short story. A Debate Started With Beers, Lawn Chairs, and a Cause

It was a sign from God. Ted turned on the television and he was pleased to have tuned-in, just in time, to a new documentary: “Life Motionless”. It was just starting. Just his luck, he thought . One minute later and he would have missed this beginning. If he hadn’t forgot the Mango Wheat Blue Moon’s at North Shore Farms, he’d be watching the Simpsons again.

It showed two regular dudes that were supposedly hired by some activist group, or maybe it was some non-profit historical organization. These two were paid, or maybe they chose the pro-bono route because they believed in the cause, to talk. The topic of their discussion wasn’t supposed to be the important part, but it became the main act. The charity could not find anyone famous to support the charity’s sit-in, so they figured it was more important to just have anyone; well, anyone who believed in the cause that is. The charity, called “History Tomorrow”, had its own camera crew to document their journey, but after a while, they didn’t need it. There was no point. Every TV channel had a crew there, and what was once a charitable thing for the historic site, was now also a form of entertainment that intrigued even the least intellectual ones.

The government was ready to bulldoze this site. Absolutely obliterate it. The charity had low expectations: film for a couple of days to prove that there were actual people out there who believed in the cause and go home. The two had their lawn chairs out, each with a six pack of beers, discussing whatever they could think of. A casual mention of their surroundings turned in to a discussion, then a debate. One that neither was able to drop.

They were seated facing a flag. One started the conversation by a simple question. News channels had headlines everywhere mentioning this paradox, but the simplest questions are often the most complex.

They eyed the Iowa state flag blowing in the wind, which whipped quicker than the two expected in this mid-October weather. They nearly began to regret signing up for this. She turns to the other and asks, “Which is moving: the flag or just the wind?”. He confidently responds by explaining that the wind is obviously making the flag move. It’s momentum is coming into contact with the flag, which makes the flag to appear waving back and forth. Taken by surprise at how confident he was in his answer, she continued the dialogue by explaining that all she sees is the flag. The wind may be moving, but the flag certainly is too and she did not understand how someone could deny that.

This went on for days.

It sparked a whole debate. It wasn’t just a discussion that the charity was paying them to have, it was heated. There were few dips of silence. The audience quickly grew from nearby residents to journalists writing some articles to tv channels picking up what the two were saying. Within a few days, there was so much attention on this dialogue that there became a rigid schedule; almost as if this was a podcast. They would talk for a couple hours in the morning and take questions from viewers in the evening. Everyone almost forgot that this was a protest. This became entertainment for millions of Americans and some foreigners. It became an intellectual discussion that captivated the families at home, and it just-so-happened to also be occurring for a historic cause.

TV stations began to pay History Tomorrow to support their cause and keep the protest going because unprecedented number of viewers. All of a sudden, History Tomorrow, and these two people, were being paid to take questions from viewers about possible points-of-view that they didn’t previously consider. Were both entities moving? Should they be considered mutually-exclusive? It was a weird balancing act that only the TV stations had to pay attention to: involve citizens by broadcasting their questions to help determine a winner, but not totally end the debate just yet because of the profit they were making.

The government, on the other hand, did not have incentive dilemma. They were trying to bulldoze this historic site to make their mailing routes more efficient. The site was next to a river and government officials wanted to build a bridge over the water, which would mean that the site would need to be replaced by concrete. The two and now, hundreds of reporters were in their way and there wasn’t much the government could do about it. They were not sure what the future held for their ambitions, but they sure as hell weren’t going to bulldoze a site that had prolific media coverage. That’d be dumb.

The government workers began to see this as a game. They had a problem and they needed to solve it. They needed to get rid of the people on the site without bulldozing them. Their mission: peacefully end the debate by declaring a winner. The president was not about to get on C-SPAN and tell Americans to vote for one or the other. No. They were going to intervene, while making it look like they were participating in the admiration of this discussion.

White House correspondents understood the mission and executed. Their solution? They brought in Sakyoung Mipham. He’s a well-known figure in the Buddhist community, well, at least the Western Buddhist community. He’s a monk, born in India, and he’s appealing for westernizing Buddhism. It didn’t matter that 90% of Americans had not heard of him (that number is probably 99.7% for Iowa residents). Americans were fascinated by Sakyoung for one reason: he was from the Orient. They didn’t care which country or what religion he belong to; he was from the East and was thus, most likely enlightened. Most Americans saw a monk who hasn’t eaten in months, meditated more than he’s slept, ceased all sexual desires, nods more than he speaks, and has talked to God about as frequently as a sophomore in college talks to their mom. It didn’t matter if this was true because it was how Sakyoung was perceived, which was the more influential matter.

When the government publicly suggested this, television shows ate it up. Sakyoung was given makeup, instructed to wear his robe, and given a lawn chair (which was the funniest part). The rumor-on-the-street is that Sakyoung downed some beers off-camera before the interview, but refused to do it on air.

Sakyoung knew the topic of discussion. He was fully aware, as he was briefed days earlier. No one knew what he was going to say before he said it. After summarizing each of their own points, Sakyoung said, “I understand each of you, however, it is the mind that creates movement. The mind moves. The universe is stationary among action.” The two tried hard not to corrupt their serious faces. They were in awe with no clue of the meaning behind his words. The mediator did his best to encourage Sakyoung to elaborate, but he wouldn’t. The monk’s final words were, “That is all I have to contribute. When you hear the answer to your question, you both will immediately know it is time to stop this discussion.” He was thanked.

His last advice became a method for TV shower to lure viewers in and keep them coming back. Any episode could be the last. Find out if the debate will end today.

