Monday, April 9, 2012

Believing in Chemistry

A couple of lifetimes ago, when I was in my twenties, I got the chance to see my future ex-wife lose a first class argument with her younger brother. I mean, I had seen them argue many times before. The whole family loved conflict. My father-in-law once yelled at everyone in the house because the mail wasn't lying in its normal place. A day at the in-laws was like an episode of the Itchy and Scratchy show.

Most of the conflagrations were flareups. They got big quickly and died away in minutes. Only occasionally did a firestorm start. Things would get personal, buttons would be pushed, old wounds would be re-opened, and whatever originally started the argument would be quickly lost in the blaze. The bitter taste from those fights would last days, and on occasion much longer.

The ex loved to argue, of course. And she was world class. In the dozen years we were together, I don't think I ever heard her say, "You were right." If it looked like the logic of an argument was not going her way, she would turn to emotional cruelty, her home turf. She didn't necessarily have to win an argument, but she would be damned if she was going to lose.

My ex brother-in-law's life has largely been a string of tragedies wired together by bad decisions, driven by poor judgment and poorer impulse control. He was beaten up by the police at least once, presumably for responding to a traffic stop with something along the lines of, "What the fuck do you want?" But he knew he was fighting out of his weight class with his big sister, and he usually walked a bit carefully around her.

The ex on "the best day of her life," about two hours after our wedding. 
That's my best man in the background, wondering what I've gotten myself into.

So it was worth remembering the one time that he left her speechless.  I don't remember how the argument started, what it was about, or how long it lasted. I only remember it getting more intense than usual. Outside voices were being used, the ex was pacing (never a good sign), and her brother was cornered in a chair. In response to whatever he said, she got right in his face and said, "You can't argue with that. It's simple chemistry!"

With no hesitation, he shot back, "I don't believe in chemistry!"

She sputtered a bit, and tried to rally, but her momentum was completely broken. How do you argue with something like that? In her heart she knew the day was lost.

I never suspected at the time that my brother-in-law was the harbinger of a growing trend. Denying the validity of science seems to be quite fashionable these days. The overall history of our planet's geology and life forms, and the link between greenhouse gases and climate, are practically as certain as the fact that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.* And of course, the core of this science provably predates the political agendas that supposedly drive it.

But none of that matters, does it? It must be quite liberating, really. Once we no longer require the slightest evidence or logic to support our beliefs, then we can always be on the winning side. I just wish someone would start a gravity-deniers movement.

* Or that the day and night are essentially equal in length on the day of an equinox. One of our worst arguments went nuclear when I offered to get the flashlight and tennis balls to demonstrate this one.


  1. my head would have imploded just witnessing that argument. part of the reason my ex-husband managed to excuse himself from most of my family gatherings was so that he could avoid head implosion... not so much from the olympic-class arguments, but the world-class redneck commentary he would have had to endure...

    The stupid people are winning. Not sure how to reverse the tide.

  2. I always enjoy your posts, but this one zinged me very accurately, and twice: The political one I won't comment on, except to disagree with your commenter about the stupid people winning, but the memory of fighting with an ex was brilliantly done! Well-timed too: Last year at this time I would have winced to recall a fight with my ex (even one someone else was having) but today I'm just full of admiration and aspiration to do the same for my unanswerable-in-a-completely-different-way ex!

  3. Your ex scares me.

    My SIL's family are fundamentalist Baptists. When my nephew's 8 yr old cousin came over to see the mustangs (after telling me to turn off NPR and my music b/c her family 'only allowed' Christian rock), she asked about the stripes on one of our mustangs. Excy began explaining their evolution when she cut him off (this is a child rudely dissing an adult), saying 'they didn't believe in evolution.' Excy said to tell that to the horses.