The argument was the supreme form of discourse between Josh and John. They’d come to our gatherings prepared with topics, rebuttals, and reinforcing evidence. You had to do very little to get them going. Ask about the limits of copyright in the United States, and they’d roll on for hours; what made a substance waxy resulted in several trips to dictionaries, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and a biochemistry text. It was fun to get quizzical and ask seemingly innocent questions to get them wound up.
Their wives both certainly deserved diadems and sainthood because they related that at least twice a week, telephone calls lasted past midnight as they argued. But our monthly meetups were when we pulled out the saved ammunition of absurdities. The two seemed unaware that they were a primary form of entertainment. The potluck food was terrific, the company exquisite, but the ongoing kitchen debates were outrageous.
One night Ted decided to pull out an old chestnut and asked how many angels could dance on the top of a pin. To our surprise, neither fell for the bait. Instead, they dismissed the issue, saying there was no evidence anyone had debated this in the middle ages. Then Josh said, ” Yes, but there is the interesting commentary regarding the learned scholars debating this while the Turks breached the walls of Constantinople.” “Just folklore from the Crusaders!” argued John. ” I think it was a fabrication designed to discredit philosophy by materialists!” So back and forth it went until Ted piped up and asked, “All that is well and good, but how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
Slowly they turned, “who the hell cares.” stated Josh, with an agreeing harrumph from John. ” The historiography of the debate is what’s important.” After this, the entertainment value declined, and we all moved into the living room for coffee.
Not too long afterward, online encyclopedias became a thing, and John and Josh took to editing entries. You can find their work online almost any day. Just look in the sections of posts labeled debate, history, or edits, and you’ll find them arguing about how many jewels in the George the IV Diadem, The antiquity of the Procession of Saints, and the cost of watermelons in Philadelphia’s Italian Market on July 4th.
The old group scattered to the winds year ago; divorces, relocations, and changes in interests knocked us off one by one. Only those two continue in their senseless debate of ephemera. As Epictetus said, “First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak.”