Since 2016, and probably before, we have heard the word “polarized” everywhere. It conjures the idea of disagreement and disrespect, a loud shouting at one another that never seems to end. An important point, however, is that while disagreement is the cause of polarization, argument is not the result. Sure, it may look like an argument. We see arguments on the news every day. But an argument is, or rather ought to be, an attempt to convince someone else to see your point of view. These days, it’s not really about convincing people so much as it’s about proving the other guy wrong, or proving yourself right. We’re not trying to beat our debate opponents anymore. We’re trying to embarrass them.

I’m not trying to go all “back in my day” and rant about how the level of debate used to be so much higher or something like that. Some would argue that refusing to engage in debate isn’t always a bad thing, and that some opinions don’t deserve to be recognized. All I’m saying is that there was an undeniable shift in rhetoric that happened some time ago where we started to hate the people that we were arguing with. I don’t know when the shift happened (or whether it’s always been there and a perceived shift was merely a consequence of growing up and understanding more) but I do know that I was prepared for it.

On Cape Cod, there is a question. It was around before Trump, before Facebook, before everything that we think has caused this culture of hatred, and yet it brought out the same animosity that we feel in the mainstream today. If you’ve ever lived on Cape Cod, you already know what the question is. It’s very simple: Is Cape Cod an island or a peninsula?

To say that this question has brought out the worst in people is an understatement. The hours of shouting, the silence that succeeds it. This question creates a toxic environment everywhere it goes. After the first Presidential Debate in 2020 between Trump and Biden, people were shocked at the level of immaturity and vitriol that was displayed. I was not, because I’ve seen it happen before. I’ve fallen victim to it before.

For the sake of maintaining my integrity, I must admit to you that I have a strong opinion on this question. I will not disclose what it is because I want to paint an objective picture of both sides. However, like all Cape Codders, I have encountered this question and when I did, I barely escaped with my life. I certainly did not escape with any respect from or for the people with whom I have had this discussion. 

The first time I encountered it, I was merely an observer. I was 14 years old I think, and I was on my middle school’s baseball team. We were getting ready for a game, but our opponents were running late. We were playing Martha’s Vineyard that day, and to pass the time while we waited for them to arrive we began to trash talk our absent opponents. At some point in this discussion, an eighth-grader did a sarcastic sing-songy voice and said “Look at me! I’m from Martha’s Vineyard! I live on an Island!” I wonder if that eighth-grader had known what would result from that comment whether he would have said it in the first place. I could give you the details of the argument that followed, but suffice it to say that we did not win our baseball game that day.

Since then, I have engaged in this same conversation several times, each time regretting that I had. Essentially it goes like this. Someone who’s had a bad day or is one of those people who thrives on pain decides that they want to ruin a few of their friendships and brings it up. Each member of the conversation takes a hardline position. First comes the definition readings. Then, ridiculous metaphors are concocted and the personal attacks follow. Eventually, a weakling tries to offer an olive branch and either pretends that they’ve changed their mind or tries to change the subject. Damn sissies. No progress is made until the conversation ends, usually out of necessity due to external factors such as someone needing to leave or someone needing an ambulance.

I will now attempt to summarize each position. The section that I disagree with was cowritten by one of the braindead idiots who has somehow, beyond all logical thought, convinced himself of the incorrect position. By coin flip, I have decided to summarize the “Island” position first:

In 1914, a canal was dug that divides Cape Cod from the rest of Massachusetts. It is 17 miles long, 480 feet wide, 32 feet deep, sits at sea level all the way, and reduces the distance required to sail from Boston to New York by 75 nautical miles. This canal also does something else. By surrounding Cape Cod with seawater on all sides, it has turned the FORMER peninsula into an island. Sure, it’s a man made island, but it’s an island all the same. Sure, it has bridges, but if you built a bridge to Hawaii from California you haven’t created a peninsula. Dictionaries define our whole language. What’s the point in having dictionaries if we’re going to ignore them anyways? There is no way to get around the fact that any dictionary worth its weight will define an island as a piece of land with water on all sides and, even though at points the water is only 480 feet wide and 32 feet deep it’s still there. The definition doesn’t say how much water, it just says “water”. Cape Cod is an island.

