sat 10 jan 2009 11:06:38 witte de withstraat
talkers versus chanters
thursday night i went to the cafe wilhelmina pakhuis, which is kinda way out in the middle of nowhere, past the dutch headquarters of "smeg" (the kitchen appliance company). wilhelmina were having their monthy "hard rock karaoke" night, in which a pretty good band plays classic rock songs and miscellaneous people get up and sing the lyrics. the band played maybe two songs that didn't make me cringe. that music is from a slice of time and culture i have spent much of my life trying to forget. not so for the faithful goers. they were young enough never to have been victims of classic rock in its first run. so to them i think it was just "camp". i guess there is such a thing as enjoying music because it seems silly. fun without passion.
so what the heck was i doing there, you might well ask. i was there cuz rene and lydia were going there, and it would be the amsterdammers' last chance to see lydia before she goes back to brooklyn. what i like about lydia is that she seems to think carefully about what's going on in the world, and without being at all dogmatic she's confident in expressing her views on things. she's someone you can enjoy not entirely agreeing with, because at least you feel like you're on the same planet. that's refreshing.
donna and raymond had also come from zandvoort and i called djox to join us and then later on marina came as well.
as it got to be closing time, some of us were outside smoking in the cold, and a man named uri came out and started talking to marina in greek. they were laughing and insulting each other in greek. then somehow the rest of us got introduced. the man, uri, from israel, was for some reason interested to know where each of us came from. we had amongst us one dutchman, one bulgarian woman, one dutchman of serbian extraction, and me from america. on discovering that i was from america, uri wanted a hug, and started in with this comradely "i love americans because you kill terrorists" thing, which as you know i've heard before. when i made it clear to him that i wasn't having any of that, then uri was angry with me. i tried to explain that of course i was against terrorism, because i was a pacifist and didn't want to hurt anybody. he seemed offended that i wasn't following the expected alliances. because of where i came from, he seemed to feel i should be on his "side", and took it as a betrayal that i wasn't. this led to accusations of ignorance, of never having learned any history and knowing nothing about about people in the world. he began to do a lot of talking and not much listening. at one point while he was catching his breath, i was able to get out the question "is it okay if you and i disagree?" to which uri replied, literally and quite passionately: "no!"
djox started to try to say something, possibly to reason with the guy, but couldn't get three words out before uri shouted him down. i thought it was strange how uri kept yelling at djox about "what you're saying" and "what you think", when none of us had even had a chance to hear what djox was gonna say or think.
in this kind of confrontation, there's a certain knot-point that comes, when the shout-downer begins to repeat himself, as if he's getting pleasure from chanting a mantra. he says something angry and loud enough to interrupt his respondent, then waits one second for his respondent to start to speak, then repeats what he just said, then waits for the person to start to speak, then repeats what he just said. the loop can go on a dozen times. at this point you give up any illusion of being in a conversation. it's no longer talking, more like verbal fistfighting, as in "wait to see if he's still moving, and if so, hit him again". and i think according to the program what's supposed to happen next is that somebody gets so frustrated he throws a punch. djox later told me he was worried this was gonna turn into a physical brawl. but somehow we managed to convince uri to "go in peace".
a day later i saw this same "chanting" kind of behavior on a tv news story about a protest rally in museumplein. this time, it was an israel supporter getting shouted down by a palestine supporter. the one guy was talking to a reporter, then another guy stepped in and shouted "stop met liegen!" (stop lying!) — not actually having heard what the guy was saying, but having seen that he was carrying an israeli flag, and assumed that he was lying. the first man turned to him and started to explain something, but the shout-downer cut him off: "stop met liegen!". then he waited until the man opened his mouth again, and repeated "stop met liegen!". this went on until the news editor cut away to something else, because the dialog had become a loop containing no new information.
for some reason i have difficulty acknowledging that point where talking becomes chanting. i'm reluctant to give up the dialog. i keep thinking if you wait out the loop, you'll be able to continue the rational discussion. but with some people i realize later on that it was never a discussion in the first place. when someone talks to me, i assume they are trying to converse. but some people just talk for fighting, and some people just talk for sport.
this reminds me of a bar talk i had years ago with a man named michael from st petersburg. michael kept disagreeing with me over smaller and sillier points, until he somehow maneuvered himself into a place where he was disagreeing with what he had just said a moment ago. i realized then that michael was just talking for sport. he didn't actually believe any of the above, he was enjoying the exercise of debating. he had no idea how much my feelings would be hurt by having my time wasted. fun without passion.
people like that make me glad there are people like lydia.