Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Motivated Missing of the Point

I often don't know who's right in an argument. But I've discovered a good rule of thumb for knowing when someone is wrong, dead wrong, in the wrong. Look for whoever's mired down in querulousness, nitpicking, logic-chopping, and especially what we might call a motivated missing of the point.

Do you find someone in the argument who seems to be laboring under a deliberate and persistent misreading of their opponent's point of view? Not just a misreading due to honest ignorance, or to lack of familiarity with said view. But a misreading which is pervasive, persistent, oblivious, and largely self-imposed. Do you find someone who seems to be doing their damnedest to misunderstand even the most basic and salient details of their opponent's views? In short, someone who is heavily invested in a motivated missing of the point?

Then almost always, I suspect, that someone will turn out to be wrong, dead wrong, in the wrong, and carrying the flag of a wrong point of view.

Their opponents may not be right. Their opponents may also be mistaken. But I can predict to you with fair certainty that anyone who is peevishly and argumentatively wedded to a motivated missing of the point will almost always be wrong.

Best to test this one out by finding a hunt in which you have no dog. Blogs and online forums are a good place to look. Look for the motivated missers-of-the-point in that discussion. Become impressionistically familiar with their patter, their tactics, their umbrage, their gait, and their overall smell. Once you gain some acquaintance with what to look for, you will also often be able to sight them in disputes where you yourself have more of a stake. As long as you keep your own passions on a very short leash, and don't give in to the urge of becoming a motivated misser-of-the-point yourself!

Better yet, once you learn their profile, stay far away from any venue where such gargling anger-mongers congregate and converge. Don't pollute yourself with the miasma which flows from them and their ilk. As G.K. Chesterton once said:
Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.
Yes, and likewise we can rise above the anger-garglers by not engaging in a motivated missing of the point ourselves.

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