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Mr. P and Mr. I.

I have steered clear of this issue so far, and with good reason. It's a very dangerous issue to get involved with. Some of my favourite bloggers have fought over this to the point where they aren't speaking at all any more and all because some are on one side of the argument, some are on the other. Several excellent Righteous-bashers are spending too much time fighting amongst themselves over this. So I'll take the risk and lay it out as I see it. I don't pretend to be knowledgeable in the subject, I have not studied it in detail nor do I intend to because it's a huge subject with a long and complex history and, I suspect, a long and complex future too.

I am on neither side. I have no special sympathy for either Jew or Muslim. I have no idea whether I have Jewish or Muslim friends. I don't ask because I don't care. Any religion anyone wants to follow is fine with me, as long as they don't try to force it on me or restrict my life or liberty with it. So, with that in mind, I've taken all religion out of the following story and replaced it with The Barman, who nobody in the story has met but who everyone believes exists.

I have attempted to stay neutral because I am. In the story, I'm the guy at the table watching it all happen but taking no part at all. Everything here is open to correction - as I said, I'm not claiming any expertise.


Imagine a quiet pub. You're sat at a table, there are a few folk chatting in the corner, perhaps an American at the dartboard. Sitting at the bar is Mr. P. He's only little and looks quite harmless. He's occupying the one good stool - the chrome one with the backrest and the padded seat. A little further along is the only other stool, and it's crap. It's bare wood and it wobbles. Nobody wants to sit on it.

In comes Mr. I. He's a big lad. Mr. I walks straight up to Mr. P and throws him off the good stool. There's not a lot Mr. P can do about it but slink off to the crappy stool and sit there. Mr. I won't let anyone fix Mr. P's stool and he won't let Mr. P sit anywhere else.

Fairly clear cut so far. Mr. I is a bully and Mr. P is the victim.

However, these two have history. Mr. I used to get beaten up a lot by a certain Mr. Hitler and his gang, and Mr. P was all for Mr. Hitler's methods. Now it's not quite so clear cut. There's a reason Mr. I doesn't like Mr. P, but does it justify the bullying? Two wrongs don't make a right - that's what we were always told as kids.

The matter doesn't end there. Whenever Mr. P wants to use the bathroom, he has to pass Mr. I, and Mr. I wants to search him every time. Sometimes Mr. I won't let him go past. Back at the wobbly stool, Mr. P takes to lobbing beermats at Mr. I. Most don't do much harm, in fact most miss altogether, but once in a while a mat hits Mr I on the nose. 

When that happens, Mr. I gets up, walks across to Mr. P, and whacks him one.

Now we have Mr. P deliberately provoking Mr. I, and Mr. I responding by pummelling someone who's a lot smaller than him. Mr. P wants Mr. I dead and says so at every opportunity. Mr. I won't let Mr. P go to the bathroom without permission and makes him sit on the dodgy stool.

Now, who's right and who's wrong? It's not so easy to see. If Mr. I had let the matter rest after the beatings from Mr. Hitler, or if Mr. P hadn't insisted he wanted to continue the beatings even though he isn't big enough, the matter might have faded. But they didn't. They kept on responding to the other's attacks and the whole issue escalated out of control.

It might also have fizzled out if the rest of the bar had kept quiet - but it's a bar so that won't happen. Some side with Mr. I and some side with Mr. P. Some supply Mr. P with more beermats, while our American dart player offers to lend his darts to Mr. I. Some insist that Mr. P needs their help and they buy him drinks and crisps so he doesn't have to worry about finding money. That lets him buy more beer mats, increase the rate of beer-mat throwing and make them more accurate. Some insist that Mr. I is only defending himself from beermats and they cheer whenever he gets up and slaps Mr. P.

Now the families of Mr. P and Mr. I come in. Mr. I won't let Mr. P's family pass him until they are searched, and slaps one or two of the kids just in case. Mr. P threatens to kill Mr. I's family at a later date when nobody's watching.

The polarised clientele now either say Mr. P is right to fight back against the oppression of Mr. I, or that Mr. I is right to give Mr. P a pre-emptive pounding because he's defending his family.

