For the last seven years I have written a Thanksgiving argument settler to arm you for the disputes that inevitably arise over the holiday meal. Readers have found this helpful in besting the doctrinaire uncle or blow-hard cousin. For some, it is simply a basic debriefing so they don’t feel at a loss when topics of the day take over the afternoon.
This year we’re going to give the argument settler a rest. There is too much bickering and fighting in the political conversation already. The supply is short of patience, consideration, fellow-feeling, and independent thought that once cushioned heated debate and distinguished spirited exchanges from schoolyard bullying. This is my little plea for peace. Let’s get through Thanksgiving without a row this year and see if we can store up some of those better qualities of Thanksgivings gone by. (If nothing else, it will be healthy for you.)
I’m not going to leave you unarmed, however. In some families the annual sparring serves a useful social purpose. Political conversation takes the place of silence, or better yet, takes the place of disputes over old grudges that would fill the silence. Some families are made up of pugilists who cannot be appealed to with calls for an armistice. They simply must debate something. Plus, during the distraction, the kids can feed the Brussels sprouts to the dog.
So to help out, I offer some debate topics and conundrums we’ve collected for the Slate Gabfest annual conundrum show. The first category is of entirely weightless puzzlers. At our Superfest East show, host and Slate Culture Editor Dan Kois assigned each team a side in a completely frivolous debate. That removed the personal element and introduced some merriment as people had to defend positions with which they would otherwise totally disagree. Here are a few examples. Have the patriarch of the family assign a position to each side of the table, set a limited time for debate, and then go at it:
- If you were condemned to be a tree or a fish which would be better?
- If all music were replaced by the works of one of the following artists, which would be better: Billy Joel or Beethoven?
- Humans have destroyed the planet, and we are all now under the thumb of animal overlords. Would it be better to be ruled by dolphins or bumblebees?
- Would you rather live by an ocean or in the mountains?
- If you were granted the godlike power to do one but not both of these, would you choose to end global warming or cure cancer?
- If Lex Luthor finally defeated Superman and condemned all productive Americans to communicate either by email or conference call, which would be better?
- Would you rather meet your ancestors or your great-great-grandchildren?
- Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?
- Who would win a battle between a nearsighted Mr. Rogers armed with a baguette, and Mr. Peanut riding a unicycle who had the ability to see 3 seconds into the future? (This question courtesy of Superfight!)
- Would you rather play the world’s instruments expertly or speak the world’s languages fluently?
- If you had to give up coffee or alcohol for the rest of your life, which would it be? (And I don’t just mean for breakfast.)
- Which is more valuable: $100 donated to charity or three hours spent in a soup kitchen?
You don’t have to pick sides, of course. Any of those topics can be discussed at the dinner table in the traditional manner. Here are a few other puzzlers that are a little fuzzier and don’t split so easily into one side or the other:
- If you could invite one person to dine with the family, who would it be?
- What era would you like to have grown up in?
- If you could live five years longer but had to give up your iPhone, would you do it?
- If you could put a camera on any one person without them knowing it and observe them for a year, who would it be?
- At what age would you hug yourself, punch yourself, or fall in love with yourself?
- If you could be fluent in one language for seven days, which would it be?
- In a survey, 75 percent of NASA employees say they would take a one-way ticket to Mars. Would you?
- If you could demolish one building with no casualties, which would it be?
- If you could move to any state for two years, what would it be?
- You are giving advice to a ninth-grader from a disadvantaged home and a rough neighborhood. Do you tell them they can be whatever they want to be or give them a more realistic assessment of their chances in life, so their hopes aren’t dashed?
- Imagine your significant other proposed to you but told you he or she had a 3-by-3-by-3-foot metal box that you could never open and never know what is inside. Would you continue the relationship?
- Which of the seven deadly sins (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony) is most likely to lead to your soul’s downfall?
- If you could give yourself one piece of advice at age 20, what would it be, and how would you convince yourself to take it?
If this list prompts you to offer any conundrums that you really like, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll collect them for next year. Happy Thanksgiving!