The great Greek philosopher Plato turned the dialogue into a legitimate literary form. Most of his writings involved the character Socrates having conversations with other philosophers. What resulted was an amazing, and groundbreaking, way to present ideas, as a conversation between two people. Here are some dialogues I have written on issues that interest me, mostly based on real conversations I have had.
Fullerton College Faculty Debate: Three to One...Bring it On!
I’m sitting in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Office at Fullerton College, typing up an e-mail to the curator of the Fullerton Museum Center regarding their upcoming exhibit entitled Citrus: California’s Golden Dream. I’m writing to make sure the exhibit represents the treatment of the citrus workers. I attach some of my research regarding segregation, housing discrimination, and illegal deportations.
Anyway, as I’m typing this up, I overhear two full-time faculty members discussing the Occupy Wall Street movement. They seem to have adopted the Orange County Register view that the protestors are demanding some sort of re-distribution of wealth.
“They aren’t really saying anything constructive,” one faculty member says, and the other agrees.
“Excuse me,” I interject, “They are not really demanding wealth re-distribution. They are protesting the unfair relationship between big business and government, like how the tax code favors the rich, and how corporations have unfair influence over legislators. If anything, they are arguing for tax and campaign finance reform.”
“Well, that’s not what I’m hearing,” one faculty member says. I suspect he’s getting his information from the Register, or any mainstream media outlet, and not the actual protestors.
“That’s what it’s about,” I say, “Wealth re-distribution is an easily dismissable misnomer for tax and campaign finance reform.”
“I think we need smaller government,” he says out of basically nowhere, again echoing popular mainstream sentiment.
“But you are a government employee,” I say, “What do you propose we cut, government-wise?”
At this point, another full-time faculty member emerges from his book-filled office.
“I think public education should be privatized,” he says.
“But you work at a public communitiy college,” I offer.
“If we privatize education, it would be much more efficient. It should be run like a business,” he says, ignoring my point.
“But education is not really a business,” I say, “It’s a public service. Look what happens when we privatize health care. We now have a situation where 46 million Americans cannot afford it.”
“If students had to pay more, maybe they would think twice about ditching my class,” he says.
“But the Community College system exists so that lower-income students can afford college. Do you want to deny them that?”
“Well, no,” he says, “But public education is inefficient.”
“I’ll agree with you there,” I say, “The CSU Chancellor, Charles Reed, has gotten a 71% pay increase over the past twelve years, while adjunct faculty like me have only gotten a 7% increase, and student fees have gone up 283%. How does that make sense?”
“Well, you need those high salaries to attract the right people,” he says, “He has a hard job.”
“Is his job really that hard? Is it harder than yours or mine? I have no idea what he does, job-wise, except give himself raises and increase student costs.”
“He has a lot of meetings,” the faculty member says, and retreats to his office.
“Alrighty,” I say, and return to my e-mail, my heart racing a little. I just debated three full-time faculty members and, maybe, won.
Before leaving, I poke my head in these guys’ office, introduce myself, shake their hands, and say, “Nice talkin’ to you.”
I reflect on my little debate. It’s an argument I would imagine having with a Chamber of Commerce employee, not full-time instructors at a Community College. I do not understand. The only explanation I can imagine for their self-contradictory views is that they live in an insulated Orange County bubble, and maybe do not have facebook accounts.
Me: I’ll get you that rent check today. I have a new roommate moving in.
Landlord: I need to talk to you. I have some bad news. I need you to move out. I’ll give you 90 days.
Me: Really? Why?
Landlord: I keep getting complaints from the cigar shop owner.
Me: Really? What did he say?
Landlord: That you put holes in his roof.
Me: I didn’t put holes in his roof. I'm a 32-year old college teacher. Why would I put holes in somebody's roof? I’d like to see those alleged holes. I know for a fact that the cigar shop owner doesn’t like us. He has called us “hippies” in a derogatory way. I hope you’re not basing your decision on the cigar shop owner. He is prejudiced.
Landlord: No, I’m not.
Me: So why, then?
Landlord: Some of the hair salon’s roof tiles caved in.
Me: That could be because the building was built in the 1920s. There’s a 20-foot gap between my floor and her roof.
Landlord: I just don’t like all the rooftop activity. I can’t keep sending Kevin up there to clean it.
Me: You mean Kevin, the guy whose solution to roof leaks was a tarp? Look, I’ll admit we’re messy up there, no denying that, but I think you may be getting some bad information.
Landlord: To be honest, I just want someone up there who goes to his job and comes home and watches TV.
Me: So you don’t want someone like me who is involved in the community? How were your sales Friday night, during the Art Walk?
Landlord: Really good, actually.
Me: Well, there you go. I did that.
Landlord: I know you do a lot for the community, and I realize you guys are still growing up…
Me: Growing up? I’m 32. I’m an English teacher. Is your definition of a “grown up” someone who goes to work and watches television?
