How to Argue

I enjoy internet arguments.

It’s a strange thing to admit, I know. How badly all arguments on the internet go is one of those things that has become a recognised symptom of our culture. No longer are we buffeted from other people’s rudeness and opposing opinions by the shields of common politeness, the freedom of anonymity allowing people to make statements they would never in person, and in turn allows for replies to be as terse and sharp as the original post. Then someone else weighs in. Then somebody gets compared to Hitler and the argument loses any validity that it ever had. We all know what I mean, whether it be on online forums or Facebook, there are people out there who like Trolling and Flaming, and suddenly the internet has become a dark and unfriendly place.

But these are not arguments. They are the online equivalent of ringing someone’s doorbell and running away, and then running back to tell the persons whose bell you rang exactly why you did it.

But I like arguments. At least, I like them if they’re done properly. It’s an odd thing to consider the correct and incorrect ways to argue, but in my mind they have always been pretty clear.

The key to a successful argument is; don’t get angry. Two people can talk over varying sides of a topic; and that’s a discussion. Then two people can hold firm, opposing beliefs on a subject and debate how each one feels the other is wrong; and this is an argument. The problem is that so many people get so angry at someone else being, as they see it, wrong, or at the that they are accusing them of being wrong, that they just degenerate into a shouting match and then they choose to get offended.

But arguments do not have to be like this. I love getting into a decent debate someone who holds opposing views to myself, but have so few people who can do it properly. I have many friends with political views that differ to mine, but only one who I know I could have a decent argument over it, without them either getting angry at me or backing down so that they ‘avoid the argument.’ Some people just cannot do it.

The key to all of this is rooted in the ancient wisdom that the only true knowledge is the knowledge that we know nothing. While I have incredibly strong views on many things, I am not so prideful or conceited to believe that I can never be wrong. One of the reasons I love arguing is that it is a chance to test my beliefs against those that oppose them. How else are we supposed to grow? How can your views and opinions develop without seeking out those who think differently. I am quite ready for any of my long held beliefs to change if someone proves me wrong or persuades me otherwise.

Part of the ability to argue comes from confidence. The easiest way of telling whether somebody is unsure about the position they are taking in a debate is whether they get angry. Somebody who desperately wants to believe a point of view but fears, deep down, that they might be wrong and that being wrong will somehow cause them to be judged by others will get very defensive very quickly. You might be able to justify it to yourself afterwards, but if you cannot argue with somebody on a topic without getting angry at them, it means you have neither confidence in yourself or your opinion.

To provide examples of this, I’m going to give you two links; ‘The Rumble in the Air Conditioned Auditorium‘, an ‘alternative’ debate held during the last US Presidential Elections between Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart, and Piers Morgan’s recent interview with Alex Jones.

Watch the first one. Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart are two men with fundamentally opposing political viewpoints, but throughout the whole debate not once do they get angry over it. They both make their points and counterpoints, confident in what they believe and what they are arguing. It’s a great thing to watch, and was far more enlightening about the divide in American politics and news reporting than any of the actual Candidate debates.

Then watch Alex Jones. The man is terrifying. Deep down, even he knows that everything he extols is utter rubbish (if you don’t know about Alex Jones, then do some research on the man. He’s a certified nut-case) and the only way he knows to prevent someone pointing out all the irrefutable flaws in his case is to scream in their face and not give them a chance to talk. The man makes the watchers root for Piers Morgan. Piers Morgan!

I originally mentioned the internet, didn’t I. What the internet gives to argumenters (it’s a word, look it up), assuming the argumenters know what they are talking about and are not just Trolling or otherwise causing trouble on purpose, is both a wider view and the chance to read and respond with plenty of time. When talking in person, your mind has to race and often facts will allude you and the words you use will not be phrased in the best way. That’s why politicians always sound so scripted in interviews; they cannot afford to slip up and let their opponents use a mistake against them. The benefit of the internet is you have the time to re-read comments before replying, double check facts online, and think about what you’re saying. There are other inherent problems, such as the loss of tone of voice and facial expressions which can vastly change the meaning of a sentence, but two people who are grown up enough to read more than one possible interpretation into a comment and cope with this and carry on.

Some people, of course, cannot. But those are the people who likely poor argumenters in person as well, so you’re better off avoiding debating with them face to face as well.

(Oh, none of this refers to people who leave comments on news websites or Youtube. Those people are just weirdos who shouldn’t be allowed the internet. Or pen and paper for that matter…)

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