Donald Sutherland

“The past ten years have shown the hottest days in history,” someone yelled, and I said that even if that was true it’s totally irrelevant when we’re talking about a planet that is billions of years old. I said the hottest day on record was a hundred years ago and they used to grow grapes in Scotland. It annoyed me that everyone was getting their facts from a movie. Why are they ready to take on the world after watching TV for an hour and a half? A woman yelled, “Well, I’d take Al Gore over Ann Coulter any day,” and everyone laughed enthusiastically in agreement.

“Why?” I asked. “Because he flies all over the country in his private jet using more fuel than any of us will in our entire lives?” Allegations were coming at me like villagers attacking Frankenstein. “It’s about the ideas, not the person,” someone barked. I couldn’t even see who was saying what. I noticed that a young black kid seemed to be the only one interested in hearing both sides. “Not one person in this room has read one sentence by Ann Coulter,” I chastised them. “Her books are clear and calm and crammed with footnotes.” This made everyone guffaw and I have no idea why. What’s so funny about footnotes?

“Fine!” I yelled during a break in the shouting. “Explain this to me, then: Why is it life expectancy—not just here but everywhere on Earth—has been on a steady climb since we began recording it?”

“Not anymore,” Tony hollered back. “America’s just started to go down.” The beauty of arguing in 2011 is that Google is never far away. “All right,” I said, “let’s just choose that one random statement to do a fact check.” I went over to the computer and began sifting through the piles of confusing results you get when looking up average human lifespan, but the pages were taking forever to load. This left me vulnerable because my back was to the mob and they pounced.

“You KNOW things are getting worse,” Tony’s wife yelled. “Everything is getting more polluted and we’re running out of fuel. We can’t sustain this culture!”

“We’ve always been screaming that,” I replied without screaming. “Nietzsche said we were doomed. Then it was nuclear war with the Russians. They said we were out of oil in the 1970s. This ‘sky is falling’ mentality is a huge part of what defines Western culture.”

Every time I made a good point like that, the argument completely changed course. This is not how a good discussion operates; it’s more like a strategic battle. “You have kids,” Tony yelled in my face. “You want them to go to war fighting for oil? You want them to die because we don’t have energy solutions here?” This is one of the few times I got genuinely angry and told him never to mention my fucking kids in an argument again. Liberals always have to make it personal.

Tony sat down and his wife took over to calm things down. “Look,” she said in her best maternal voice, “he’s not trying to manipulate you using your kids.” I told her that’s exactly what he’s trying to do and she said, “He’s just saying we need to find another solution.” I told the room we were trying to do that with natural gas, but that they shut it down because there was an accident: “We can’t have coal or oil and you won’t allow natural gas, so what does that leave?”

Tony stood back up and explained the merits of wind and solar power. Germany was doing well with wind, and his house was now completely solar. I commended both him and Germany but said these tiny solutions are decades from doing anything substantial and it would involve a massive infrastructure. “Who’s going to build it?” I asked.

“The government,” Tony responded. “We need to force the government to stop doing whatever the oil companies tell them to do and we need them to start creating green jobs.” I was flabbergasted. “The fact that you think the government can do ANYTHING right—let alone create an entire workforce out of thin air—baffles me,” I said. Things were finally dying down because we were getting to some inexorable differences. “What happened to you?” the host asked. “We used to be punks. We used to hate corporations.”

“I still do!” I said incredulously. “But I hate the government more. At least big business provides a service for the money they take from me and at least they don’t tell us how to live our lives.” Everyone in the room was exhausted and there was no going back to a casual party, so they all started to gather their stuff to leave. “If you don’t know that big business is the lesser of the two evils,” I told them all, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

As people headed for the door, the black kid who had remained quiet finally said, “So what was the result with the lifespan?” People rolled their eyes and waited by the front door as Tony joined me by the computer. The results were in. Apparently Americans’ lifespan is still on the same upward trajectory it’s always been; it’s just that “some” experts “predict” that it “could” decline. I announced that to the people by the front door and then added, “You people don’t just think it could decline. You want it to decline. You look forward to your own extinction. And that is the fundamental difference between you and me.” They shook their heads in disgust and the whole party walked out, including the enlightened black kid. As the host shut the door behind them, he looked at me, shook his head, and said, “Thanks a lot.”

I sort of apologized with a shrug and went up to my room, where I slept like a baby.



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