The Dreaded “A-Word”

It was asked of me recently, “Is the purpose of your blog to start arguments or conversations?”

I said arguments. Let me explain why.

What Arguments Actually Are

I think arguments have a bad rap nowadays, and it’s because the word has been misused to mean “nasty screaming matches that are completely illogical where no coherent point is being made.”

That’s not an argument. That’s a fight. An argument can, however, have a range of legitimate definitions. Here are two of them:

  1. An argument is a series of statements intended to build a case and make a point about reality.
  2. An argument is a conversation directed toward a goal in which two or more opposing “sides” seek to convince the other(s) to agree on a certain point about reality.

Notice that the second definition is simply a series of the first. Also notice that neither one involves screaming.

I think arguments are actually just conversations that are going somewhere and are intended to persuade. They are a higher form of conversation.

Imagine an argument and a conversation as two men walking through a park. How would they go about it? The argument would locate another place in the park, set its mind on reaching that other place, and go about walking to that place. The conversation would stroll aimlessly through the park and may eventually stumble upon the new location that the argument had reached five minutes ago, but may never get there. There’s nothing inherently wrong with one or the other, they just have different functions. Both are walking, but the argument is walking with a purpose, the conversation is just walking.

I want this blog to start arguments, as defined above. I want people to react to these posts, choose a side, and logically defend their position. As I say often, I want people to know what they believe and WHY they believe it. As it says in the footer of this website, “I’m much more pleased with an atheist who knows what he believes and why than a Christian who doesn’t know either.” I think arguments are the best way to discern what you believe and why which is why I want to start arguments, not just conversations.

What Arguments Unfortunately Are

It’s unfortunate, but arguments don’t have the greatest reputation in most people’s minds. When most people think of an argument, they think of two red-faced idiots, ignorant of the world around them, flailing their arms around and making ridiculous claims that no one really believes.

There is a false association these days between arguments and hatred, arguments and insults, arguments and anger.

I think the reason this false association exists is that humans nowadays tend to associate their identity with their ideas. They ARE their argument (definition #1) and so if you present a counter-argument (definition #1), you are arguing against who they are, instead of what they state, and so can’t have an argument (definition #2) at all.

This is obviously wrong. An idea is not a person. Saying something against a person’s view should not be, and indeed is not, the same as saying something against a person. Unfortunately, this trend has caught hold and now the first person to get offended in an argument wins. Example:

Let’s say Bill is arguing that Rolex is a better watch brand than Seiko. An argument (definition #1) he might present is that Rolexes, on average, cost more than Seikos, and because the law of supply and demand dictates price in our economy, that means there is a higher demand for Rolexes than Seikos, and a higher demand means higher value.

Instead of pointing out the logical flaw in this argument (The price difference could also be explained by a lower supply, and so the average Rolex value according to demand may be objectively lower than the average Seiko.) Bill’s opponent, Ted, says, “My family owns the Seiko company and it really hurts me that you think Rolexes are better than Seikos. We’ve worked so hard to have a good company with a good product. Why would you say such a mean thing?”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that Ted has not presented a counter argument. He has “won” the argument, because there’s nothing that Bill can now say that won’t make himself look heartless, except to concede and apologize for “hurting” Ted. Being nice has replaced being productive.

Never mind the fact that Bill didn’t say anything about Ted. Never mind the fact that Bill is trying to have an actual argument and make a point. Never mind the fact that Ted is a whiny brat who needs to grow a brain and a thicker skin (see that’s an actual insult). Ted wins ‘cause he got offended first.

I hate that people can’t evaluate ideas any more as just that: ideas. It’s not personal, don’t make it personal.

Healthy arguments take place every day between people who recognize that their opponent is not insulting them personally, just the view that they hold… and he might not even be doing that.

(Evaluating and testing the logical consistency of a view is not the same as insulting it.)

Aristotle said something along the same lines in Metaphysics, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Unfortunately, in arguments these days, we don’t entertain thoughts much, just audiences, and in schools we don’t educate minds, we indoctrinate them.

I feel like I’m stating the absolutely, patently, plain-as-day obvious here! I don’t like that these things need to be said. I wish that I could get into an actual argument with a woman who’s had an abortion about the moral quality of abortion, but I can’t. She doesn’t have to present an argument, she just has to be offended that I think she was wrong for getting one, then I look like a heartless jerk and she looks like a master-debater.

Why Getting Offended Wins Nowadays

A related possible cause to this degradation of the art of argumentation is the degradation of morality.

Note that the majority of arguments involve morality judgments. Even in the example above with the watches, the argument was that Rolexes are “better” than Seikos. But “better” is a moral term. Good, bad, better, best, worse, worst, they all carry moral qualities. Even if you’re arguing that one is more “beneficial” or something is “more valuable” you’re comparing them both to an independent standard.

Unfortunately, thanks to cultural relativism, there are no objective standards for morality any more. According to the leading theories today, and the way that most people think, morality is whatever you make it. If nothing is objectively better than anything else, then the point of arguing has left the room. That’s what makes it so easy to be offended in arguments now. Implying that your opponent’s view is “worse” than your own is imposing an objective morality on them, and according to today’s philosophers, morality is defined by each individual. Of course you’re insulting them by saying that their view is worse. According to them, worse is defined by their very own nature. In reality, worse is defined by God’s very own nature. He is the standard for morality, not individual humans.

But no one actually lives by a subjective standard for morality. No one looks at sensational true evil in the world and say that it’s only bad because they, or society, say it’s bad. They think it’s REALLY wrong. It’s truly, independently, objectively wrong, and it IS! Recognition of right and wrong was a product of the fall, and so everyone can now see it, what we do in reaction to it is a different story.

What do we do about all this?

How do we save argumentation?

Well a phrase that springs to my mind is “GROW UP!” Get over yourself, learn how to think, learn how to argue the proper way, and then start arguing. It’s amazing what you can learn when you start actually thinking instead of allowing only your feelings dictate your views.

Stay argumentative my friends, just do it the right way. Don’t be a jerk about it.

P.S.

I have often heard the following: “I don’t like arguments or debates because they don’t do any good. Nobody ever changes their mind in a debate. Everyone just walks away believing what they always did.” I agree with the last sentence. I think most arguments end with unchanged minds. However, I know quite a few people who walk away from hearing or having an argument and then start thinking about what their opponent said.

There will be phrases and ideas that stick around with you when you walk away that DO end up changing your mind. I’ve had my own mind changed many times from exactly that. This is part of why I love arguments so much. People listen to them later. It’s because of this phenomenon that I want to say I’m very happy the day I’m proven wrong… but that’s not really true. I’m usually happy the day after because that’s when I actually realize it’s happened; that’s the day I realize that I have been proven wrong and then change my mind. It’s a wonderful but painful experience, and it’s all thanks to arguments.

 

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