#2. Everyone Has to Be Right All the Time
When you believe your opponents are truly evil, you can't concede anything to them. And that's dangerous. When your mission becomes to hold the sophistry high ground rather than to accomplish this America business, you get sidetracked. You get unrealistic.
Right now in this country, an actress in LA and a mom from Texas might not agree on much, but they may agree vaccines are bad for you, albeit for very different reasons, and neither of those beliefs is correct. People are putting what they want to believe above demonstrable data that save children from diseases.
As someone who has never endured rubella, let me assure you from fact: Vaccines are so great that I don't even know what rubella is. And if they did make a percentage of the population autistic or promiscuous, both of those would be better than a world steeped in pandemic. It's unclear if Abe Lincoln ever got a smallpox vaccine, so we'll never know if it was modern medicine or just his shimmering greatness that enabled him to deliver the Gettysburg Address with the deadliest virus in human history exploding inside him.
CDC via Wikipedia
And left more pox scars, too!
But good luck convincing anti-vaxers of any of that, since you'll just berate them and they'll dig their heels in deeper. Because that's how we argue now. Here is something that has never happened: someone's religious or socio-political beliefs were changed by a hostile Internet remark. And yet an article about a kitten befriending an ostrich chick only needs three comments to combust into a flame war between a Flat Earther and an Amputee Supremacist about whether Jesus existed and was left-handed. (Answer: yes to one of those, no to the other, but you'll never figure out which is which.)
It's so universal that the average time it takes the word "faggot" to appear under a YouTube clip of a baby hippo eating ice cream is best measured in Planck units. And it has achieved nothing, anywhere, forever, except to stroke people's self-righteousness and wound the feelings of several gay baby hippos.
Art Wolfe/Photodisc/Getty Images
He then grew up to be Africa's deadliest killer.
Here's an example. Most accounts of the Gettysburg Address quote Lincoln as saying "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom," but his handwritten notes don't include the phrase. Speeches seldom resemble verbatim notes, so this should be nothing more than a scholarly question. But "under God" is one of the most loaded phrases in American history, along with its sister, "In God we trust."
The latter first appeared on American money in 1864, after an 1861 letter from a reverend petitioned the Secretary of the Treasury to "Yo, straight up change that shit to shout out to my homie YHWH." Or words to that effect.
Similarly, as we've mentioned here before, "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (itself a fairly new way of proving you're among America's class-A patriots) to get the big guy on our side and let him know the commies were atheists -- dirty, stinking atheists, with big, hairy toes that smell like bald eagle tears. Or ... sorry, are those orcs? Are atheists and orcs the same thing?
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
And are they coming to Thanksgiving?
Anyway, no surprise here: Many people want the official version of the speech to support their worldview. There's a flood of speculation about the addition's significance, when the only thing we'll ever get close to proving is whether he said it. He almost certainly did, but from a religious standpoint, who cares? A president's faith has as much bearing on God's existence as his bowling score.
And heaven help you if you don't pick a side in all these pointless arguments -- then both groups in this binary country hate you worse than they hate each other for being independent, agnostic, trans, bi, zero ... or otherwise occupying the space between their dualism. Because at least in "Us vs. Them" people can comprehend "Them." Bringing in Option C creates mental anxiety, and they blame you for that.
In a larger sense, we cannot placate the pulsing id of our modern society. The world will little note, nor long remember, the debates that distract us from what really matters, but it will remember that we wasted our lives calling strangers on the Internet retarded for liking the wrong things.
Even if you can prove you're right, you'll never convince anyone by being obnoxious. That's why, whenever I'm walking around a major city and a street preacher starts shouting on a megaphone or portable speaker, I immediately convert to whatever faith their religion hates most.
And that's how I spent six months as a mongoose handler.
The only way you're going to sway anybody's opinion is by being a dude or damsel they want to have a beer with. I'll show you a great example. Pretend you're my dad for a second and I have to explain to you what the aggregator website Reddit is.
Pop, Reddit is like pornography: It turns a five-minute distraction into two lost hours, and afterward, you're less able to relate to people in the real world. But what the two really have in common is an endless number of subgenres. That's why r/DebateanAtheist exists -- so that folks can get off on their preferred method of taking meaningless pokes at another person (I'm never letting go of this porn metaphor).
