For the last month while I’ve been cramming for finals I’ve tried to keep blogging everyday for the sake of keeping up to date with worldly events but I’ve been slacking off in other departments. For example, I havenÃ¢??t had time to clean my apartment so I’m now living in a dump and the sink full of unwashed dishes has given birth to a new living organism.
I’ve also been unable to keep up with emails and correspondences with several people. One of these people replied to me today with a one liner that I’ve heard a few times in my life during my college years. It went something like this: “…since you havenÃ¢??t replied I assume I win this debate and I hope you reevaluate your beliefs”. To backtrack for a second this is a reader of my blog who I’ve been debating Islam with via email; in hopes of clearing up his misconceptions. By the way I’m not writing this post to embarrass the person or anything; I’m just using a real life example for dramatic purposes, and like I said it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.
What got me thinking were the reasons why we get into debates or arguments in the first place.
To defend what we believe? To attack what others believe? To defend what we believe by attacking what others believe; winning an argument by sinking another’s argument?
I think it’s very hard to change someone’s opinions or beliefs. On a daily basis we form these beliefs and they dry like concrete in a short period of time. Whether it’s from our social environments, our upbringings or our own education, much of what we believe is set in stone. Rarely have I met a person who is completely open minded in the receptive sense of the word; who are actually listening and not hearing. When we hear an argument or read an argument it’s usually to look for holes or flaws in it, and while we hear it or read it we tend to already formulate our responses in our minds. A plan of attack.
Socrates used to argue by posing questions in an attempt I suppose to let people argue their own beliefs till the point where they realize the flaws in their own arguments. He was put to death for ironically making people question their beliefs. But who knows, maybe Socrates didn’t have an argument to begin with and was just a bitter old man who questioned what others believed in instead of taking the step to believe in anything himself. Maybe he was the personification of antithesis; the human embodiment of opposition.
So this is what many people do: they question what others believe in so that they won’t have to evaluate what they believe in. And in a way we argue in order to win: the prize being validation. We have our own beliefs and we create a lifestyle and surround ourselves with an environment that is agreeable to those beliefs. So when differing opinions enter the picture we react to them like an immune system to a virus, and we allocate our mental resources to destroy those opinions and thus restore order to our preconditioned environments. Kind of like all those Twilight Zone episodes where the main character wakes up at the end with a sigh of relief that everything is ‘back to normal’.
In educational institutions you’re taught to form an original idea and then defend it by arguing it. The word “argument” in the real world however means “fight”. When you hear someone say “they had an argument” they mean “they had a fight”: a verbal confrontation where the sole purpose is not to uphold your beliefs by providing evidence, logic and rationale, but instead to “win”.
In Plato’s Republic Socrates poses what feels like hundreds of questions to prove his point. When you include questions in your argument you force people to think; the human mind knows no other option. Today however arguments center on person A unleashing an opinion and person B unleashing his own and they butt heads in the boxing ring like two magnets repelling.
Speaking of myself I try as often as I can to evaluate the purpose of an argument first. I try and read people and see where they’re coming from. Is their purpose to attack my beliefs or to try and understand them? I try and invest some time into this evaluation because it saves me some time in the end, especially if their purpose is in fact to attack.
But these days this process proves difficult as intentions are harder to decipher in this politically correct world of ours. Dare I use the analogy of a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
But maybe people don’t want to listen. Maybe they’d rather win an argument instead of understand a point of view. Maybe in this massively segregated and categorized world of ours where we are liberals and conservatives, Muslims and Christians, labels and labels and labels, which we strive to attach ourselves to in order to belong, in order to feel validated and create and sustain those social environments that uphold our beliefs, maybe in this kind of world it’s harder to convince a person to walk out those few steps with the intent of consensus instead of self validation. We’ve moved our civilizations from the village life where everyone knows everyone, to the city life, where we rush home to lock our doors and feel safe. And our beliefs and the way we approach them have also made that same move.
Maybe we should start all debates with disclaimers which read:
“Warning: I don’t want to understand your point of view, I just want to prove that your point of view is wrong. I won’t be reading what you’ve written or listening to what you say; instead I’ll be looking for flaws and formulating a reply that intends to destroy your beliefs. Consensus is not an option. Proceed at your own discretion.”
If they printed this disclaimer in the form of a sticker we could all stick on our shirts so that when we met we’d all know where we’re coming from, well suffice to say we’d all save each other a whole lot of time and energy. Time and energy that could be better spent towards, I don’t know, bringing about world peace maybe?
If thou continuest to take delight in idle argumentation,
thou mayest be qualified to combat with the sophists, but never know how to live with men.
Thou will also be asking for an ass whooping.