Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Poverty of Argumentation

You won't find it everywhere online. Not here on my blog, where I seem to be mercifully readerless. Not on my old blog of several years ago, where I had actual readers but they were all civil and well behaved. But you'll find it often enough online, on blogs and discussion forums: the poverty of argumentation.

You know what I mean. People raging, shrieking, sputtering, using "logical" argumentation as a lead-weighted bludgeon with which to thwack their opponents. "I can force you to agree with me!" And the thing is, their argumentation is such a paltry thing. So threadbare. So ossified. So paint-by-number. So glaringly inadequate to real life. And yet to them-- to the hectorers, to the lead-weighted arguers-- their argumentation is beyond question. They are no longer capable of framing any view of things except in terms of their tiny, rigid, circumscribed argumentational world, and they cannot imagine how anyone else could either.

"Logic" and "reason" as horse blinders. "But my horse blinders are inevitable! You all are wearing horse blinders, whether you're aware of it or not!" Not really. In the country of the one-eyed men, the blind man tries to secure his case by arguing, loudly, that nobody has or has ever had eyes. But most of us are not tunnel visioned enough to be taken in by such a line of argument. Most of us have not, like the chronic arguer, lost the indispensable ability to color outside the lines.

Imagine if the multitude of decisions and judgments you make in everyday life were trammeled and strangled by the toxic atmosphere of argumentation on display in some online forums. Imagine if you were continually thus hemmed in and jostled, even in your inmost mind. Think how much poorer your grasp of things would be, how much more paltry your grasp of reality. Argumentation is overall a poor way of getting at truth, far poorer an avenue to truth than most of the rough and ready means to which we are native.

Show me a man who is addicted to argumentational rage, and I will show you a man I do not take seriously. I would no more rely on him for any deeper insight into matters on which he deems himself an expert, or for understanding of truths on which he fancies he has a lock, than I would squander my money on lottery tickets. We as human beings are capable of far better than that.

There are none so blind as those who will not rise above the argumentational fray.

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