But This Is the Hard Part:
But since this subreddit is "DEBATE an atheist" and not "argue with an atheist," one fellow actually practices the rules of debate, which are constructed to reach a conclusion. He engages a Young Earth Creationist as a person. What happens next is that two people who disagree learn from each other, and it's like YEAH! Humanity! Beer and barbecue for everyone!
This would happen a lot more often if we spent less time whining to score invisible points for being correct and more time rolling up our sleeves to get stuff done (our sleeves are very long and take several dozen rolls). Unfortunately ...
#1. We Don't Have a Sense of Humor About Ourselves
It's no wonder we have no idea how to debate anymore in this country. We just have shouting matches, even though we have pretty much the same goals -- or at least, have yet to tackle any of the goals we can agree on.
"Everybody's here to shave this angry bear, right?"
It's become most important to stand on principle, even when that principle gets in the way of its own ends. This would be acceptable if we lived in a time of honor, when men dueled each other over slanderous words -- not least of all because then I could finally indulge my twin fetishes of insulting people and getting slapped with fox fur gloves.
But we don't live in that magical, slap-happy era. We live in an age when half the country has a congressional timeline documenting our fickle nature (and the other half is sexting on Snapchat). Nobody adheres to their ideals 100 percent of the time. I'm not even following this article's call for empathy while writing this article, so why pretend to have principles? All you can do is try to do much good and little harm.
No single person is equipped to resolve the issues we face together -- we hear all day from the news networks how big our problems are and how they're in the hands of a government that, frankly, most of us don't trust with scissors, let alone legislative power. People want an explanation they can understand, so it must be somebody's fault.
Nick White/Photodisc/Getty Images
"I'll just call the NRA a bunch of psychopaths aaannnnd we can all put this mass shooting behind us."
It's easier to think things are bad because a group of Others is ruining the world than to accept that some problems are beyond our control -- or they're fixable, but it takes work. Why do that when you can blame the godless liberals or the corporate tool conservatives?
I'm not saying there aren't people you can fault for poisoning the well of progress -- obviously, there are plenty of psychos, malevolents, and trolls out there. But you know what? They're not the bulk of us.
We might believe different things, but our idea of the good life in America is pretty similar (I assume you also desire nothing more than a good cigar while luxuriating in a bath of ice-cold pudding). The fact is, the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans have a plan to kill you and Democrats have a plan to let you die.
Hah! No, the difference is that we make fun of both and the Republicans cry about it. It's not that the Democrats can take a joke any better; they're just committed to their party platform of not standing up for themselves. They drafted the perfect comeback, but it got lost in the mail. Or they didn't have enough votes to ratify it. Or they sent an email, but the return address was @healthcare.gov.
John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Pictured: a Democrat building a website.
There are no perfect, universal ideologies, and anyone who buys into one, no matter how noble, ends up pretty creepy about it. As soon as you fervently believe something, you get defensive about it.
Put people's welfare first, stick with or improve what works, and stop letting your moral pride tell you that things have to be a certain way. Life's hard enough; we don't need to make it tougher on ourselves.
For example: The models who use my hot tub have absolutely clogged it with hair of every color and ethnicity.
If you can't be kind, get naked. That usually gets the party going.
But This Is the Hard Part:
Nobody wants to admit that sometimes the left hand's gotta paint a canvas and the right hand has to swing a sword, but most of the time, you need both hands just to do the daily chores. And we have a lot of chores to do so that this nation shall have a new birth of awesomeness.
Sure, complaining feels good, but not as good as solving a problem. And if you can't solve it, try laughing at it. Don't spoil your own day because of all the imaginary goblins out there "ruining" this country. This is still a pretty great place. Unless you live in Detroit, in which case, I cannot help you. Run! Run for your life!
Brendan is no Abe Lincoln, but he was honest enough to document The Five Weird Search Terms You Used for Some Reason. Thankfully none of them was as disturbing as The Spookiest Cat Facts for National Cat Day.
Related reading: Brendan uncovered A Shadow History of American Football and made the case for unity in 5 Reasons Cinco de Mayo Is the Most American Holiday.