Random ramblings of a mind damaged by years of disuse and abuse. Also a place to go to be bored to tears.
The Random Comic Strip
Words to live by...
"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."
(The right to looseness has been officially given)
"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Why must we argue?
To continue on my theme about debate and discussion on the web, I'd like to delve into why and how we engage in them. I say "we" meaning I and all those others who "contribute" to the cacophony that passes for the (sometimes heated) discussions in the comments following an article.
For me, it is simple. I love to argue. I was not a good boxer or wrestler, my physical fighting method is chaotic and, often, desperate. I grew up losing every physical encounter (fight) with my older brother. But I could make him look foolish; I could outwit him in a verbal exchange. Which often led to those physical encounters but, for some reason, that didn't deter me. I am not alone, apparently, not by a long shot. Plenty of other people love to argue. Some are formidable opponents but most are not. Some people can use words like finely crafted weapons leaving you gravely wounded and bleeding (metaphorically speaking) and others can find the weaknesses in your armor (argument) and exploit them. Most, however, are operating entirely from emotion.
I mentioned Sarah Palin and Barack Obama previously. These are polarizing figures. As are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Arianna Huffington, Jane Fonda, and Nancy Pelosi. This is just a small sample list, there are so many others like them. People rarely have a neutral stand about anything these people do or say. Very few do not have some deep seated emotional response to these folks.
Reading the commentary following an article is like watching at the audience at a cockfight or dogfight (which I can assure you I do not attend) or any sports event where people can choose, or have, a favored player or team. Emotion trumps logic. Objectivity flies out the proverbial window.
I just recently had a short exchange with another commenter where he or she proved my point. My opponent didn't realize this; he or she was arguing about the person who was the subject of the article and I was arguing about the motivations of the commenters. While he or she was complaining about the wrongness of some statement the subject person made, I was expressing my position that the facts were unimportant to the commenters. Because I had taken a neutral position on the "facts" involved, I was jumped on by those who had an emotional stake in the "facts" being wrong. Since I was not attacked by those who sided with the subject person, I must assume I either came across as a supporter of the target person (and, therefore, not a "threat" to the supporters) or that my position was understood by them. I strongly suspect the reason to be the former... I just was not deemed a threat
When someone learns to box, wrestle, or just debate they learn a discipline. They learn to react objectively, rather than emotionally. The best fighters/debaters use emotions only as sources of energy but keep them at bay as they make decisions in tactics and moves. They also pick up (or have) a knack for provoking emotions in their opponents.
Let me provide an example of what happens when an emotional person and a disciplined person have an altercation. Back in the 70's, I was working in a maintenance center one morning when the "Mountain Man" (I forget his name but he always made much of the fact that he lived in what are called mountains east of San Diego) came in looking for Larry. These two were pretty much equal in size and age. But Larry had been a Seabee, trained by the Marines, and had spent a few years with them. I don't believe Mountain Man had any such experience.
Mountain Man came in angry and demanding about Larry having "taken" his parking spot. It seems that Mountain Man had been cruising around the block waiting for a space to open up. Just as one did, Larry turned onto the street and slid into it. Mountain Man yelled at him that he was waiting for that spot and Larry simply ignored him and walked into the office.
So, Mountain Man approaches Larry yelling and menacing, yells in Larry's face a few not so kind words and starts to take a swing at him. Larry smoothly blocks the punch and decks Mountain Man with a single right hook. Discipline beat emotion. I have seen this happen a number of times.
Emotions, however, are what draw us into these exchanges. Like bees to flowers, we are compelled by our emotions to take a risk, to enter the fray. Emotions drive us. But emotions can also interfere with our ability to attain a goal. They can get in the way. Objectivity must overcome emotion, I think, if we are to succeed. A total lack of emotion, however, may be just as detrimental as a total lack of objectivity.
When you get right down to it, we humans are such simple creatures. Not nearly so complex and mysterious as we would like to believe.