Michael Kinnucan

Two Lost Arguments



Sides: Me, age ~10; Andrew, age ~10

Circumstances: Andrew and I were attending a sort of lo-fi summer day camp together, which mostly involved spending unstructured hours every afternoon at the town pool. At some point one of us found a (plastic) ring at the bottom of the pool, and we developed an elaborate fantasy around this ring, in retrospect a sort of Captain Planet fanfic, in which this ring and four others like it could save the world from the forces of evil, and only we could find them. We pursued and developed this game for weeks on end, adding characters and elements, incorporating other children and other jewelry as we went. We would argue about how to interpret various events in this world, but we never discussed it as a fiction. Then one afternoon the bell rang to indicate that the pool was closing, and Andrew reacted with horror--the forces of evil would win, etc.--and I said that they wouldn't: they weren't real, after all. We had just made the whole thing up, about the ring.

Positions: Andrew argued that I had "ruined" the game by admitting its unreality, that now we couldn't play it any more. I argued that I had not ruined the game, we could still play it: after all, he must have known that it wasn't real since he instantly accepted this when I said it, so I wasn't changing anything by saying it aloud. But I wasn't sure about that: when I had said it was all made up I had surprised myself as well as him.

Resolution: We stopped playing the game and things got chilly between us. Soon summer ended, and the line between fiction and reality began to harden for both of us; it was only those hot empty summer afternoons that had allowed it to blur so much at such a late age. Soon enough the border hardened beyond recovery and I was no longer able not to know whether or not I was only pretending. Years later we wound up in the same high school but in different crowds, and regarded each other with the wariness of two teenagers who know that each of them knows the shameful fact that the other was at one time a child. Later yet, I realized that Andrew had been correct: I had ruined the game by saying it. The difference between a pretense implied and a pretense announced (between living a fiction and being made responsible for it, acknowledged as its author) is all the difference in the world.


Sides: Me, age ~14; my father, age ~55

Circumstances: Adolescence.

Positions: My father argued that children (me) owe their parents respect and at least a degree of obedience, since parents (him) have done a great deal for their children, as for instancing feeding and clothing them and spending enormous quantities of time and money on them in all sorts of ways. I argued that children (me) had not asked to be born, that on the contrary parents (him) had made the decision quite independently, perhaps because they thought it would be more fun than it was turning out to be at the moment, or perhaps as a vanity project to ensure that their names and bullshit value systems would indefinitely survive them, and that since no legitimate debt or obligation, moral or financial, could be incurred involuntarily, children were not indebted in any way to their parents. I believe I added that if, in light of my delinquencies, he regretted bringing me into the world, he had only himself to blame.

Resolution: While this argument left in me a lasting horror of creditors, I have ultimately been forced to acknowledge that it is indeed possible to contract a debt involuntarily--that in fact all serious debts are beyond knowledge and so beyond consent. I continue to think that it was underhanded and manipulative of my father to financialize this obligation, I wonder in retrospect whether he was protecting me from something. How sad it is to be a parent, how much more than money he spent on me and how unable I will be to repay him.