Landlord: I just need you to move out.
Me: Alright man. It’s your place. You’re a good guy. It’s okay.
Afterward, I went upstairs and talked to my “hippie” roommate for an hour about experimental music. Then I had an advisory conference with a new teacher. Then I taught three college courses. I’m just a kid, I guess. Someday, I’ll “grow up” and realize that the point of life is making lots of money and watching television. Someday, I’ll “grow up” and stop all this childish community involvement, academic work, and fostering an art community where there was none before. I’m just a naïve kid, I guess.
These hippies are movin' away. Probably a couple blocks away. Anyone need a roommate?
A Conversation With Ernie
Ernie is a homeless guy who I see around downtown Fullerton a lot. I'm pretty sure he's schizophrenic, but he is also one of the warmest and most interesting people I know. I always enjoy my little interactions with Ernie.
Me: What's up, Ernie?
Ernie: [Fiddling with the tuner on his cassette boom box. He stops on a Christian music station.] Hey, my friend. Check out these coins. [Shows me a collection of wheat pennies.]
Me: Cool. I inherited a bunch of those from my grandma. Does your boom box play cassettes?
Ernie: Yeah. All my cassettes got stolen. I had John Lennon, Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival...[Mumbles something about avocado sandwiches and laughs to himself.]
Me: I have some old cassettes I can give you. I'll bring them tomorrow.
Ernie: That would be great. I'll give you something for them. How about a tie with peace signs on it? I know where I can get one.
Me: I would love a tie with peace signs on it.
Ernie: Alright, merry Christmas. [Fiddles with the tuner on his boom box. Stops on a classic rock station].
"As a sociologist, how do you keep from getting super bummed?"
Yesterday, I had a meeting with a woman who just got her Master's degree in sociology, and is about to start teaching community college. She wanted my advice on teaching. I told her I am still figuring things out, but I did have some advice. After talking about teaching, we started talking about sociology...
Me: What kind of things do you study, as a sociologist?
Sociologist: Social problems, power relationships, racism, discrimination, human trafficking. How social institutions affect peoples' lives. How they work. For my thesis, I went to South Africa and interviewed people who lived through Apartheid.
Me: That's amazing. I guess I've been doing a bit of sociology lately. I'm reading these interviews with people who lived in Fullerton during the days of the Ku Klux Klan, housing discrimination, overt racism.
Me: One problem I've encountered with studying this stuff is that it really bums me out. As a sociologist, how do you keep from getting super bummed?
Sociologist: That's a good question. In college, I would get really depressed. But what I do now is try to apply my knowledge to how I live my life, to share it with others. I just love learning. I try to be an activist too, working with non-profits and community groups.
Me: Yeah. What gives me hope, I guess, is that with understanding and positive action, change can come.
Sociologist: And we can make change in little ways, just in our local communities.
Me: I have tried to do that. Act locally. I can't fix the world, but I can help make my community a little better.
Sociologist: Exactly, that's the counter-measure to the depression.
A Dialogue Between Me and an El Pollo Loco Drive-Thru Attendant
Me: "I would like a two piece breast and wing combo."
Drive-Thru guy: "Would you like that medium or large?"
Me: "I'm noticing that the posted price for my meal is for a small. Why did you only offer me medium or large?"
Drive-Thru guy: "We are supposed to up-sell."
Me: "I would like a small."
A Dialogue Between and Agnostic Christian and an Agnostic Jew in a Bar on Easter Sunday
"Happy Easter, I say.
"I'm Jewish," Reuben says, "We don't celebrate Easter."
"Happy Passover," I say.
"I heard a joke the other day. You know how Jews don't eat bread that rises? Well, we don't like anything that rises."
"Haha. Like Jesus."
"Yeah, it's a resurrection joke."
"But Jesus was a Jew."
"You know," I say, "I'm something between an agnostic and a Christian."
"I'm something between an agnostic and a Jew," he says.
"The thing that really bothers me about Christianity is that it is such a colonizing religion. The conquistadors, the crusades, the missions, the inquisition. All that oppression and injustice, done by Christians. It's embarrassing," I say.
Reuben sips his drink and says, "Yeah, us Jews are not proselytizers. We have just kept to ourselves and gotten fucked in the ass for a few thousand years."
I sip my drink and say, "Yep."
"Someone who tells you to believe something or die...I can't understand that," he says.
"Nor can I, my friend," I say as I hold my fingers to his head like a gun, "Now say the Lord's Prayer! SAY IT, motherfucker!"
"You're gonna have to kill me," he says.
"Alright, have fun in HELL with the other non-believers. BANG!" I say, pulling the pretend trigger.
"Hell...now that's a concept I can't get behind," Reuben says, as Troy puts on a new record, "According to Christians, all someone has to do to get into heaven is to accept Jesus into their heart as their personal Lord and savior. So, someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, who fucking ATE people, could theoretically go to heaven if, on his deathbed, he accepted Jesus into his heart. But someone like Gandhi, who actually did a lot of good in the world, goes to hell because he believes different things. I dunno...that whole schema sort of undermines the idea of personal responsibility."
