Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How to Have an Argument*

Now I know that not everyone is a Monty Python fan.  I think Monty Python is probably an acquired taste, rather like olives.  I really didn’t like the first bits of Monty Python I saw as a kid.  The rudeness and crudeness of the comedy just turned me off.  As an older teen and adult,   have developed a taste for  some of it (along with Greek olives but not green ones.  Yuck.) I now understand why some of their sketches are hilarious  -- they stretch the ridiculous so very far that your reality just breaks.

The “I Want to Have an Argument” skit is one of those.  If you have never seen it, YouTube has it here:   This skit shows a series of lovely (ha!) examples of how NOT to have an argument.  The first “argument” that the protagonist has with an opponent consists of a stream of vile abuse.  This is NOT an argument.  The second argument consists of just contradictions.   This is NOT an argument (Oh yes it is!  Oh no it’s not!  Yes it is!  No it’s not!)  The protagonist then goes to the complaint department – complaints are not an argument.  The final argument is the “being hit on the head” lessons.  Not an argument again but which IMHO is about as painful as some so called arguments.

If you have been out and about recently, cruising on the internet or IRL (in real life as the kids say), I am certain you have probably run across someone who likes to hit you over the head with their opinions and call it an argument.  Or doesn’t offer you a real argument or discussion and just contradicts everything you say.  Or just wants to complain about this or that, these people or those people without ever developing a real argument.

So how do you have an argument?  I would like to offer up some suggestions (take ‘em or leave ‘em.)

First – no yelling. Please. Really, I mean it.  No yelling.  This includes TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ON THE INTERNET. Yelling never ever gets your point across. If you want an illustration of this, just watch Parliament sometimes.  To be honest, have you ever really listened to a person who yelled at you?  It can be painful, it can be scary; it most definitely can be frightening.  I think it shows a basic disrespect and it’s just rude.  The only time it’s appropriate to yell is when you are talking to me in a noisy, crowded place and I yell back “What??” because I can’t hear you over the din or when you are cheering your kids at Little League.  Seriously, no yelling.

Second – be polite.  Use your nice words like “please” and “thank you.”  As my mama used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” (actually I did a scientific experiment last year in the kitchen and discovered you can catch them with both, but that’s not the point.)  Why no yelling?  Why use your nice words?  Because each and every one of us is made in the Imago Dei – the image of God.  By dissing one another, we are showing disrespect for that Imago Dei within the other person.  Treat that other person with the same respect you would show Jesus and you won’t go wrong.

I think about conversations and fights.  A good argument should be a conversation – a dialogue with one another and not a fight.  I watch my husband and my kids spar in Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do.  At the beginning of a match, you shake hands.  If you greet each other with respect , you actually can build a relationship.  If you approach another person with your arms open and your hand extended, usually the other person will do the same to you.  If you approach the other person with your guard up, ready to throw a punch or block a punch, you are going to be blocked.  Enough said.  A real argument, an honest argument and a Christ-filled argument – no one is going to go away bleeding.  We are called to love one another and not pummel each other to a bloody pulp.

Third – logic is your friend.  People think that logic is hard.  It really isn’t, you just have to be intentional in learning a few things.  First lesson in logic:  If A, then B. A is true, therefore B must be true.  This is a valid argument – it’s good and if you get this you will pass the class.  If the sun is shining and it’s a clear day, then the sky is blue.  The sky is blue, therefore the sun is shining. Another?  The classic example:  All humans are mortal.  Socrates is human, therefore Socrates is mortal.  Not too hard.

Second lesson in logic – the opposite works differently. The argument,  “If A then B.  Not B, then Not A.” does not work.  An example: All humans are mortal.  Socrates is not a human, he’s a cat.  Therefore Socrates is not mortal.  This obviously does NOT work because as we all know, even though it is said that cats have 9 lives, they are indeed mortal. I’ve lost enough cats to know this is not true.

This is the basis of formal logic.  You can judge an argument valid (or good) or invalid (not good) by these two lessons.  There is also a brand of logic called “informal logic” and there are many, many more ways to judge an argument valid or invalid.  A few example are: Ad hominem, Straw-Man, Appeal to Authority, Slippery Slope, the Hitler Card, False Burden of Proof, False Causation, the Fallacy Fallacy, Appeal to Emotion.  There are more – just use the internet to look them up.  These fallacies (or errors in argumentation) are so prevalent in today’s society. They are insidious.

In an Ad Hominem fallacy, you attack the person rather than the warrant (argument) directly.  For instance, Jane argues eloquently for apples in school lunches.  John who does not want to pay for apples because he thinks they are expensive and he doesn’t like red and green foods (OK stupid reasons I know, but roll with it please) doesn’t address apples at all at the PTA meeting, instead he attacks Jane saying she’s a big idiot, smells funny and dresses her kids weird and so her idea about serving apples is also idiotic, might make you smell funny and make you dress your kids weird.

I see this kind of fallacy all the time.  I saw it at annual conference a couple of years ago when a “no-brainer” resolution came before the conference – an anti-bullying resolution.  Of course we are anti-bullying, aren’t we?  Who likes a bully?  Anyway, the person who presented the resolution was of a minority that some people don’t like very much.  Therefore, we don’t like this resolution.  Sigh.

I would like to say this: even people we consider complete idiots can occasionally have a good idea.  Occasionally they can be right. Really. That includes anyone you don’t like: Adriana Huffington, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Marcus Borg, Rick Warren.  It doesn’t matter why you don’t like them – occasionally they actually might be right.  Adolf Hitler, one of the most despised people of the 20th century, could say, “The sky is blue” and this statement be true. (This is an example of the Hitler Card, btw.)  You need to judge the argument by its own merits, not by how much you love or despise the person making the it.

Likewise, the opposite is true.  Someone you admire and see as a role model in your life can be wrong.  Your greatest hero could say, “The sky is green.”  Just because this is your hero and you love them doesn’t make the sky green.  This is an example of an “Appeal to Authority.”  Sometimes people know what they are talking about and sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes actors know a lot about salad dressing (I love Newman’s Own) but sometimes they don’t (what does Harrison Ford think about salad dressing – beats me!)  Ask this: does this person actually make salad dressing?  Do they have a PhD in condiments?  Have they published papers on how to shake up oil and vinegar into tasty concoctions?  If the answer is “no,” you might want to give their opinion or stamp of approval a pass and find a real expert or even (gasp!) research it yourself.

Fourth – Listen.  As my mama used to say, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth.”  You should listen twice as much as you speak.  Listen not only with your ears, but with your heart. 

Please y’all.  I am asking for a favor.  Please be civil to one another as we work through our society’s problems.  Let’s engage in civil discourse, civil discussion and use just a little logic here and there.  After all, we are all in it together.  We all share the same planet.  Peace out, ya’ll.

*NOTE: (and I’m not yelling)  This was written to be light in tone about a serious topic.  The tone was meant to be humorous and not mocking; it was not meant to be disrespectful or patronizing.  Please take it in the manner offered.

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