Argument Ad Naseum; What’s the Point?

This is a type of meta post, and it may present me in a negative light. Understand, I am making a point about arguing…. And it this may come across as…argumentative…

The other day I found myself embroiled in a proverbial civil war on Facebook. A good friend (while I find I agree with him less and less, he remains a good man, strong in character, and kind above most) had posted an (unintentionally) inflammatory socio-political blog post. My brother countered the argument our friend was making with another, and I replied to my brother’s comment with a short, sarcastic comment. I meant little by it, but to show support for my brother’s counter argument….

What ensued, however, was the longest comment thread I’ve participated in (nearly 350 comments). Over the course of the next 48 hours, sides entrenched, and arguments were made. My brother and I found ourselves nearly alone against a barrage of opposing arguers. Our other brother joined the battle occasionally, when he could, on our side. And near the end another joined us still.  The opposing side had a nearly revolving door, except our friend who made the original article: he had the decency to stay through the battle, rather than swoop in and hurl proverbial air support insults at the opposition before retreating to the safety of internet oblivion.

Side note: God blessed my family with great intelligence, even if He didn’t provide us with wisdom…. And even if we haven’t learned humility…. 

I have to say that my brothers and I were equal to the task. We stayed consistent to to our principled stance, and provided substantial logical and factual information to the fight. Of course, I don’t believe the same to be true of the opposition.
I could hear the wives of everyone participating singing with exasperation “still arguing?!?” I can feel their eye rolls as they wonder about the stubbornness of their husbands who argue with friends and strangers alike for 2 days on the same conversation. And I feel their frustration as they point out that their husbands have failed to convince anyone on the other side to their own point of view.  I know that my sister-in law and my wife joined in those frustrations… And I’m sure that the wives of the others involved felt the same. And they aren’t wrong.

My friend wasn’t convinced of his wrongness. My brothers and I weren’t convinced of our cold heartedness. And I’m sure than none of the fly-by pilots chose to settle their planes on my brother’s battlements after surveying the field of battle.

So, like our wives, you might ask: what’s the point? Why argue when everyone is entrenched, and no one will change their minds? I believe I can speak for all involved when I answer those questions. (Maybe not, in which case, I speak just for me).

Why argue when no one will change their mind?

1. Arguing challenges me: how will I know that I am right if I am never challenged? One of the damning principles of modern education is the lie of “consensus.” If we only surround ourselves with those with whom we agree, we start to believe that everyone agrees with us: this builds up unhealthy narcissism. If we are never challenged, and preferably aggressively challenged, we never develope our own thoughts to the point of value to society. Without opposition, our own views become one sided, weak, and arrogant.

2. Sometimes I am wrong. My wife says that I always believe that I’m right. I fail, even after years of marriage, to see this as a bad thing. If I argued principles and points that I believed to be wrong, wouldn’t that make me a liar? Of course I think I’m right… But I am sometimes wrong. Arguing presents information that challenges mine. On occasion, that information, those arguments, convince me that I am wrong.

I remember one such conversation clearly: while on the phone for work, I had a customer delve into the forbidden territory of politics; and I silenced myself to avoid getting in trouble. She asked if my state had universal sales tax, that is, sales tax on every purchase including food. I answered in the affirmative. I believed that any other such tax, or a tax not applied universally, would open the door to corruption and beurocratic nightmare. (I didn’t say this, of course, lest I get in trouble for misrepresenting the company for whom I worked). In one single sentence, this woman, a self avowed socialist, changed my view: “do you think it is okay that you have to be taxed for food; that you need your governmental overlord’s permission to eat?” I found myself legitimately flummoxed (something that I have to admit, doesn’t happen often). In one question, she convinced me of the immorality of taxing food. I was sold; governments  should not tax food. The principle developed further, as I studied it further, but this is to illustrate that I am willing to have my mind changed given convincing evidence and superior arguments.

