Image from @matttomic on Twitter.
Time and time again, people have asked difficult questions: What is the meaning of life? Is capitalism really the best economic system? Are hot dogs sandwiches? Merriam-Webster defines a sandwich as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between,” or “one slice of bread covered with food,” which admittedly, is quite vague. Based on that definition alone, a hot dog is a sandwich, so why are people so torn?
I’m not going to argue for either side, since there are plenty of passionate hot dog and sandwich enthusiasts who can offer their thoughts and insight. Rather, I want to question why we care so much about the nature of hot dogs, or anything really. I think the question of the hot dog is an existential question humans are comfortable asking, that is, a comfortable alternative to asking questions about the nature of humanity and society. When people wonder about the meaning of life, they’re generally questioning matters of purpose, value, mattering, continuity, and coherence (Sage Journals), and in a way, people combat the chaos of unknowingness with subjective organization and meaning assignments to objects, people, animals, ideas, etc. into categories. We create continuity by dividing, and coherence by separating.
Humans find comfort in predictability and routine, and one of the things that creates the illusion of predictability is formulated meanings and constraints in which we place various ideas. The reason people care so much about hot dogs being or not being sandwiches has nothing to do with hot dogs or sandwiches themselves, but a disruption in the comfortable categories we have individually created and reinforced throughout our lives. If you grow up thinking a hot dog and a sandwich are separate, unmixable entities, being confronted with the idea of the two being congruent is likely to make you not only uncomfortable, but even defensive. Subconsciously, maybe this disruption affects more than your assigned meaning to hot dogs, but it brings into question the validity of any meanings you have created, including how you view yourself.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the way I see it, creating meaning by rigidly dividing is a slippery slope. People, things, and life change and fluctuate, and strictly adhering to one’s constructed ideologies does not account for these natural changes. Maybe the question shouldn’t be “are hot dogs sandwiches?” but rather “could hot dogs be sandwiches?” Being open to challenging your opinions, being flexible with your constructed meanings, and accepting that no one’s opinion is absolutely correct, maybe those are the first steps toward calming existential dread. Maybe we’re not meant to have the answers, we just have to be open to the possibilities.
But really, ARE hot dogs sandwiches?