think the term, however, is a regional one), is a school dance where boys (soon to be men) invite girls (soon to be women) to dinner and a dance. A vision within a vision: MM and me sitting on a deck outside a house, after having picked up our dates, alone, arguing over whether drug testing in the work place should be enforced (side note article here
). (A vision within a vision, within a vision: this particular Tolo did not end with either of our dates being even remotely pleased or having a good time. Everyone ordered only appetizers for dinner and I think we asked for the check immediately. We then proceeded to sit in near silence. It was, in fact, one of the more awkward experiences of my life, somehow becoming more awkward in adulthood as I realize how little I grasped the full crushing awkwardness of it during the time; I was probably playing with my silverware the entire time trying to figure out why the number of tines on a fork were decided as they were (this you can read about, of course, at you leisure here
).) If I remember correctly he was for it and I was against it. I don't remember our points to back up our positions. What I do remember, in what was one of many (and I mean MANY. I have debated the following with MM at various junctures of my life: The validity of knowledge bases coming from reductionism, the proper placement of a togo coffee lid in relationship to the cup, generalizations versus specifics when creating lines of reasoning, pornography preferences and their meaning, whether people who enjoyed the Waking Life were stupid, the purpose/point of dedicating ones self to something) arguments, is that MM had put in the time to form an opinion WITH FOUNDATION on all of these topics. For instance with the placement of the coffee cup lid -- and I agree with him on this one -- he was quite adamant that the drinking hole be on the opposite side from the cup seam. This was to avoid the very small occurrence of a drop of coffee slipping between the lid and cup due to the space the seam created.
I would hope that everyone would be as lucky as me to have someone like MM in their life. Because between arguments about brown versus white eggs in grocery stores, there were obviously (see list above) questions that had a weight that mattered to me. Here are a couple things that thinking about MM bring to mind and I just feel like writing about them:
Our Binary Selfs
It strikes me how often arguments can have two very distinct positions. Sides as they are. And not just arguments, but most thinking that we do tends to be along the lines of negative/positive, front/back, for/against. It's as if we have a massive coin collection of our ideas, showing the face that we align with. I think one of the reasons that MM could always draw me into a debate about most anything (see: the rise of fixie bikes) is that he didn't really collect coins. Instead of a binary thought process it was like we were in this huge lake slapping the water to form this wave that perfectly supported something inside our heads. And who doesn't like slapping water? I think as humans we are predisposed to break things apart and categorize. To sort and chop up. (Oh, you magnificent brain!). This saves energy for your brain by making life a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure game, where you reach what you perceive as crossroads and choose between left or right. Heads or tails. One thing that my debates with MM taught me (see: proper ways to cook an egg and whether an One Eyed Egyptian Special is a valid technique.) is that seeing only crossroads is making shortcuts. Not that shortcuts are all bad, but realizing that you are taking them is important. Our brains are made to save energy by creating defaults for us to fall back on, but we can choose to look at all our interactions past the default.
The Joy of Disagreement
MM could make me really want to punch him in the face sometimes. That calmness: almost impersonal. But then there was this piece of me that one day saw what was happening; saw The Operation. Because good argument is like an autopsy of a murder victim (I don't know why that just popped in my head as the analogy, but it does bring to mind some article I was reading about actors who specialize in playing dead people due to the rise of TV crime dramas in the US), where each participant gets to make conjecture and check against the available information spread out before them (The Body in the case of my analogy). I think finding people who you disagree with often, but can approach the argument in this fashion -- not attacking personally or standing behind rhetoric -- are some of the most worthwhile people to spend time with discussing ideas.
That's all I have to say about that right now. And pay attention next time you put togo lids on your coffee: there really is a right way to do it.