5 Debates That Will Outlast Human Society

Most people think that, ideally, an argument is like a condom: You use it once and, if you're smart and know what you're doing, throw it away and forget about it when you're done, with both participants satisfied with the conclusion. But that's not true. In reality, arguments are like a vibrator: You can use them over and over and over again, getting better each time, falling more and more in love with how it makes you feel until oh shit you just died of old age and never stopped humping that mold of Iron Man's fist.

The point is, the following arguments are never going away, ever. Thanks for reading my introduction.

#5. "Has Comedy Gone Too Far?"

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One of the more popular "hot takes" these days is over how offensive any given comedian might be. It happened after Louis C.K. told a bunch of pedophile jokes during an SNL monologue, it happened after Trevor Noah got named as the next host of The Daily Show, and it even happens all the way over in merry old England, where Nigel Farage had to swoop in and defend Paul Eastwood after the latter made some jokes at a U.K. Independence Party conference, and you're fucking with me, right, England? You really have people named "Nigel Farage"?

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Tell me he looks like this.

The core idea, of course, is that we need to keep an eye on the jokes people are telling, and if a comedian goes too far, well then we'll ... um ... shoot them? Ban them from comedy? Jeez, easily offended people, what is it you want? Why can't you just grow a thicker skin so we can stop having these arguments?

Why We'll Be Having This Argument Forever

Because if that happened, then comedians would just find a different thing to say, a more sensitive subject to mock, and the whole system would start all over again. Do you think it's a coincidence that the most famous and popular comedian in the world just told a bunch of jokes about pedophilia? Or that virtually every famous comedian in history -- George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Sarah Silverman -- has at some point been criticized for being too offensive?

It turns out that a big part of comedy is looking at things from a fresh perspective, and if that perspective is at all interesting, then, almost by definition, it's going to frustrate or infuriate some people. Pushing the line is, in fact, their job.

But then there's the flip side, which is a bit different and also worth mentioning ...

#4. "Are People Too Sensitive?"

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If half the Internet is people trying to explain how offended they were by a thing, the other half is people trying to get those people to shut up because they're afraid of censorship. You can see this stuff happening in video games, movies, music -- pretty much all art, but I'm going to stick to comedy, since it's already been brought up, and talk for a bit about Jerry Seinfeld. He recently complained in an interview that when it comes to crossing the line, they "keep moving the lines in for no reason." He has a joke about how people act like they're so important when they're on cellphones, except:

"You don't seem very important the way you scroll through them like a gay French king."

... and he's frustrated that people got offended by that, since obviously such sensitivity makes comedy impossible.

Why We'll Be Having This Argument Forever

First off, I envy Seinfeld for having the confidence to say, when one joke of his doesn't land, it means there's something fundamentally wrong with comedy. A more insecure person may have wondered if "like a gay French king" is less of a punchline and more like the mish-mash of nonsense imagery your senile uncle may scream at a confusing political figure. He may have wondered if a 61 year-old man bitching at college kids about how they use their newfangled smarty-phones was less than cutting-edge. If I, for example, were in his position, I would've wondered if a multi-billionaire with an airplane hangar full of Porches may be sorta out of touch, but that wavering confidence is why I'm not comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld.

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Also, I'm a talentless piece of shit, but it's mainly the confidence thing.

It may seem like I picked a stupid example, but the issue is almost always exactly the same: "Why are you offended now? This was fine before! Stop changing the rules!" The justification is that the rules change for a good reason. More people are getting offended for more reasons because society is getting better at listening to people. If you notice a change, it's not because people are getting more sensitive; it's because they're getting less afraid to say so when they are.

Imagine you have a roommate who shits on your coffee table every day. He does this for years, and you just put up with it, because he's a muscle-headed fuck-monster. Fists like canned hams. Arms like nuclear submarines. Then, one day, you get a promotion and, feeling great about yourself, walk in and say, "David? You need to stop shitting on the coffee table."

"Why? I like shitting on the coffee table."

"Because it's disgusting, David. You have to stop doing it."

"You never had a problem before!"

And so on. The point is, don't be mean to people for standing up for themselves. It's hard enough as it is without you acting like a turd over it.

#3. "Are Our Traditions Dying?"

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Hey, did you hear about the couple in Australia that are threatening to get a divorce if their country legalizes same-sex marriage? Their argument is a pretty old one: Their marriage won't be the same if gay people can do it, so they may as well chuck it out. They're defending a tradition.

The gay marriage thing is widely seen as pretty crazy, but what's weird to me is how it uses the same logic as so many other traditions that aren't just a weird excuse for hate, like changing Christmas decorations and techniques for making beer and sewing clothes. The justification, in the words of one practitioner of a dying craft, is that he "recognized the skill was becoming extinct and so was keen to pass it on."

RossHelen/iStock/Getty Images
"Global warming has extinguished all winter, but still we must preserve the tradition of snowboarding."

There's a real fear that old skills, traditions, and knowledge will be lost forever. And fighting against that fear is a bunch of protesters, scientists, or even the economy insisting that nobody cares.

Why We'll Be Having This Argument Forever

Because the urge to keep traditions is central to our species' survival. "Tradition" is a tough concept to research, so scientists aren't 100 percent sure on all the details, but they are pretty sure that it's closely tied to the concept of fear. People are afraid of changing traditions because they're worried about being punished. Which, if you'll excuse me, makes the most goddamn sense out of anything I've ever heard: I'd imagine most traditions started as pragmatic survival strategies (like ritualistically cooking a meal) and were given that extra bit of "magical" importance to make sure that people kept following them.

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J.F. Sargent

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