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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