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3 Day 2: Second Motions

Dueling CloudsChorus: As far as days go, this one is nothing special. The sun rose this morning, and will set this evening. A few flirtatious clouds will billow, streak, or otherwise seek to hide our Shining Star. They will never quite succeed.

Socrates X spends every free moment watching today’s atmospheric exhibition. He delights in discussing with passersby and fellow bench-sitters the name of this cloud, the meaning of that shape. Many share his interests; some come to appreciate; but, none are repelled or hostile. How glorious it is to have One who relates so well to so many! Who seeks to rise above the petty! Who eschews the judgmental ravings of the self-righteous yet false prophets!

As the noon-hour passes into the first hour of the afternoon, Socrates X wanders across a sea of cars; his destination is Bruno’s Pizza, wedged between clothing and shoes in a peninsular strip mall adjacent the Wal-Mart on this side of town. Inside, he greets Hatch with a wave to a distant cavity of the kitchen, orders a slice of pizza with pepperoni and pineapple, and sits at one of the tables near and facing the front door.

Hatch: [Sitting down across from Socrates X] I don’t think I can get you a discount yet, being so new and all.

Socrates X: No worries! I never ask for more than I can afford. It makes life so much simpler.

Hatch: Can’t argue with that. It’ll be about five minutes for your slice, and I was about to go out back for a smoke. Wanna join me?

Socrates X: [They rise together] Absolutely. [They walk toward the back of the restaurant] So, tell me, Hatch, how is your new job?

Hatch: Great! Everyone here works together, y’know? Like a family. Makes sense, since they are…. [Lighting a cigarette as he steps through the back door, and exhaling outside] But, still, it just seems like more than that. I can’t explain it.

Socrates X: I think I understand. How are you doing? Do you make the dough, and roll out the crust, tossing it like [gesturing] a professional?

Hatch: Oh, no! So far, I’ve mostly done dishes and floors. I won’t get to food ’til next week sometime. [In passable Italian accents] “You learn to clean first, than you learn to cook!” Rosa says.

Socrates X: Important steps! Rosa indeed sounds like a wise woman!

Hatch: Her experiences make her smarter about the job?

Socrates X: Exactly. She knows — from experience — that it is best to expose new employees to certain tasks first. It may be because these are vital to success later on, or it may be for far more pragmatic reasons. After all, what boss wants workers who won’t wash a few dishes, or mop a few floors?

Hatch: Or, clean a few bathrooms! That’s the nastiest!

Socrates X: [Both laughing] Yes, people are too often less concerned about a mess they do not have to clean themselves — even when it is their own. [Thumb and index finger on his chin] There is probably something to learn there, some hint of Human Nature. But, alas, we have not that much time. Perhaps another time. [TBD] So, how are you with dishes and floors?

Hatch: Coming along. Rosa’s kinda particular. [Inhales] I’m getting the hang of it though.

Socrates X: Good. I hope it works out. Remember: it is always better to ask about something you do not understand than to continue making the same or similar mistakes over and over.

Hatch: [Exhaling and nodding] Yeah, I learned that fairly quick. It just saves time, if nothing else!

Socrates X: [With a chuckle or two] Efficiency before ego. How anachronistic!

Hatch: Hey, SocX? Um, can I call you that?

Socrates X: [With a second of thought and a raised eyebrow] Sure. I like that.

Hatch: Cool! About terms, what we talked about the other day, [] it sounds like anything can be one, as long as it can be the subject of a sentence. So, if I could use an exclamation like “wow” or “cool” as a subject, it’s okay.

SocX: Yes, exactly.

Hatch: But, that doesn’t seem to help. I mean, anything can be a subject.

SocX: Yes, and anything that can serve as a subject can be useful in the relevant circumstance. Consider this argument:

The exclamation, “cool” is used to express agreement or satisfaction or similar reactions.
Jane exclaimed, “Cool!” after John asked her to marry him.
Therefore, Jane expressed agreement or satisfaction or some similar reaction to John’s question.

Even though the word “cool” is an exclamation, it still conveys information, not only in the context of their conversation, but also in the argument about it.

Hatch: I see!

SocX: Of course, I was explicit about the use of the word so that there would be no question. It is not always so obvious.

Hatch: I bet! [Smoking] Sometimes “cool” means a lot more!

SocX: Yes. That is why it is extremely important to understand our terms, and to what they refer, how they are used, and so on.

Hatch: That makes sense. By the way, that is the calmest argument I’ve ever heard!

SocX: [Chuckling] Yes, so far. Actually, do know why that joke is funny?

Hatch: [Drawing again on his half-finished cigarette] What? I…I guess it’s because arguments are usually more animated and violent.

SocX: Yes, it is more common to expect that an argument is the last step before a disagreement comes to blows. There’s yelling, pointing, throwing, anything but a calm discussion like we are having right now.

Hatch: Yeah, exactly. But, your argument is the opposite. How can the same word mean opposite things?

SocX: A great question! Truly! Prima facie (that means, “on the face of it,” or “on the surface”) no single word can mean opposite things. Would you agree?

Hatch: [Exhaling an inadvertent ring or two] Yeah. I mean, how can one thing be two things?

