Notes On The Delicious Art of Arguing

Barney Quick

Barney Quick writes for various magazines and website, plays jazz guitar in various configurations, and teaches jazz history and rock and roll history at Indiana University. He blogs at Late in the Day and writes longer essays at Precipice, his Substack newsletter.

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7 Responses

  1. Burt Likko

    Much of what people call “debate” is actually “argument,” and much of “argument” is simply “disagreeing disagreeably.”

    Most people have insufficient patience for an actual debate. An actual “Lincoln-Douglas style debate” would involve long, detailed, nuanced descriptions of ideas which, though they clashed, did so in a mutually-respectful and carefully-considered fashion. Without the sneering, name-calling, contempt, sarcasm, and reductio ad absurdum fallacies, how are we to know that the debaters even disagree?

    Modern arguments, by which I mean people disagreeing disagreeably, are typically characterized by a shared absence of a trait that the OP assumes as a given: persuadability. If you ask a cutting question that exposes the fundamental flaw in my position, I ought to have the grace to recognize it, concede the point, and change my mind. After all, you just delivered the coup de gras, and honor requires that I admit your blade has penetrated to score.

    But that’s not what really happens. What happens is I get frustrated, and angry, and I double down on my position regardless of its merits. And perhaps you recognize that in my behavior, and feel an inner satisfaction. You’d better, because what you are never going to get from me is that concession. Because for both of us, the point of arguing is not to prove yourself right. Rather, the point of arguing is to win. And I’m not going to stop until I do.

    Especially so when the subject matter has been politicized.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko

      I have discovered generally that trying to debate in good-faith gives you nothing but grief. In terms of people you disagree with, conceding a point does not produced a conceded point in return, it tends to produce “give an inch, take a mile.” You also don’t get much support from your own side because they are pissed at you for your concessions.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko

      Most debates are more about point scoring and getting a dopamine rush rather than earnest talk about ideas. You get the most earnest debates when arguing with people near your beliefs rather than just too far away. Liberal and leftist arguments generally produce more heat than light but they still have more light content than liberal and conservative debates or leftist and rightists debates.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko

      Part of the problem is how the game is iterated.

      If there’s a person out there who says something like “I’ve never seen evidence for X!” and then you provide evidence for X and they pivot to “I haven’t been trained to read scientific papers”, you’re going to see the next time they argue something from their own ignorance as a very different kind of argument.

      And then, like, if they start quoting scientific papers at some point after that?

      Well, then.

      You’re not likely to see the next interaction as a “discussion” as much as an “argument”.Report

  2. DensityDuck

    A brilliant satire, sir. Well done.Report

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