The rest of the pub are now as polarised in their beliefs as Mr. P and Mr. I. They stand, absolutely and unequivocally, behind one or the other of them. Neither Mr. I nor Mr. P can now back down. If they try to back of from further fighting, their supporters will push them back into the fray. Neither group will let their champion be the one to back down. Neither group wants their champion to lose because the supporters now have a vested interest in keeping the fight going.

Those supplying beermats to Mr. P are now making a profit on the deal. Those supplying darts to Mr. I are also making a profit. There are groups set up specifically to support one or the other and if this battle ends, they lose their reason for existence.

So now, neither side wants their champion to lose but neither side wants to win either. The profit is not in the culmination of the war, but in the war itself. Mr. I and Mr. P are now caught between those two stools and can't back away.

So Mr. I moves his family to a table on Mr. P's side of the bar. Later he moves them back again. Mr. P sends his kids over with shaken-up bottles to open next to Mr. I. Mr. I grabs some of Mr. P's kids and keeps them captive. Mr. P captures some of Mr. I's kids and they trade prisoners. And so it goes on. Mr. I moves forward, then back. Mr. P fires beermats, stops, starts again. By now, both are tired of fighting but they cannot stop because their supporters - who take no part in the fighting themselves - won't allow them to quit for more than a temporary ceasefire.

Mr. I cannot back down on the rhetoric that his stool was promised to him by the Barman himself, and it's his by right.

Mr. P cannot back down on the rhetoric that the Barman is actually on his side, that the stool is rightfully his, and that it is his duty to drive Mr. I and his family from the pub.

Both now have huge ranks of supporters. Mr. I's supporters say 'Yes, it is true, the Barman says it's his stool'. Mr. P's supporters say 'Yes, it is true, the Barman instructs that Mr. I shall be driven from the pub and Mr. P shall have the stool back'. Nobody even knows if the Barman exists, but that no longer matters. Mr. I cannot back down because the Barman Believers on his side will turn on him if he does. Mr. P cannot back down for exactly the same reason. So both are in a position dictated by absolutes, trapped by their own rhetoric and with no possibility of compromise. The matter now cannot be settled unless one or the other leaves the bar - and neither can.

The supporters take no risks in this. They will not be hit by Mr. P's beermats or by Mr. I's fists. The supporters can champion their cause by proxy, and incidentally turn a profit on the supply of materials to both sides. While there is every reason for Mr. I and Mr. P to stop fighting, there is no reason for their supporters to stop the fight. In fact, the supporters now have considerable investment in keeping the fight going for as long as possible.

There is no way to intervene. Try to do something for Mr. P, and Mr I and his supporters will cry 'Preferential treatment'. Try to do something for Mr. I and you'll get the same response from Mr. P's side. Suggest they share the stool and Mr. I won't hear of it. It's his stool - the Barman said so. Suggest fixing up Mr. P's stool and Mr. P won't hear of it - this is not The Stool, this is temporary accommodation.

Mr P's family and Mr I's family are sick to death of the whole thing but the men won't listen to them. They hear only their supporters now, who urge them on as Champions to the cause. Their causes are diametrically opposed. There is no middle ground. We can reason and argue all we like but in the end, there really is only one possible outcome.

In all the fighting, they'll end up destroying the good stool.

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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
7th Jan, 2009 01:08 (UTC)
Of course the common sense solution is to throw both buggers out of the bar and have a good session with some high grade totty whilst Mr P and Mr I stand outside in the freezing cold with their noses pressed up against the window.
7th Jan, 2009 01:34 (UTC)
(breakerg) Pretty good
And I agree there is no solution. If we're that bothered about it, then the only way I can see a lasting solution to this is to:

* Club together a big warchest of cash
* Buy 2 seperate pieces of land, on different continents, with sovereignty rights over it
* Give the Mr's 3 months and guaranteed free travel with all their kin and possessions to the 2 pieces of land
* Issue final warning
* Detonate small nuke within reach of the holy sites

There you go; guaranteed breathing space for 100+ years.
7th Jan, 2009 02:57 (UTC)
Why do people fall out over this issue? I'm broadly pro-Israel (but not uncritical), and very critical of the Palestinians (but not without sympathy). My best mate is the other way round, though. We're still capable of having a pint and a laugh together.

