Chuck Klosterman is the author of numerous books and essays on pop culture. In his bestselling Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; A Low Culture Manifesto, he had an interlude piece titled “23 Questions I Ask Everybody I Meet In Order To Decide If I Can Really Love Them”. I’ll be answering those questions in a series of posts. Feel free to chip in your thoughts or answers.
1. Let us assume you met a rudimentary magician. Let us assume he can do five simple tricks–he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, he can make a coin disappear, he can turn the ace of spades into the Joker card, and two others in a similar vein. These are his only tricks and he can’t learn any more; he can only do these five. HOWEVER, it turns out he’s doing these five tricks with real magic. It’s not an illusion; he can actually conjure the bunny out of the ether and he can move the coin through space. He’s legitimately magical, but extremely limited in scope and influence.
Would this person be more impressive than Albert Einstein?
Less. Most readers take this as a dividing question between faith and rationality, and that may be how it was intended. But that’s the most pedantic and shallow way to approach it, which makes me doubt that Klosterman would be so obvious. He is, if nothing else, interesting, and the easy answer is not for him. This man wrote an entire essay about how Luke Skywalker’s defeat in Empire set the tone for the slacker generation of the ’90’s. He is not one to give any topic such a cursory examination.
So I don’t say ‘less’ out of any bias toward rationality, or humanism, or empiricism. I say ‘less’ out of my conviction that subjectivity should pervade the way we judge the world, and the actions we take. Or, as I’ve said repeatedly, results matter. The magician would be more unique, but if that’s all he can do, and we can’t either study or replicate the method, than he’s a mere curiosity. Einstein is more impressive.
2. Let us assume a fully grown, completely healthy Clydesdale horse has his hooves shackled to the ground while his head is held in place with thick rope. He is conscious and standing upright, but completely immobile. And let us assume that–for some reason–every political prisoner on earth (as cited by Amnesty International) will be released from captivity if you can kick this horse to death in less than twenty minutes. You are allowed to wear steel-toed boots.
Would you attempt to do this?
My first impulse is to wonder, is there any penalty for trying and failing? Who’s horse is this? Should I trust Amnesty International? Is this even possible? Is this my beautiful house? Is this my beautiful wife?
And after some sober reflection, that in the absence of any other mitigating information, yes, I would try. Results matter, and one dead horse (and whatever damage I do to my body, mind, or soul in the attempt), is a cheap price for the freedom and lives of so many. Besides, I’m in decent shape, reasonably strong; I can get this done inside twenty minutes. Go for the head. The faster, the better. Sorry horse. Apologies.
3. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler’s skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can’t give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler’s skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical.
Which option do you select?
The turtle. This question sets up competing incentives and motivations. The purely moral incentive is how the act would make you feel. Nurturing a turtle, versus a judgment-free display featuring Hitler is not a tough call. The contra-centive is money. Risk paying up too $24,000 and feel virtuous, or make $2,880 and feel like shit? Maybe mountains of law-school debt have completely warped my sense of money (and shame), but 24K to feel like a good person seems very, very cheap. Practicing attorneys might feel differently.
If you liked this post, Chuck also has a line of game cards; HYPERtheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations. See you next time.