Why Argue?

It should be no secret to anyone seeing this that I like to argue. I’ve been arguing since I was small, I am often seen on social media making critiques of this or that, and before social media, I frequented bulletin boards where folks debate on various topics. I’m clearly not the only one because I always find willing partners to engage in debate with.

But why? It’s pretty clear such back and forth exchanges rarely change people’s opinions much less political policy or world affairs. Nor does it make me any money or win me friends. Indeed if anything it occupies time I could be using to increase my wealth and occasionally causes folks to take me off their distro lists on facebook.

Let me start with the “good” reasons I argue.

  1. I learn a lot from arguing. I like to be right, and as a result, I do some research before I make claims or argue a topic. Very often I discover a lot of new information this way and gain a good deal of understanding. Also, when you challenge folks, they will often provide sources and further information I can learn from. I also gain a better understanding of their position as they explain it in greater detail and answer questions I have. I also learn from myself. As I make my arguments I hit upon new ideas and understandings that can only come from a rigorous challenge.
  2. Others learn from my arguments. Often I can bring new information to people they were not aware of. While it may not persuade them of my position, they are at least better informed and can make good decisions. Since I generally argue in a public setting, I’m not just giving information to my opponent, but to everyone reading the exchange.
  3. We make stronger arguments. When an argument goes unchallenged, it is often weak and lacks persuasive power. When challenged we are forced to refine it. Find better support, make clearer arguments, improve our logic, or shift our positions to one that is more accurate. A stronger argument helps us move in the right direction and persuade more people. I will sometimes argue with people who’s general position I support because I think their argument is weak and undermines the ability to persuade others. Bad arguments stick in the mind of folks on the opposing side and give them cause to doubt the position as a whole.

Now for the more “debatable” reasons.

  1. It’s fun. I like thinking, solving puzzles and using my brain. I also like competition and challenge. They make me feel alive and engaged with others. Casual chit chat doesn’t do much for me. While sometimes an argument can become enraging, I try to minimize and avoid that sort of argument.
  2. Sometimes you can persuade others. While I don’t find I can get a concession except on very rare occasions, I do find that I change people’s outlooks over time with my arguments. It is not so much I persuade them that I give them ideas and information with which they persuade themselves to some change of opinion. I tend to try and work around the edges of an argument unless I have straight contradictory facts. I try to take another’s point of view and then meld theirs with mine to some degree. Also, for every person you engage, there are likely many more simply observing, and those not invested in fighting it out, are far more likely to be directly persuaded.
  3. I feel smart. Probably the worst reason, an entirely selfish one, and can be seen as trying to make others look dumb. I take pains to not call people stupid, and I don’t think they are. Most folks that take the time to argue have a brain and can use it. Often it’s all about perspective and information. None the less, I feel pretty damned clever when making a good argument and wise when showing off what I know. And I like to be a smart person and a wise person so the exercise makes me feel good.

3 Responses to “Why Argue?

  • Remember that the words you use about who you are carry weight with how others view you. For instance t people don’t like to be “argued” with. Saying ones enjoys a good debate on a topic presents you in a much better light in terms of your actual personality. No one ever wants to hire an argumentative personality as it is disruptive to team work and of course bosses hate to be argued with as they don’t have time for that in their schedule, this will include publishers who are looking to take on writers. The most common synonyms for someone who likes to argue generate very unpleasant associations of that individual’s personality: quarrelsome, disputatious, captious, contrary, cantankerous, contentious.

    The postings you write about being a person who likes to argue are not helping you to achieve your goals because they are not saying what you actually mean. If you are going to be a writer then you have to be in touch with what words mean to the average individual because your trade is producing emotional responses with those words. A thesaurus is an essential tool for enriching one’s writings. They are available as Ebooks, invest in a really good one.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I agree that how I present myself can have negative consequences for me in other areas of life. That said, I also think it is important to be honest about who I am and what I am like. If someone does not want to hear any argument from someone else, I make a poor companion or partner. While I like to feel my arguments are constructive, not everyone would agree and I have had bosses who have found my willingness to challenge authority for the sake of accuracy problematic. I’ve also watched them make exactly the mistakes I warned them would be the consequence of their actions. As a boss myself, I encouraged my employees to voice their opinions and make their case if they disagreed with me. I wanted to hear how I might be wrong so that I could make the most informed decision possible. That doesn’t mean I always went with their idea, but sometimes I did because it was better than mine. To me, that is not a waste of time. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who thought it was.

    In the workplace and when talking with new people I meet, I generally avoid any contentious talk unless I have some specific purpose in mind. On the internet, I may debate for recreation but in my professional life, I try to have a purpose behind it which serves the interests of the business. That includes my own writing work. One policy I developed for my professional life was that when arguing with a superior, I would state my case, but none the less follow whatever directives I am given as dutifully as possible. I also expect the same of those who work for me.

    The meaning of words is a tricky thing. Everyone has their own take on what they mean and you can’t easily account for the variation. The primary Dictionary definition of “Argue” (according to Websters) is this: “To give reasons for or against something: to say or write things in order to change someone’s opinion about what is true, what should be done, etc.” This is what google chose as the primary: “give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” I think both of those fit how I see the word. It is not about meaningless contention or contradiction, it is to make a case for what is true, ideally using reason and evidence. For some, like our President Elect, arguments are troublesome to the perception of reality they want to convince through pure assertion, deception, or a misplaced appeal to authority. If it bothers their ilk, I’m happy for it. I learned a while back that the world is a big place and you don’t need to make all of it happy to make your way in it.

    I’d say that those who think argument is a bad thing, should be the ones who need a dictionary so they can sort out the true meaning of the word and a Thesaurus to find a word better suited to their intended meaning. Quarrelsome or Contentions would be good choices I think. As to debate, it too has some specific meanings and tends to mean a formalized argument: “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.” For me, a debate tends to imply that there are some ground rules being followed by both sides in the course of an argument as where simple argument is more free form.

    If nothing else, I think my reply testifies to the truth of my love of argument, my justifications, and perhaps my aptitude for it.

  • This reply was moved from the Trail and Hitch blog 2017 theme post to here since it seemed to be more in reference to this subject than the theme of Opportunity in 2017.