3. The third point belongs to my brother, and is his answer to his wife when she asked “why are you still arguing? You won’t change their minds.” His response was simple “because they’re wrong.”  He continued (paraphrased) “just because they are entrenched, and because we are entrenched, doesn’t mean that everyone is entrenched. There will be people who read this argument and are swayed one way or the other. There will be people who haven’t formed an opinion, who haven’t taken a side: and of no opposition is offered to the wrong viewpoint, they will be convinced that the wrong viewpoint is correct.”

This answer, my brother’s, is perhaps the most moral reason why arguments must be made. Even the Savior (while I emdeavor to emulate Him, please don’t understand that I am comparing myself to him), even the Savior argued with the leaders of the day. He always won those arguments…. Because He’s perfect… But he argued nonetheless. Especially when the topic is not trivial, it is critical that opposition to the wrong side be presented. Because, though it may seem like it by the commentating class (myself included), by the overtly opinionated (myself included), by the openly argumentative (myself included), not everyone has picked a side. There are those who will be convinced one way or the other. If the right never stand up to the wrong, which side will the unconvinced choose?

4. Speaking just for myself: it’s fun. Mankind’s history has always been met with combat and competition. When society has changed, the forms of competition have too: including competition of status (winning in the workforce, to be able to “humbly” show your fellow man how much better you are by driving a nicer car, or wearing an Armani suit or otherwise “winning”). Man’s bloodlust hasn’t satiated over time, it has just changed. I am not convinced that this competitive drive is wholly unrighteousness, so long as it is curbed and controlled; not allowed to consume and define the man. I’d love to admit that I am free of that competitive desire: but I am not. I like winning. Being physically broken, intellectual debate provides the last area where I can be the competitive equal of my opposition. Intellectual argument is the last proverbial arena were my manly desire for combat can be satiated with the (again proverbial) blood of my foes.

So what happened? Who who the argument?

Some may want to know the end result of our bitter ideological entanglement: I will oblige. Understand, that a participant in a debate is never a fair judge of it, and so my view is far from unbiased.

If ours were a moderated debate, werin the rules of civilized debate were adhered to and counted for or against the arguer: my brothers and I won the debate. We worked hard to avoid personal attack and logical fallacy. The opposition, contrarily, bounced from one fallacy to then next (I joked that they had read a list of the logical fallacies and were trying to incorporate each into a single argument…. but the joke wasn’t without cause). One of the opposition insisted, no less than 5 times, that I was ignorant without once providing reason for the insult nor countering my points to show my ignorance.

Ifs the were a bloody arena combat, I have to say that the battle again favored my brothers and me. Our arguments were consistent and principled, as opposed to the our opposition who abandoned theirs as frequently as we defeated the arguments , rather than defend them with new information or reason). This method is called the shotgun approach: get as much lead downrange as you can, and see if you hit something.

If the object was to convince the bystanders, I cannot speak definitively. I hope that my side, working hard to keep from personalizing our attacks, maintaining the higher ground; combined with consistent argument and unrefuted information: I hope that ours was the more convincing argument.

If the objective was to convince the other side, we all lost. I am sure that no one who participated, was convinced.

As for friendship; I feel that some friendships were damaged. My friend was first my brother’s friend. Growing up, I looked to them (more him than my brother) as the definition of charismatically cool. In adulthood, my limited exposure to him has lead me to define him as my friend, irrespective of my brother. Their bond is unassailable, despite frequent socio-political grievances. However, during the course of the debate, our friend made a conclusion based in the assumption that I disliked him. This error, I must wholly own. My opposition to his politics (of which, like me, he is very verbal) has lead him to the incorrect beleif that I dislike him. In short, I have failed to communicate love and admiration during heated debate. In this cause, I have lost. And it is a loss that I mourn.

So why do we continue to maker arguments when everyone has already picked a side? Because not everyone has picked a side. And just like battles of old, friendships are often the casualty of the war. I regret these casualties most of all. 

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6 thoughts on “Argument Ad Naseum; What’s the Point?

