An Argument for Arguing

Written by: Lauriston Brewster

March 30 – This is an op-ed regarding the principles of argumentation.

Houston is a wonderfully diverse city and that is pretty much an irrefutable fact. With diversity comes many, many varying opinions.

As easy (and, maybe, cathartic) as it is to dehumanize and denounce Trump supporters of Houston, I don’t want to fall into that trap. I wholeheartedly believe that my friends that voted for Trump did not do so from a place of abject malice.

My case and point: saying “Trump supporters are patently [insert pejorative here],  while progressives are ‘good’” is binary thinking and I will never accept that we live in a binary society. We don’t. There are a lot of things in society that are better handled from a pluralistic perspective.

I take weird solace in knowing that we are all products of our environment. And (big surprise) we are social creatures that tend to align ourselves with people who think similarly to us; and this alignment tends to create a conceptual “bubble” for people to reside in that becomes increasingly hermetic as we get older.

When we talk to each other (Democratic Party, Republican Party, Kid n’ Play House Party, etc.) we need to be wary of these bubbles. To recognize that there’s a big chance that another person’s bubble was created in ecosystems much different from your own. And that these ecosystems were conducive to producing very different ways of looking at the world we all happen to share.

It is both infinitely fascinating and terrifyingly metaphysical to me at the same time.

I don’t know how conversations between people with opposing “bubbles” should go. But maybe, through process of elimination, I can get to that point.

Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle
Photo credit: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle

And one thing I feel like I’ve hit is that we need, at the very least, to change the way we argue with people that disagree with us (aka Trump voters/supporters). Attacking another person by dehumanizing them is just another way to vilify your own self and effectively close off any chance of reciprocity. 

Before I get into this, I should point out: I am not counting the obvious trolls– contrarians by nature, fueled only by misanthropy and anarchistic fantasies– who feel that rejecting moral imperatives is a virtue. Excuse my French, but screw those people; Appeals to logic mean absolutely nothing to them. And to quote one of my favorite authors (and all around cool dude):

“Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

 Mark Twain

So anyway, here is my updated argument for arguing. I wrote this about 3 years ago and it feels relevant today.

An Argument for Arguments

I really don’t get why most people treat the act of “arguing” as a punitive exercise (“You and everything you stand for is wrong and I must destroy you personally!”) Why so this? 

If you’re “arguing” from a place of hate or frustration, you’re not really arguing: you’re just being a bully. I mean “arguing” defined as two people with different perspectives on a topic trying to come to a conclusion on said topic. It’s really a zero-sum game.

A person who is trying to justify what they believe in while presenting objective evidence to bolster their claims and elevate further up the deductive reasoning ladder = arguing.

I don’t think the goal of an argument is to “win” anything. There’s no prize (your ego doesn’t count as a prize; and if you think it does, you should reconsider). I see one of three possible outcomes that (ideally) should happen at the end of an argument:

1. You either broaden your understanding of a topic by listening to another perspective on it,

2. Broaden someone else’s understanding by presenting facts that maybe they hadn’t considered/known about,

3. Or the both of you, after exhausting your logic arsenals, just walk away and say, “Well, let’s just agree to disagree. Nice chat.” and move on amicably.

I would like to see more of the Socratic Dialogue approach to arguing about things, whether it be online or in person.

Socratic Dialogues are essentially just Q and A sessions where the goal is to come to a general consensus on a topic.

It’s a beautiful method, designed to let people discover what things are as opposed to what they aren’t and no one should end up feeling salty at the end of such dialogue.

I just feel like if you’re trying to find an answer to a problem, then two people trying to berate one another into submission … is probably not the best way to go about things (and, if anything, makes the divide between two camps even wider and more pronounced)

I know what you’re probably thinking: isn’t the goal of arguing to persuade the other side? Isn’t that what you “win”, technically?

Well… If you actually manage to persuade someone else to your viewpoint and change their understanding of things, do you really “win” that person’s enlightenment? I’m not so sure on that point. 

But if you’re in an argument with someone, you don’t get a cookie for “winning” anyway. So just state the facts and listen to your opponent. Arguments have the potential to be eye-opening amiable dialogues instead of blustering pissing contests.

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