Argumentative Arguments

Argumentation is key to humankind's intellectual and material progress, but it must not be forgotten that arguments can sow divisions and serve as the foundations of protracted conflict.

Argumentative Arguments

“There are two types of people: those who try to win and those who try to win arguments. They are never the same.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb 

The most interesting thing about human beings is the tremendous variety of perceptions they are capable of conceiving, believing and propagating. In the animal kingdom, generally speaking, not only is there a consistency in the way of life they lead, there is also quite an element of predictability of their behavior. On the contrary, not only do humans have many notions of living, their conduct too can be observed as different from one another, and of course one can hardly say for sure about their reactions when a few are exposed to the same situation. However, perhaps the common thread that ties them all in one bundle is the confidence they have in their style, thoughts, value system and beliefs. In other words: “I am right, you are wrong and we disagree to agree.”

As George Bernard Shaw aptly puts it: “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” Such is the dilemma of human beings!

There is certainly nothing against debates and arguments as long as these are within the four corners of reason, politeness, due regard for sensitive matters, in low but clear tones and above all, where there is any difference of opinion, it should be expressed with convincing evidences. Just because a topic appeals to one person’s mind and not to the other should not be a ground for dissension, especially if it is heading towards violence.

The courts of law and parliaments are the most prominent places where heated arguments take place during the period they are in session. Other than these, homes, workplaces, educational institutions etc. are where occasionally or frequently, over petty and major issues, people get into arguments that can become emotionally charged, loud and maybe prone to physical scuffles.  

In the twenty first century, a new stage of discussion has emerged. This is the social media network, comprising various communication applications chief among which is X, formerly known as Twitter. Due to its rising popularity and wide range, news and posts spread like wildfire.

The smartphone of today is so advanced that one does not need to be in the confines of closed quarters to report an incident, for this gadget can be utilized to broadcast or telecast live occurrences. This lethal combination of phone and platform has unfolded a forum for discussion pertaining to personal and public concerns. Since access is freely available, one can easily observe the quality of statements that appear on these channels. A slight slip of words, then there is no end to the obscene trolling that ensues as a result, regardless of the victim’s status.

Space discussions too can turn bitter as do the innumerable discourses on television channels depending on how critical a topic is and also the nature of participants—whether tolerant, offensive, logical or insane as evident from the many clips that are available on social media. Giving vent to one’s feelings is fair enough but one should avoid going so far as to reach a point where forgiveness is sought for misfiring. When strangers engage in arguments on the internet, one can hardly distinguish them from self-righteous youngsters and the idle elders who have plenty of free time at their disposal.

When in an argument, we tend to increase our volume under the impression that the louder we are, the more emphatic our point of view would be while the sensible voice could get muted in the racket causing an otherwise congenial atmosphere to turn toxic. Surprisingly, topics such as politics and religion are the ones that provoke the loudest forms of arguments. In their eagerness to convince others about a certain ideology for example, people often let go all cultural values to be replaced with offensive language and curt mannerism defying all norms of civility.

Check out how families break up on flimsy grounds just because some discussions get soured for want of empathetic approach. It truly is amazing to see how extreme cruelty can be inflicted by blood relatives on each other for worldly possessions, for difference of opinions, for exerting unjustified control, especially over women, for disallowing children from exercising their choices over education or marriages, and so many other issues—in short, from not being able to see eye to eye with certain things.

From the country parliaments to international forums, there are crossfires of serious arguments among seasoned politicians of the world without reaching concrete or rather peaceful solutions. Wars erupt because verbal arguments fail. Consider Neal Shusterman’s words: “You see, a conflict always begins with an issue - a difference of opinion, an argument. But by the time it turns into a war, the issue doesn't matter anymore, because now it's about one thing and one thing only: how much each side hates the other.”

No wonder there is hardly a region on this earth that is not afflicted with unrest.

Arguments are necessary otherwise there would not be progress or expansion. A host of inventions and discoveries follow as a consequence of differences in perception but it does not mean that we should draw swords on minor tiffs or start a volley of insults when we fail to convince. As Marcus Tullius Cicero suggests: “When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff”. In a nutshell, when love surrenders to hate, when arguments are for the sake of argument, when there is no appreciation for another’s viewpoint, when contempt replaces respect then we are bound to push ourselves in the fire of hell in this very world. Perhaps we need to improve the way we argue and pay heed to the wisdom of Robert Greene: “Always remember that your calmness under fire is your best defense in any argument or discussion.”

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)