"I know. I sometimes think the Christian concept of hell is morally absurd," I say.
"It is. It's fucking absurd," he says.
"I went to a Christian university for my first two years of college," I say, "By my second year, I was having this full-blown crisis of faith, where I was questioning everything. I remember talking to one of my professors in his office, telling him about my doubts. I told him I was having trouble believing in hell. And do you know what he said?"
"He said, 'I stopped believing in hell ten years ago.' A professor at a Christian university! I'll never forget that."
"That's awesome. So, if hell is out, what about heaven? Because it seems like a lot of believers think, 'Okay, I've accepted Jesus into my heart. I believe the right things. So it doesn't really matter, ultimately, what I do now, in this life," Reuben says.
"Totally. Especially in Orange County. Whenever I see some conservative Republican Christian, living in some nice well-furnished home, driving an expensive car, working some corporate job, pulling down six figures a year, I think...You are living NOTHING like Jesus lived. He was poor. He railed against the rich and the conservatives of his day. He said, 'It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.' In other words...impossible. But then he said, 'What is impossible with man is possible with God.' So I guess there is hope for rich people too, if they sell their stuff and give it to the poor. If anything, you'd think Christians would be liberal, not conservative."
"That's a weird metaphor," Reuben says, "A camel through the eye of a needle."
"I think about heaven a lot, "I say, "What is it?"
We sip our cocktails in silence for a while, and Troy plays a new song.
I say, "Jesus said, 'The Kingdom of heaven is within, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Meaning, I think, heaven is possible here, now, in this life. Maybe it has to do with love, and how we relate to one another, and what we contribute to the world and to other people, and community. For me, the first night of the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk, I remember thinking, 'For me, this is heaven.'"
"I've thought about that too," Reuben says, "Sometimes I'll get bummed out because I feel like I haven't yet contributed what I want to contribute to this world. Maybe, when we're old, we'll look back and understand...that time when I was in the band, when I was poor and struggling...that was my heaven."
I look at my cell phone. It's almost 1am.
"Hey man, I gotta go," I say, "I have early class tomorrow.
"It was good talking to you. Happy Easter," Reuben says.
"Happy Passover," I say.
A Dialogue Between a Psychiatrist and a Patient
“Hello, Dr. _______, this is Jesse La Tour, your patient.”
“Sorry it’s taken me a few days to get back to you. I’m just calling because I called the pharmacy to refill my prescription and they said you denied it.”
“Yes, I can’t refill it because you need to come in and see me.”
“I know, but I don’t have health insurance right now, and I’m on unemployment and the prescription alone costs $300 a month.”
“You are paying out of pocket?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I mentioned that to you before. I asked if there was a different medication I could go on, and you said it would be dangerous for me to go off this one.”
“Well, call me on Tuesday and we can talk about it.”
“If I call on Tuesday, I will have gone without my medication for four days,” I said, “The medication you said it would be dangerous for me to go off.”
“Well, I called you earlier in the week, you could have called me sooner. You need to be more responsible about calling me back,” he said.
“Sorry I didn’t call you back right away, but I’m talking to you now and I really need this medication refilled,” I said.
“Call me on Tuesday and we’ll talk,” he said.
“So you are going to let me go without my medication for four days just to make a point about me being more responsible?” I asked.
“Well, no,” he said, “I am going to give you one more refill and tell you that you need to find a different provider.”
A Dialogue Between a Sign-Holding Evangelist and an English Teacher on a College Campus
Sign-Holding Evangelist: What do you think happens when you die?
Me: I have no idea. No one does.
Sign-Holding Evangelist: How do you know that no one knows?
Me: I guess it just seems pretty unlikely. I've never spoken with a dead person before. Do you know what happens?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: Yes I do.
Me: How do you know?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: The Word of God tells us.
Me: You mean the Bible?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: Yes.
Me: How do you know the Bible is the Word of God?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: (Quotes Bible verse)
Me: So the Bible is the Word of God beause it says it is the Word of God?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: Yes.
Me: But that's circular reasoning. By that logic, I could be the president just because I say I'm the president. How else do you know?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: I compare it to touching a heater. You know a heater is hot by touching it. I know the Bible is the Word of God because I have experienced it in my life.
Me: So, you believe the Bible is the Word of God because of your own subjective experience?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: Yes.
Me: That's fine, but isn't it a big leap to assume that your personal subjective experience applies to everyone, like your sign suggests?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: No.
Me: What do you do for a living? Are you a poor, wandering vagabond, like Jesus?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: I work for the military. I train soldiers.
Me: Do you find any conflict between your job and your Christianity?
Sign-Holding Evangelist: No.
Me: Okay, nice talking to you. I gotta go teach a class now.