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Almost Fiction: Arguing Alone

By Sam Jones

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My mother told me that it was impolite to argue religion or politics. She felt obligated to tell me this. However, realizing that I liked to argue one side of a question until the opposition relented and then switch and debate the other side with equal fervor, she assumed that, like many of her other admonitions, I would pay little attention. She was right. When it came to taking her advice on polite conversation or dating girls with “bad” or “easy” reputations I would do as I pleased.

I like a lively debate. Some of the best fist fights I’ve witnessed were because of arguments involving religion and politics. A few blows are thrown and then everyone has a beer and we are all good friends again. That’s the way it used to be.

Now, today, the United States has just gone through one of the most acrimonious, contemptuous elections in modern history. No one can see the other side of any question, everyone has God on their side and whoever disagrees with you is the antichrist. The Democrats are right/wrong, the Republicans are right/wrong and the Libertarians say, “A pox on both your houses.”

When Mom told me it was impolite to bring up religion or politics she was really ahead of her time. To do so today one might be taking their life in their own hands. The time for throwing a couple of punches and then everyone having a friendly beer are gone. At the mere hint that they might not be on the same side politically I have seen good friends come across a table filled with barbecued ribs and try to choke each other with greasy, slippery fingers. Longtime couples have broken up because conservatives and liberals can’t justify each other. I know one married couple who are taking a timeout and claim it is because of this past election. (Knowing that each of them has been sneaking around and seeing other people on the sly, I think both are just using it as an excuse.)

Today it is: “Either you agree or you’re wrong.” “You are either for me or against me.” “It is us against them.” “It is good against evil.” “There is no middle ground.” “Love it or leave it.”

Really? I have learned: (1) it is never just “for me or against me”—there is always another choice; (2) it is never pure good against pure evil; (3) logic defeats emotion.

At least logic used to defeat emotion. Nowadays, no matter how clever or proper or original or correct your arguments are, there are two subjects on which you cannot change a person’s mind. People are rigid, intractable and recalcitrant on the subjects of abortion and gun control. Their minds are made up; don’t even try.

What’s happened to my debating habits? When it comes to a difference of opinion, no one is using logic or wisdom and everyone is using fear and emotion, therefore my clever witticisms and points of rationality are completely wasted. For the last six months any time I have espoused a unique notion of sagacity I was greeted with either blank stares or a clenched fist. Most people know I have spent a little time in the ring so there have only been a couple of bloody noses. Mostly I am just dismissed and treated with disdain. I didn’t have fun voting in the Goldwater vs. Johnson election a hundred years ago and I am not having fun today.

Several months ago the American Motorcyclist Association asked its membership a question. “Do you prefer to ride alone or with a group?” The answers they published were split quite evenly and the reasons were very predictable. They didn’t publish my answer. “I prefer to ride alone because the human race is a diseased life form and should be eradicated from the face of the earth.” That might have been a little extreme a few months ago but after this election I don’t think I went far enough.

So that brings me to this camping spot. I have been on the road for a while with my 20-year-old Harley Ultra pulling a trailer filled with all my camping stuff and at this moment I am overlooking the Pacific Ocean, alone, with only an onshore breeze in my face and several scraggly trees and rocks protecting my back. I discovered this spot several decades ago. It is not an official campground or park. It is just a piece of dirt on a bluff, off the main highway, off a back road, off a dirt track and hidden from sight by the scraggly trees. I have never told anyone where it is nor will I. This is the perfect secret place on the coast to sit and reflect on real life and other silliness. It has been several days since I have watched CNN or Fox or read a paper. I could listen to the Harley’s radio and get the news but I prefer current ignorance. It is assumed that life has continued to go on and because the sun comes up in the morning and goes down at night the world must not have blown up.

My tent and army cot are set up and my reconditioned antique Coleman stove, fired up with new white gas, is perking a cup of coffee in a 50-year-old percolator. Passing through the last town, I bought the best steak they had. I already had a great bottle of wine, some potatoes, greens for a salad and because a loaf of bread always seems to get squished, I prefer hard rolls when travelling. Normally a steak cooked rare over coals from an open fire is preferred but here, I don’t want to draw any unwanted attention, so I’ll fry it in a cast iron skillet like Mom used to. For dessert there will be an apple, a pear, a piece of sharp cheddar cheese and a snifter of brandy. A person can live well when riding a motorcycle and pulling a trailer big enough to suit his lavish tastes.

This morning will be coffee, bacon, eggs with Mexican salsa, hard roll, butter, Loganberry jam and I think I will spend the rest of the day sitting watching sea birds and the ocean. I am in no hurry. The point of this trip, at this time of year, was to go north until I hit snow and then go another direction.

There is no hurry and I have no desire to converse with anyone.

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