Cape Cod Canal, which clearly divides Cape Cod from the mainland and surrounds Cape Cod with water on all sides.

Next, I will provide a summary of the “Peninsula” position:

The Caspian Sea is technically a lake. The Hudson river is technically a tidal estuary. Cape Cod’s own Wequaquet Lake is technically a pond. So sure, you could say that Cape Cod is technically an island, but we’re not gonna change the name to “Island Cod”. The simple truth is this: languages evolve over time. The meaning of words is relative to the person who is speaking them. Definitions, connotations, and opinions about words are not and have never been objective. Therefore, why do we need to hold on to these limiting definitions when it’s against language’s nature to do so? Cape Cod is a piece of land that shoots out from another piece of land, therefore it is a peninsula. We have always called it a peninsula so therefore it is a peninsula. Using your logic, why isn’t the Eastern United States an island? How is Europe a continent if it’s connected to Asia? Simple answer: these terms were used before we wrote definitions for them, and we cannot, or should not retroactively change a classification due to a strict interpretation of an ever-changing and non-universal definition. Cape Cod is a peninsula.

The Eastern US, separated from the rest of the continent by the Mississippi River, Illinois River, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, Detroit River, Lake Erie, Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. To call this an island would be silly.

Now, I know that after reading that you may have started to formulate an opinion of your own. That’s good, it’s good to encourage free thinking, but I warn you to be careful with this process. I can assure you that hardline thinking like this does not result in anything good. By all means have an opinion, but don’t let that opinion become all-consuming. I myself have an opinion which I’m sure presents a bias somewhere in the previous two paragraphs, but hopefully by representing both sides, I have overcome the human instinct to fight. At least I hope that I have, and I hope that you can too. 

Also, these two defenses that I have written are not perfect. I’m sure that some who think that Cape Cod is a peninsula will be upset with me for representing their whole argument as one of semantics, and I bet I’ll hear from some who think it’s an island to complain that I’ve represented their whole argument as an appeal to the authority of the dictionary. So, to any readers who are still undecided, please understand that there is much more to both of these arguments. 

Please understand, as well, that the scars are still there. While writing this blog post, I asked my friend, who is of the opposing belief, to help me write his paragraph and make sure that I’ve represented his position fairly. Within 5 text messages, before we’d even written down a single word, I had said “your brain is too small to comprehend the truth” and he had said “I wouldn’t expect a wash ashore like you to get it anyways”. This is an ongoing and very sensitive issue. 

Hurtful words from an unintelligent man

However, this debate is unique in another way. Everyone can kind of still see the other perspective. In most of the toxic modern debate landscape, we all believe that the other side has lost their minds, and we don’t always think that unfairly. I mean, they literally stormed the capital. However, there are valid arguments on both sides of the island or peninsula debate and yet it still has the same level of vitriol.

For example, many peninsula advocates will cede the point that cape cod is surrounded by water on all sides and that, therefore, it could be considered an island by some. Many island believers will recognize classifications are flawed and some could see that as enough to maintain Cape Cod’s status as a peninsula. Perhaps it’s because this debate has virtually no real world application or consequence that such an understandable issue can still inspire such passion.

I could continue and list more arguments back and forth, because trust me this could go on forever, but instead there is just one point that I want to hit before this post is over. And no matter how far you’ve dug into your own position, please just hear me out on this. 

There is actually a difference between a peninsula and a cape. Not a strong one, some consider capes and peninsulas to be the same thing, but a key difference is that capes are typically created by glacial movement of sand, unlike peninsulas which don’t necessarily have to be. This means that by definition, all capes are temporary. Yes, technically everything is temporary, but due to the fact that they are a significant change in a coastline and do not contain the same continental sturdiness that other lands due, they are particularly susceptible to erosion. Compared to everything else that you see on a map, capes have some of the shortest lifespans of any geological features. The very nature of Cape Cod is that it’s fleeting. If rising sea levels don’t take care of Cape Cod, erosion eventually will. That’s just the natural order. So, I know it sounds cliché, but in the face of Cape Cod’s eventual destruction, does it even matter whether it’s a peninsula or an island? Perhaps we’re spending too much time arguing what Cape Cod is instead of just being happy for the fact that Cape Cod is. At least for now anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s