Suddenly, Buddhist, and even Hindu, philosophers were dancing with the stars. No, not actually, but they were the ones in the hot seats being invited to talk shows and interviews specifically concerning what Sakyoung meant.

A few days go by and the two discuss what they heard and they address questions from viewers concerning the validity of the monk’s answers. They respected his answer, but it certainly wasn’t to be considered a universal truth, by any means.

The government was frustrated that the monk didn’t foster the end of the debate. He really only sparked another fire. They needed a more western figure to shed light on this debate and be understood by average Joes. So, they found their next candidates: a priest, rabbi and an Imam. They thought about importing each of them separately for interviews, but they were in a rush to end this, and why not show a consolidated team of the three largest religions in the U.S. The government consulted with them beforehand on what they would say on air, so that they could put an end to this shindig and move forward with the mailing routes. Essentially, the three were advised to converged to a single philosophy of identifying the wind as the spirit of the divine. And that’s what they did. The wind was the force in motion and the flag happened to be merely one of the infinite objects in the universe that came into contact with the ubiquitous holy spirit.

If the reaction of all Americans could be averaged into one single response, it would be a head nod. Most approved of the answer, but it was predictable. The two said they were not satisfied with their most recent answer and they wanted others guests to continue the debate.

This was really the first time the government engaged with the media and the citizens. Of course they’ve interacted with both before, but it was the first time that they played the game with them. From others’ perspectives, it seemed like their guest suggestions their way of enjoying this with the rest of the country.

They have a philosophy debate, don’t they? Let’s fight fire with fire, government officials thought. The government next brought a philosopher named Michael Collwell, who received a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Oxford, where he is now a professor. Collwell systematically placed each of their arguments into categories, and discussed past philosophers that would agree with each of them. Just when you think this is a ground breaking debate, it’s just a bunch of things that philosophers have said before. As for Collwell’s own opinion, he believed it was the flag moving. He acknowledged the wind as a force with ability, but the flag was the only observable entity witnessed to be in motion and that was the main consideration that mattered to him.

The collective response from Americans and the two could be summed into unsatisfied disapproving. Most found this view to be just plain ignorant and elementary, especially from such an elite academic. How could you ignore the fact that the flag was moving for a reason: the wind. The government was tired of choosing candidates and was done. They turned to a laissez-faire type of discipline which was historically unheard of in the U.S.

With news that Washington would no longer set up famous guests with the show, CNN held a raffle a contest on their website. Anyone who filled out a questionnaire, with questions concerning their political views and contact information, could get a chance to sit-in on the discussion and give their side of the story. Suddenly, Americans were captivated further. “I could be in the debate where my voice mattered?”, they thought.This was a household discussion for the next days. Everybody started preparing what they would say in case the happened to be the one person out of a million. As it was revealed, a store clerk from Yonkers, New York was chosen. He looked after a store during the week and wore a hard hat on scaffolding projects on weekends.

He was contacted by CNN and he was elated. His flight, hotel, and food costs would all be covered. He would even receive extra pay for missing work. He couldn’t believe it. He had bought hundreds of lottery tickets and never won, but he won this? He felt like the last voter in a swing state. He had friends, family members, and even people he never knew calling him trying to find out what he would say or if they could get a shout-out. CNN called him frequently in days leading up to his chance in the spotlight, making sure he had his answer prepared. CNN wanted to make sure he wouldn’t wing-it and not have anything prepared, but he assured him he memorized what he had written down.

He dressed up for the special occasion, something he wasn’t completely comfortable doing. The first question he was asked was how he felt being on the show. He said he’s never seen so many cameras in his life. It was the kind of half-assed answer you give when you know that it’s not the real question he came for. He was there was the hard-hitting one and not some chit-chat.

The mediator reminded the viewers and guests that any show could be the last. All were sitting on the edge of their seats.

The CNN host prepared the primetime part of the show and asked the store clerk, “Is the flag moving or the wind? They don’t need to be mutually exclusive and it could be neither or both, as Sakyoung previously answered.”

“Who gives a shit”, says the store clerk.

The two laughed loud. It was really the first organic expression that had on the show in a while. They both expected a serious answer.

It was silent for a few seconds, so he elaborated.

“If I choose to buy a pack of cigarettes before work, does it matter why I did it? I’m not asking why my mind wanted the nicotine, I know why, but why I was on this path. Did God know I’d do it before I knew? Or did I genuinely change the course of my own actions with that decision to walk to the cashier? Does it matter? The fact is that it already happened. Is the flag moving only because of the wind, or was the flag going to move regardless? Is the flag an independent actor, or would it be motionless, helpless without the wind? Inaction in action. Is this worth talking about? No, it’s probably not.”

The mediator and two appeared as if they were not ready to comment, so he continued.

“The fact is that a flag blowing in the wind, any flag, is one of the most beautiful things on this planet. Who knows where it comes from. Maybe it came from the government, or Jesus or the Romans. It could be photoshopped; it could be Anheuser-Busch LLC. I’ll never know and it doesn’t bother me. Smoking a cigarette is one of the greatest things I’ve ever felt and do I know where my desire to do this comes from? Hell no. Would I like to know? Yes. Will I ever know? No. It’s easy to identify causality when you see everything as separate. All I can do is smoke a Camel, drink a Budweiser with a flag on the can, and remind myself that it’s beautiful. ”

That shut them up.

“Wow. I like that”, one said.

It was silent, so the store keeper folded his lawn chair and thanked them.

The two did the same and they put the beers back in the empty six pack. They hugged and laughed. They exchanged contact information because in this whole time, they hadn’t even swapped phone numbers.

They drove away from the set for the last time.


One comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.