SocX: [Chuckling] You are full of good questions today. That one touches on the nature of language itself [TBD], and also a very important principle for us [TBD], both of which we will have to discuss at another time. As for our current situation, the term, “argument”: since it seems to mean two very different things, we are left with a stark choice. Either it is not the same term (which seems a silly suggestion) or the meanings are not really opposite. What do you think, Hatch?

Hatch: I don’t know. I…guess they are not opposite, really. [Noticing a sparkle in his friend’s eyes, and his eyebrows rise] Maybe….

SocX: Go on, Hatch. I think you are on to something.

Hatch: [Thoughtfully hesitant] Maybe what makes both an argument doesn’t change?

SocX: [Explosively elated] Yes! I think that is it! For, even when there is yelling and so on, there is something that is being argued — over or about or whatever.

Hatch: So everything else, like yelling, doesn’t really help, since without it, the argument remains.

SocX: Yes! Of course, sometimes — I should hope rarely — such superfluous histrionics might help to make a case, or at least help to impress importance or urgency. But in the end, whatever argument that can be made with agitations can be made without them, calmly and rationally.

Hatch: [As Rosa calls for him] If only we could settle arguments without all that! [Yelling back into Bruno’s] Thanks Rosa! [To Socrates X, much softer] Your slice is ready. It’ll be hot, so be careful. Whadja get?

SocX: Pepperoni & Pineapple.

Hatch: Good combo! Spicy and sweet. Hey SocX, weren’t we going to talk more about statements today?

SocX: [With a genuine smile] That is what I had planned, but it is no matter — we have covered some important ground. We have initiated an important discussion about the most fundamental tool that we have for making sense out of the world. I know it is a little difficult to understand at this early juncture, but everything is the conclusion of an argument (in addition to being itself). Every fact, every belief, even every falsehood. [Noticing a desperate smile from Hatch] It will become clear, if we continue, when we discuss arguments later today. You are still game?

Hatch: Oh, yes! [He takes a final drag on his cigarette, and crushes the butt into the sand in a cement ashtray outside the back door of Bruno’s] In fact, I was going to drink a beer or two after work. [With a hint of curious anticipation] Wanna join me?

SocX: I would! Where do you go?

Hatch: A hole-in-the-wall called the P‘s & Q‘s.

SocX: Wonderful name! A Philosopher’s favorite! When would you like to meet?

Hatch: I usually get there by four-thirty. Is that okay?

SocX: Perfectly. As for now, I am starving.

Hatch: [As both enter the back door, and Hatch closes it] And I have to get back to work.

Chorus: The two friends exchange goodbyes. Hatch heads for the kitchen and a pile of dirty dishes and pans. Socrates X sits and enjoys his lunch. He and Rosa engage in some conversation while he buys a bottle of Coca-Cola for the road, praising her pizza and restaurant; he leaves to wander across the sea of cars and trucks.

On the way to the small, dark pub, Socrates X watches a hawk gently floating overhead. In lazy, effortless circuits, the magnificent bird follows him, as if all of Nature is a guide. After a healthy walk, Socrates X settles down under a maple tree within sight of the P‘s & Q‘s, leaves rustling in the breeze. He pulls a book out of his black backpack, Lincoln by Gore Vidal, and reads for the rest of the afternoon. Occasionally, he drinks from the bottle, and finishes it shortly before four-fifteen; he finishes the final chapter a short four minutes later. After collecting his belongings and the empty bottle, Socrates X walks to the pub, depositing his garbage in the convenient receptacle on the way.

Heads cannot help but turn when anyone enters the P‘s & Q‘s: hinges creak, bells jingle, a curious sound effect wah-wahs, and, before the sun sets, light previously denied battles the darkness within, invariably losing. It is a Manichean melodrama, ultimately Sisyphean. And, Socrates X enjoys his role in this meager play. He waves a greeting toward the bar, toward the verbal greeting of Philonius Daunting, and finds the first stool before his eyes fully adjust to the dim lighting.

Philonius: What can I get for you, friend? It’s happy hour, so house drafts are a dollar, ale or lager.

SocX: Sounds perfect. [Sitting on a stool that splits the bar] An ale will do me well.

Philonius: An ale it is. [While filling a small plastic cup, headless] Haven’t seen you in here before; what’s your name?

SocX: Socrates X. Some call me SocX.

Philonius: Socrates X, huh? Very classical! A philosopher, perhaps? [Sliding the cup half across the bar, as SocX nods his agreement] I’m Philonius Daunting, owner. Call me Phil.

SocX: Phil it is, and a pleasure as well. Can I start a tab?

Phil: [Tapping his temple] Already did. [As the visual and audible cacophony of the door opening captures their attention, and moving to fill another draft] Must be Hatch — it’s about that time.

SocX: [Turning away from the door] The very person I am here to meet.

Phil: [Askance] Really? He’s a good guy, been an irregular here for a couple of years now, less consistently so the last few months — up to three or four nights a week. [To the young man as he ambles to the bar] Hi’ya, Hatch! Lager okay?

Hatch: It’s all good, Phil! I’m glad you came, SocX!