  1. I’m writing both as reaction, because I’ve heard similar stories from others, and to promote my own beliefs of course. The more contentious a topic, the more important it is to be discussed face-to-face. I took several linguistics and communications courses in college, and all the data indicates that the majority of messages between mammals passes non-verbally, as much as 75% of the idea content. As you get more and more remote from face-to-face, the probability of achieving mutual understanding reduces. So Skype is better than a telephone call which is better than texting, but none of them measures up to being able to pass information through the total package including touch, smell, body language and personal space placement.

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    1. Of course, I don’t disagree. The result of social media has been a greater amount of information on any topic imaginable: and yet greater division. Arguments are best made in person, no doubt: but for those like me who cannot interact with many people in person, an argument made in writing is better than an argument not made.

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  2. While I may agree that taxing food is principally WRONG it remains one of the few ways to create a relatively flat (albeit regressive) tax system.

    It isn’t the food necessarily that is taxed….merely the commercial transaction of it. Grow your own, no tax, buy your neighbors, no tax. Restaurant? Tax. Grocery store? Tax. (your state varies of course)

    In the end, this is an avoidable, at least reducable tax. But it takes effort.

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    1. Excellent point, Scott! The problem grows from there, however, when the government so monopolizes the land that the value is artificially skyrocketed (particularly in the western United States, where many states have a majority of the land owned by the government); thus the ability to raise one’s own food is substantially reduced; as it is too great a bar for the average person to clear to be able to produce their own food.

      However, I think that I fundamentally agree with your point: it is the transaction that is taxed, not necessary the food.

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      1. Thank you for conceding my sales tax point. The growing your own food issue is an entirely different topic.

        Which “government” are you referring to that is, in your argument, holding land prices artificially high? The Federal (a popular boogy man) the individual states? The counties? Collectively?

        Repeadedly, when development reaches land held by government entities, they sell. There are not many cases of “land-locked” cities in the US due to government owned land stymying growth.

        One could make the argument that the BLM has 10s of 1000s of acres and that if it was available, it would reduce the prices of land everywhere.

        But it doesn’t work like that.

        A home in Scottsdale AZ may sell for $2.5 m. Because it’s in Scottsdale.

        Opening up the BLM lands to homesteaders or individuals would be nice, but only a few, numerically, would take it. The rest would stay where the jobs are.

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      2. The federal government may be a boogeyman by trope, but that doesn’t mean the analysis is wrong. Arizona is a perfect example, where it owns nearly 50% of all land, not to mention the land owned by the state, linty and city governments.

        The idea that the federal government surrenders that land freely is overtly simplistic at best.

        It economically speaking: if a group held away from the market 50% of all of the beef produced in that market, what would happen to the cost of beef? What if 50% of all iPads were produced but not allowed to be sold? What would happen to the price of iPads?

        The governmental (yes, it is primarily the federal government) hoarding of lands, particularly here in the west, artificially skyrockets the cost of land.

        And for food growers, what is the cost? The cost is this: 98% of farm land now belongs to large corporations; and the remaining 2% is primarily hereditary. Why? Because the cost of farm land is so high as to be an effective barrier to entry for new farmers.

        Why is the city the primary placement of employment? At least in small pet, it is due to the restrictive cost of agricultural business ownership.

        Directly impacted by the inflated cost of land.

        Are there other factors? Of course! But basic economics require supply to keep up with demand in order to keep prices low: demand has not shrunk in the last 100 years, but the supply has remained effectively the same (despite having abundant opportunity for supply: in other words, having a lot of land available).

        People don’t stay in the city because that’s were they want to be, they stay because they can’t afford not to. Open the land up, and we’d see a mass exodus from the cities where people are trying to make a go for building their own life’s free from the city. How do I know? Because that’s what’s happened every time lbs has become available at cheep market prices in the past.

        I’m not necessarily making the case for all publicly held lands to be sold privately (actually, I don’t think that’s a good idea), but the idea that the government owning a substantial majority of my state *doesn’t* artificially inflate land value, making it much more difficult for the average person to grow their own food, is just wrong.

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