CaspianReport: What do terrorists want?

How we argue

One of the best teachers ever (I’ve had more than my fair share) was my grade 10 English teacher. Yet, he had this one fault that was totally destroying his reputation with the students. Whenever he returned marked tests or materials to us, a long queue would form by his desk and he’d let people bully him into raising their marks! After weeks of working up my courage, I finally waited for him after class and poured my heart out…

His smile totally stunned me! When he saw the look of incomprehension on my face, he explained: “I’m not letting them bully me into anything. I’m teaching them how to use English to prove their point! While they stand in line, they prepare their argument. If they do it well, they earn marks for their oral presentation. English is a living language: it needs to be spoken, with passion. So, I reward a well presented oral argument. But ‘the system’ does not allow me to give marks for this….so I just tack them on to the tests!”

A teacher who actually valued a ‘good argument’! This put things into a brand new light, in one of those ‘paradigm shifts’…

Yet, he forbade me from telling anyone what he’s doing. This really struck me: if they knew they were being tested, the kids would argue differently (if at all) then when they thought they were just arguing!

Ever since then, I paid closer attention to HOW people argue.

Yes, of course, much depends on the person: but even considering the same guy or gal, there is a big difference in how people argue…depending on what is at stake.

And I use the ‘at stake’ to apply in a myriad of ways. Let me break out a few (yes, many overlap, and this list is by no means exhaustive) of these:

The Positioning Argument
The outcome will affect some position (even just a little one) of their life….from a test mark to getting that refund to not getting cheated out of a deal….

The Personal Competition Argument
This could start out as any other type or argument, but grow an edge: now it’s personal! The original issue becomes secondary to beating the other ‘guy’.

The Professional Argument
There is a definite stake in the outcome argument. Yet, it is not personal and the topic does not necessarily represent a deep personal investment.

The Detached Argument
This could be a purely ‘fun’ or ‘no personal stake’ argument, where neither side cares about winning or loosing…the argument is perhaps more closely related to common brainstorming. In other words, neither side has put an emotional stake onto any of the positions discussed, even if the outcome may have an impact. So the many points presented can be examined and debated without the fear of ‘loosing’.

The Scientific Argument
Perhaps it is a special case of the ‘detached argument’, because in a scientific argument, the outcome is not something one has a personal investment in. Yet I think it deserves a separation because it is more rigid, uses words in a more technical way than common speech, and requires very specific type of proof…only objective, scientific proof, to be specific.

The Philosophical Argument
This is another such special case of the ‘Detached Argument’, or at least, can be, because the language may be used in very different ways from common speech. However, the ‘Philosophical Argument’ can easily stray from its ideals and escalate into a ‘Faith Argument’.

The Faith Argument
very personal argument, which involves one’s beliefs or faith or some deeply-adhered to dogma: very high stakes, deep personal and emotional investment…. These arguments can start very philosophically, and may also end very amicably. However, if the ‘Faith Argument’ escalates, it can become very unpleasant….people are not usually comfortable having their faith/beliefs/dogma challenged. And, if the argument is so structured that loosing it will be perceived as an invalidation of these deeply held beliefs, faiths or dogmas, it might get bitter indeed.

The ‘Look at me’ Argument
Designed not to argue, or win, simply to demonstrate one’s cleverness and/or superiority…

The Dismissive Argument
This is the ‘your argument is so pathetic/unreasonable/unworthy/stupid, I’m not even going to acknowledge it’ argument…. May appear arrogant, but then again, when done well, it can be very effective. By preventing the opposing side from being heard (either by shouting them down before debate starts, or by prejudicing the audience against them), it wins the argument by default. This would be the type of thing debunked by the child’s cry of ‘the Emperor has no clothes’…. if you’re the type of person who’d take an uneducated child’s word for things, that is….

The ‘Smarter than you and I’ Argument
This is a combination of ‘Faith’ and ‘Dismissive’ arguments and something all of its own. In essence, it states that neither person doing the arguing is qualified to evaluate the points presented, but that someone who is qualified (some higher power or intelligence) had made a determination, so that is the only acceptable position. This one is hard to argue against, because one is dismissed on faith…

Perhaps these are somewhat artificial divisions, but they make sense to me. But what is more, I use them as a tool: when I am observing an argument or a debate (like, say, on, seeing HOW the different people argue will tell me a lot… Not only will it say a lot about how the arguing parties relate to the topic under discussion, it also provides an insight into the way the debate is likely to evolve…and how to calm it down (if that would be called for).

Of course, I would never advocate using these observations to heat up the debate….unless it really needed ‘livening up’!