Saturday, April 2, 2011

Meep Meep

I've always wanted to use this metaphor, but Michael Chabon beat me to it:

"In every marriage, there are things," she begins. She shakes her head once, and the veil trembles. "One of my grandsons was at my house today, before the funeral. Nine years old. I put the television for him in the sewing room, you're not supposed to, but what does it matter, the little shkotz was bored. I sat with him ten minutes, watching. It was that cartoon program, the wolf that chases the blue rooster."

Landsman says that he knows it.

"Then you know," she says, "how that wolf can run in the middle of the air. He knows how to fly, but only so long as he still thinks he's touching the ground. As soon as he looks down, and sees where he is, and understands what's going on, then he falls and smashes into the ground."

"I've seen that bit," Landsman says.

"That's how it is in a successful marriage," says the rabbi's wife. "I have spent the last fifty years running in the middle of the air. Not looking down. Outside of what God requires, I never talk to my husband. Or vice versa."

Instead of marriage, however, I consider cartoon physics to be a style of argument. Several years ago I had a protracted email discussion with a creationist, a very intelligent girl whom I thought I could convince of the error of her position by rebutting whatever criticisms of the theory of evolution she had.

So naive was I, so, so, naive.

What ended up happening is she would take a position--several, usually; these were very long emails--and I would go through and point out the flaws in her reasoning. She would respond by moving on to a new set of objections without ever really acknowledging that the old ones had been disproved (or, to be generous, challenged). Thus, cartoon physics debating: if you've gone over a rhetorical cliff, as long as you don't look down and realize you've done so, you can continue indefinitely.

It's nice to know the escapades of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner are so thematically universal.

1 comment:

  1. I know intimately of what you speak, from both sides of the argument actually (and that's a trippy place to be). I don't debate much with religious folks anymore - unless they actually ask for my opinion on something, or say something offensive, I just leave it alone. It's generally not worth the time and effort I would invest in it, especially compared to what they're putting in and taking out.