SocX: Good evening, Hatch. I think I have found a new watering hole. I am glad you helped me find it.

Phil: Great! [Smiling] More work!

SocX: [Returning the smile] It is a great burden, those patrons. [To Hatch] Would you like to move to a booth?

Hatch: Go ahead and find one. I have to run to the bathroom.

Chorus: While Hatch succumbs to a biological imperative, Socrates X heads deeper into the P‘s & Q‘s. In the next room, much larger than one might expect, two pool tables fit comfortably along the right wall. On the left, several booths line up, waiting for guests, and on the far wall video games and pinball tables flash and beep. Socrates X finds his way to the second booth from the back, and sits facing the entrance.

Hatch joins him after a few short moments, and lights a cigarette.

"He knew that his time was coming once he swallowed that penny..... But he then realized that his life is worth far more than one cent."

“He knew that his time was coming once he swallowed that penny….. But he then realized that his life is worth far more than one cent.”

He has stripped off work clothes to reveal a fitted T-shirt with an unusual drawing, a portrait of a rather concerned looking chap. Entitled, “Awareness of Life,” it bears this inscription: “He knew that his time was coming once he swallowed that penny….. But he then realized that his life is worth far more than one cent.”

He has a long-sleeve shirt of flannel over it. They sit and talk over a couple of beers each, covering quite a few topics, both historical and contemporary, and continue during a game of pool. From the opening break, Hatch could tell that his new friend has exceptional skills that only manifest after years of practice, and yet he never feels outclassed, and even wins about half the time.

As games of pool embody the laws of physics, time seems to unwind more quickly as evening turns to night, as frivolity and friendship fuse. Occasionally, Phil comes by to collect and replace bottles, cups, pitchers, and ashtrays. They all exchange stories and jokes, asides and boasts. Finally, the final game is played, and they return — after requisite bathroom breaks — to a booth, fresh beers, and new discussion.

SocX: [As a toast] To philosophy! To arguments!

Hatch: [After joining the toast] Can I ask you a stupid question?

SocX: Well, I believe there is no such thing (only stupid times to ask!), but you certainly may try to prove me wrong.

Hatch: [After lighting a cigarette] Why are arguments important?

SocX: Why, Hatch, that is not a stupid question at all. An argument is the only honorable and reasonable alternative to violence when it comes to convincing others. Consider this, Hatch: Let’s say that I want you to pay for the beer tonight. There are many ways I can try to achieve this goal. I could try to trick you, by using, say, a game of chance, or perhaps [waving toward the pool table] a trick shot that looks impossible. I could feign a lack of money, and claim I forgot it at home.

Hatch: You could get lucky or lie.

SocX: Exactly. But, I could try other ways to convince you. Now, if there is a legitimate case to be made, then there is an argument (at least one), that follows rules we will go over, and will make that case in such a way that anyone can follow it, and understand it, and ultimately agree. But, even if there is no way to support the case that you should buy the beer, some of the same tools that are useful in making good arguments can be used to make bad arguments seem good. These are generally called fallacies, and it is extremely important to learn to recognize them [ TBA].

Hatch: So, a good argument would convince anybody, but bad arguments disguised as good ones can fool us into accepting something we shouldn’t. That’s really bad if bad arguments look like good ones — you’d need to tell the difference.

SocX: Yes! And furthermore, there are many other ways to manipulate you into buying my beer. I could use emotional or psychological tricks, for example. I could tell you a sob story, elicit your pity. I could use reciprocation, where I give you something so that you feel obligated to give something back; I could forge some bond between us, one that — real or otherwise — inspires you to pay. And so on.

Hatch: You could try to make me feel like I owe you because I invited you.

SocX: Right, I could try that. But in the end, all of these so far have this in common: they attempt to convince you to choose to pay. They are of varying degrees more or less honest, of course, but they do not violate you (in the sense of forcing you to do, choose, or believe something against your will).

Hatch: They’re….None of them are violent!

SocX: Absolutely right! We can group them all together, with the lack of violence as the defining characteristic, which suggests immediately another group: if I cannot convince you, I would have to force you.

Hatch: So, there are two ways to try to get what you want: by using violence, or not.

SocX: Yes, and an argument is one of the second kind — not violent. Therefore, only an argument (in the sense that we will use the term) is a way to achieve a goal without resorting to dishonest or unethical tactics or lies on the one hand, or violence on the other.

Hatch: I see!

SocX: Good! I am glad you follow. There is a lot more to discuss about arguments, and we will get to it one day soon [ TBA], but first we really need to understand the tools we use to make arguments, namely statements. Unfortunately, I am no longer in the proper condition for that conversation.

Hatch: Neither am I, actually. Shall we start with statements next time? [Socrates X nods, and finishes the last of his beer.]

Phil: Hey, fellas, last call. Need another?

Chorus: Both decline. Each pays the other’s tab — the outcome of a trick-shot bet. They leave the P‘s & Q‘s, and walk two long blocks to Hatch’s home to exchange goodbyes. Socrates X continues on into the darkness of the early morning as Hatch greets three excited dogs. Socrates X smiles as he listens to their barks fade into the distance.

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Next: Day 3: Third Degree