Why don't people argue, and then vow never to speak to each other again, over issues such as Tibet? Or over what's been happening in Somalia? Come to think of it, I can't even remember having a pub argument in the early 90s over Northern Ireland, which was far closer to home, without us being able to agree to disagree and still part as friends.

I know that we can't all always get on. We don't have to declare vendettas against each other though, just because we happen to disagree on one particular subject.

7th Jan, 2009 08:56 (UTC)
Penny Arcade answered this one years ago with the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory:


@Leg Iron: excellent story mate. Probably the best explanation of the situation I've ever read.
7th Jan, 2009 03:29 (UTC)
thanks for that interesting piece. belief in the Barman caused the trouble in the first place of course; you couldn't talk an atheist into flying a plane into WTC for example. and a Barman can only exist in a pub. the remedy would appear to be atheism and the end of Statism
7th Jan, 2009 07:00 (UTC)
Livejournal having problems ?
I enjoy reading this blog, and I think this piece deserves much wider dissemination. Having read it, I was disturbed to discover http://valleywag.gawker.com/5124184/the-russian-bear-slashes-a-social-network that talks about staff cuts at LiveJournal headquarters.

Time to move to a new blog host ?
7th Jan, 2009 09:30 (UTC)
If you don't mind, I shall continue your wonderful analogy
Neither Mr I or Mr P drink, and the barman is furious at the pair of them for taking up valuable space around the bar and stopping other people from getting to the bar. The barman refuses to serve either of them anything (or anyone buying anything for them) in the hope that they'll both leave. When they don't, the barman leaves.

It appears as though the barman has left this particular bar quite some time ago. The fight however, continues in the closed down pub. If the pub is demolished, the fight will continue in the rubble of the car park, with each side blaming the other for the destruction of the pub and the disappearance of the barman.

There will still be other people standing around watching, urging both Mr P & Mr I to finish it properly. What neither Mr P & Mr I realise is that there is too much money riding on them for the fight to end as a draw. Relocating Mr P & Mr I to different pubs merely increases the distance they have to travel to get back to where they both *know* the barman originally was.

Neither they or their supporters can accept that there isn't a barman and there never was a barman. What would the point of a pub be *without* a barman? Well, it's like this; it's a social place, where people talk, argue about sport, buy stuff they know is stolen, and generally get along and pass the time before they die.

In time, people will realise that there's a bit of a barman in all of them and go on to serve themselves. Just remember to use the honesty box, and everyone will be happy.
7th Jan, 2009 09:33 (UTC)
Personally, I quite lick this xkcd cartoon as an explanation for much of the venom expended by the less aware commentators:


7th Jan, 2009 13:23 (UTC)
Truly Masterful Allegory

Simply brilliant.

The Penguin
7th Jan, 2009 16:45 (UTC)
But there are a few things missing from the tale:
1. Although Mr P has carved his initial on the good stool, a closer look reveals Mr I's initial in several places, apparently put there in the distant past.
2. The good stool wasn't always good, there is evidence that Mr I spent a good deal of time and money fixing it up; indeed, the evidence shows that the good stool used to look just like the bad stool.
3. Mr P is and always has been at liberty to fix up the bad stool, but he prefers to seethe and whine at the harshness of the world - something you see a lot of in this bar.
4. Mr I is not averse to helping Mr P with his stool, but not if it's just going to be thrown back in his face.
5. Mr P is not just flipping the odd beer mat anymore, he's taken to throwing glass ashtrays not only at Mr I but at his kids too.
6. Mr I has just wandered out to his car and pulled a baseball bat out of the boot.

Robert the Biker
7th Jan, 2009 17:01 (UTC)
Following on from Robert The Biker
7. Mr P also has the assistance of an entire UN agency spending billions of dollars and his stool is still a piece of junk.

7th Jan, 2009 21:33 (UTC)
OH here,

Speaking of moving to another blog provider, do you want my blog before I delete it?

It gets excellent readership and you're an excellent blogger

Let me know

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )