The way to read the title of this article is “Let’s Argue about Something,” with the emphasis on the final word—as opposed to Nothing.
But now for something completely different. Remember this bit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus:
A: An argument is not the same as contradiction.
B: Well, it can be!
A: No, it can’t! An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition.
B: No, it isn’t!
A: Yes, it is! It isn’t just contradiction.
B: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position!
A: But it isn’t just saying, “No, it isn’t.”
B: Yes, it is!
A: No, it isn’t! Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.
B: No, it isn’t!
A: Yes, it is!
B: Not at all!
Excerpt from Argument Clinic, Copyright 1972 Python (Monty) Pictures. Here’s the full video clip on the official Monty Python YouTube Channel:
What’s my argument here? There are some things I am not going to argue about anymore.
I am not going to argue about whether global warming is real. It’s real, and it’s a problem we need to address. This is settled science. If you haven’t bought into the settlement, I am sorry for your inability to grasp facts.
I am not going to argue about basic vaccines and immunizations for preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella. Unless your doctor specially tells you your child must opt out for a clear reason, I believe you have a moral obligation to your child and an ethical obligation to society to get this done as soon as practicable.
I am not going to argue about who has a right to marry whomever he or she may select (absent DNA concerns around family history). This is a civil right. Civil rights are inviolable.
I am not going to argue about evolution and natural selection. I am not going to argue about the age of the Earth or the number of years human beings have been inhabiting it. I am also not going to argue that the science here is incompatible with religion, because many of the distinguished scientists who have proven these case studies have been profoundly religious people who aligned their faith with their findings. I have. I believe you can, too. If you don’t, I am not going to argue the point. It, too, is settled.
Why no more argument from me here? Because there is no point. These are not arguments. We have data at more than sufficient scale to make the findings. Thus these become matters of contradiction. If we don’t agree, there is nothing you can say to me to get me to change my mind, and I know there is nothing I can say to you to change your mind. Remember, for a few centuries now we no longer debate whether the Earth is flat or the sun revolves around it—there was plenty enough data collected to make those arguments moot. Likewise on the other referenced topics. I am moving on.
Want to argue? Cool, then let’s focus on subjectivity.
I will argue with you about tax policy—who should pay and how much. That’s a great argument to have.
I will argue with you about allocation options within the federal budget—entitlements, debt, defense, infrastructure, social programs—we can have a great debate about that! If it turns into an argument, maybe we’ll learn from each other as long as we both commit to 50% talking and 50% listening.
I will argue with you about which wars can be justified, and which wars can’t. Yes, I think that is subjective, and people do change their minds about this over time.
I will argue with you about whether there will ever be a band as magnificent and important as the Beatles, whether Beethoven is a better composer than Mozart, and whether I am missing the point entirely on Katy Perry.
Essentially I will argue with you about any subject where I think by investing the time, passion, and energy, at least one of us might come away with even a slightly altered point of view. If I can learn from you by hearing you construct a reasonable case, I am open to it. If you can learn from me by believing there is a possibility I could construct a reasonable case, I will share it with you. I will spend as long with you on the argument as we both deem it interesting. Should we continue to disagree at the conclusion, as long as you have not lambasted me with an ad hominem attack, I promise to respect your opinion, however wrong you may be. Yet if you sneak back into emotional ideology that is not grounded in reason or supported assessment, I won’t argue with you again. Lucky you.
Now the ground rules. I promise to read widely about subjects of interest and study them before I subject you to my argument. I expect that you will do the same. If you don’t read much or challenge your own thinking before you subject me to it, let’s not bother. We can only do each other some good if we do ourselves some good as well. That means preparation. That means readiness. That means a serious consideration of the point at hand. That means caring enough to study and be well versed on a topic before passionately expressing a strident point of view. It worked in college. It will work in the real world.
Don’t like the rules? No worries. We don’t have to argue at all. I know lots of people who like these rules. I learn from those people every day. They make me a better person because they care about ideas. I trust them to stretch my mind and to prompt me to reconsider anything that can be reconsidered.
No, they don’t.
Yes, they do.
Are you contradicting me or seeking an argument?
Let me know before we engage.