For Arguments Sake
Ain’t no secret, I loves me some arugin’.
I also love a good story. So, here’s a little bit of both.
My favorite topic to argue is religion and I do it as often as I can. Since I was about 14 or 15, I have more than less been an agnostic (I’ll veer into Atheist if I happen to be in a particularly nasty funk). Funny enough though, I’m never really outspoken on my own particular belief structure unless I’m deconstructing someone else’s, and, there is a very good reason this: I don’t really have a belief structure. More, I have a series of vague ideas of spirituality, right and wrong, post life experience, that are at best transient and at worst momentary. It’s hardly fair to argue a point that is constantly in flux while forcing another person to defend a steadfast position. But, that’s what I do.
I love to argue because I love to win arguments.
I love to win. So do most people that start arguments. And herein we arrive at the main problem with an argument. You’re not trying to be right, you’re trying to get the other person to admit that you are right and they are wrong. If you’re engaging someone on an opinion-based matter, especially one dealing in the intangible and with personal beliefs, it will almost always be a zero some game. The end result will be some gratifying self-entertainment for out-witting someone who didn’t see something coming, or bitterness at someone’s lack of appreciation for your cutting insight.
Once, when I was living in Philadelphia, I got into an hour long argument with some Christian fundamentalists who were protesting pornography in front of a well known gay night spot. I fought with them mainly about their choice of venue for the protest, arguing that they purposefully were connecting homosexuality with porn while they argued that there was just good walking traffic in the area. The argument was circular and eventually wound up entirely religious in nature.
Towards the end, when things had completely descended into a theological debate, one of the devout accused me of being a “moral relativist”. I had never heard that phrase until that moment. I had a slight idea of what it meant, yet I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept as a whole. Were my morals as fluctuating as my opinions on faith? Could I justify certain immoral actions based on context? Was there a baseline of genuine moral truth independent of all intention? These ideas flooded my brain and I was fascinated by the answers as I was by the accusation.
But I wasn’t going to give that Christian fundamentalist asshole the satisfaction! I had an argument to win!
Our fight went on a while longer and I hit him with a good zinger as I was leaving, laughing out loud and proud of myself. Looking back on it now, though, I wonder what I actually won in that. I certainly didn’t change his mind any more than he changed mine. The thing was, my mind had no concrete position to change, and his mind could never concede a defeat. We weren’t fighting to solve problem, just to beat one another out.
I think the chief problem with arguing is that we like to think that our side is defending a truth while the other is perpetrating a falsehood. Of course, the opposite side thinks the exact same thing. The sides are attacking each other at the same time without searching for a middle ground.
The idea that the truth is somewhere in the middle isn’t anything new, but I do think it is a notion that is glossed over for the excitement of a good fight.
I remember when I was a kid, those long conversations you would have with your best friends. Does God have parents? Can we dig a hole to the other side of the world? Who would win in a fight, Robocop or Terminator? Childish questions yes, but they were ones that could easily divide on opinions. They weren’t answered with fights. There was excitement in every idea we offered one another, and we would build off of them. Each time one of us said anything, the other would eagerly add on. If you disagreed, it was a “No wait, what about…?”
I don’t feel like I have “No wait, what about…”s anymore. It holds up a good argument.
Truthfully, I can’t remember the last time I had a solid discussion about faith, or politics, or philosophies in which I built on the ideas of the person I spoke to, both searching for an agreeable solution for each other.
Maybe it’s just me. I love a good story. And a good story has conflict. That’s the fun part. That’s the argument. A good argument has a good ending.
A good idea is just itself. A good discussion just keeps on going. No winners, no losers.
But I like to see the hero win, and then the credits roll.
I don’t think I’m alone.