Seattle: Where the ‘S’ is for ‘Sophistry’


First, an apology. Despite my three days in Seattle I did not make the most of my new camera. Part of the problem was that I am not used to having it, and part of the problem was that 50% of my time in Seattle consisted of figuring out the rest of my journey, while the other 25% consisted of worrying about the rest of the journey. I promise that when I get to my next stop I will be tourist as all fuck!
Ok, now that the PSA is over.
I have been to the Emerald city all of twice, and it has left me feeling a bit strange both times. Superficially, I like the city as much as one can like most North American cities – this is because for the most part, most American cities look the same. Seattle is no exception, its downtown is just a clone of downtown Chicago, only smaller and with more hills. All American city centers strive to be Manhattan, and all of them are failing at it. But from what I have seen of the rest of the city, it is fine enough; I stayed in a neighborhood called Belltown, and it felt homey enough. I would have liked living there more than I liked living in DC. If I had to rate the aesthetics of the city I would give it a firm and confident ‘meh’. I also ate some very good fattening American food, and I already regret not having eaten more of it. I may have the chance to eat more of it in Vancouver tomorrow.
The real interesting bit of the city is its inhabitants. It is common knowledge that the United States northwest is populated by a subspecies of Homo Sapiens Sapiensknown in modern parlance as the hipster douchebag. It seems like everywhere you go in Seattle you are confronted by unsightly body hair, and before anyone thinks I am being a misogynist, know that I refer to handlebar moustaches, ironic or otherwise.
To the foreigner walking this strange land, it is not immediately interpreted as a bad thing. While the whole East coast is already talking about whatever the game currently refers to at this point in the year (American Handegg), and DC specifically is talking about how terrible C3PO or whatever robot name the Redskins’ quarterback has, I walked into a coffee shop in Seattle and the two baristas are talking about politics. It was an interesting discussion, and I was happy to follow it while they prepared my espresso. This got weird when they realized I was following their discussion, and they briefly tried to include me in it before just kind of staring at me wondering what it was that I wanted. An awkward 15 seconds elapsed before someone told me that they had made my espresso, served it to a neighboring counter, and simply never fucking told me that they had done such.
It was just barely warm by the time I drank it.
I had many such encounters. We should however address the bias in my research; I am a thirty-one year old man (at the very least, I am a thirty-one year old fuck up) who still insists on staying at youth hostels. I shouldn’t apologize for it too much, it’s a pretty brilliant short cut to social interactions. If you sit down in the lobby long enough, someone will invite you out for a drink. But certainly it must be admitted that the age of the average person you meet is going to be in the early to mid 20s. I would like to think that I have no problem with people this young, but the evidence is starting to weigh in favor of the contrary. Normally the class of people you meet at a hostel is a lot worse. It is very often the kind of people one would call a ‘bro’. A lot of high-fiving, a lot of drinking games, and a lot of stories of reckless bravado. But there is something in the air of Seattle (and the US northwest in general) that attracts a slightly different kind. Many people wanted to talk about politics (with a certain leaning of course, as ever the Australian I met had a deep disagreement with what the republican had done), many people had books in their hands (as the stranger who sat next to me in the lobby with the collected works of Christopher Hitchens), and many people wanted to discuss weighty topics (as the young Swedish girl who asked me if I had read The Social Construction of Reality, and tried to hid her disappointment when I told her that Searle is not much of a relativist).
Truly, you don’t meet these people in the youth hostels of Rome.
That was all well and good, and if it had been as simple as that I would have had a wonderful time. It rarely is as simple as that. I once had some flat mates from Seattle who really encompassed the stereotypes. The lasting memory I have of them is of pure sophistry; there is nothing they would not say simply to make themselves look smart. It led to some maddening discussions, where one would wonder why they couldn’t please just shut the hell up already. During this visit to Seattle I met a young man who wanted to be a cover comedian. The same way one would be a cover band (a band that replays the music of more famous musicians) he wanted to re-perform the material of older (now deceased) comedians. For some perspective, this same young man respond to someone’s complaining about the problems in their live with the ever-sage panacea of ‘I smoke weed’. The conversation we ended up having turned into an incredibly irritating version of the style/content debate, to which his ultimate argument was that it did not constitute plagiarism because the message in the content was important for people to hear. Thankfully, someone took us out of the conversation once it got stale.
That is just the first one that came to mind. There were squabbles about whether such and such word was offensive, the strangest political beliefs and opinions about politicians I have ever heard (Bernie Sanders is apparently already a sellout, though I could not be told to whom he sold out), Gender neutral English Pronouns (they already exists, don’t invent them), 9/11 conspiracy theories, what words were or were not offensive and whether context ever made a difference, Italian and French cuisine in the medieval and renaissance, and the person who had asked me about John Searle knew very little about relativism, except the lazy kind that doesn’t really apply to anything.
The kind of arguments and enthusiasm I heard there may have been the kind of thing I would have found thrilling ten years ago, but now simply exhausts me. It was a repetition of many of the beliefs I came to learn were absolutely stupid during my Master’s degree (and shortly thereafter).
The long and short of it? Why oh why did I not move to Seattle in my early 20s? It would have been the absolute wet dream of the arrogant prick I was back then.

Anyway, the ship sails in two hours. Next stop Vancouver!
Edit: In my hostel-atendee shitlist, I forgot to mention the girl who, having just finished a book on sociopaths, was accusing everyone in the hostel of being a sociopath. Except yours truly. She thought I was cool.

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