LaMar’s Guide to Arguing

23 11 2011

The year is 2011.  Next year is 2012 (if either of those statements made you confused, either you need to get your time-machine lag worked out or you are actually reading this in 2012 or later).  One of next year’s happenings is the absolutely ridiculous theory that the world will end in December of 2012.  This is because the Mayan calendar ends.  This is flawed for so many reasons, but there is one very simple reason why this isn’t a big deal: wouldn’t you be more freaked out if the calendar didn’t stop, like, ever?  News flash:  scientists discover infinitely big stone that allows us to roast marshmallows on the sun!  No.

What will happen next year, barring an unfortunate and apparently early destruction of the world, is the U.S. presidential election.  This is sure to cause lots of groaning and unfortunately sincere hyperbolic statements of “Yes the world WILL end if _____ becomes President.  News flash:  200+ years of Presidents and we’re still here.  Probably not going to happen.

World might end of awesomeness if Spidey becomes President

So, in preparation for this, and in preparation for cordial encounters for the rest of your life, I present you:  LAMAR’S GUIDE TO ARGUING.  I can guarantee you now that you have failed one or more of these points in an argument.  I know I have.  Here we go!

1.  Know what you are talking about

This kinda goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t argue about something in which you know less about it than Canadians know of warm weather.  You don’t have to be an expert–most people aren’t experts.  But at least know something.

2.  You probably aren’t 100% correct and neither is the other person(s)

This is really hard to swallow for most of us because we are naturally prideful.  If we come to a conclusion, we usually assume that EVERYTHING about it is correct and EVERYTHING about the oponent’s view is therefore incorrect.  For everything except the absolute simplest of issues, this isn’t the case.  There are elements from both sides that are usually useful or correct.

3.  Assumptions are bad

If I say the word ‘pitbull’ to you, you probably think of a large, angry, mean dog who likes to hug anything and everything very tightly with its teeth.  This is an association, an assumption, a stereotype.  These kind of assumptions are extremely counter-productive when it comes to arguments.  We immediately associate things with opposite parties, be they atheist or Christian, Jewish or Muslim, CEO or professor, or Republican or Democrat.  We assume things about them without knowing who they are before they even open their mouth.  In the case of the opposing party, one usually assumes, “Oh, they’re an X, which obviously means they are incorrect and are this type of person.”  More insidiously, we also assume other unrelated things about them that are not necessarily true and, in addition, are often irrelevant to a particular argument.  So if you’re arguing with the person who’s an X, you probably also assume that they have a particular view on an unrelated thing and take that into consideration in your argument.

Most likely, after telling you to think of a pitbull, you probably also thought of a spiked collar and a mean, gruff, possibly slobby/creepy male owner without me even telling you to.  Assumptions are often times hurtful and counter-productive.

Not a pitbull.

4.  Keep an open mind

We fail bigtime at this.  None of us really have an open mind.  We go into a debate or argument looking to prove the other wrong and/or to show that you are right.  This closed mindset is awful, particularly in politics:  politicians refuse to accept that the other party might have a good idea.  I think there are good ideas from both Republicans and Democrats; anyone who would be honest and keep an open mind would agree.

5.  Leave your emotions out of it

It’s perfectly fine to be passionate about something; chances are that’s why you are arguing in the first place. But leave the emotions aside for a moment and discuss the issue.  Hot heads are never good in an argument.  It results in feuds, fights, and other nasty things.  Don’t do it.  Try not to get offended by something the other person says:  if they are critical of your view, offer a rebuttal.  If it doesn’t make sense or adequately address their criticism, maybe you should reexamine your view and see if its correct in the first place.  You can, however, get offended if you experience my final point.


Address the issue at hand.  Logically.  Do not, under any circumstances, attack the person you are arguing with.  This happens all the time in political discussions; be aware of how many people call the opposite party (or individuals within) ‘stupid’ or ‘idiots.’  You do this, you look like a gigantic, self-centered, righteous jerk.  I am extremely critical of this because it is directly opposed to good discussion and argument.  Don’t assume that someone is ‘stupid’ for holding a certain belief or idea that’s not your own.  That view–that’s what is stupid.

Don't attack people in an argument.

Bad reasoning or a fail argument isn’t just relegated to message boards, people.  On facebook, I saw that a person had commented on another person’s link.  The link was to a news article about a politician’s statement.  This politician suggested that low-income children should be given jobs in place of expensive, unionized janitors.  This politician theorized that this would give low-income children an incentive to continue to go to school.  Interesting, for sure.  An argument that could be made by anyone.  This is what was said on facebook by a person who I know is on the other side of the political fence:

Oh wow. He’s a truly insightful [politician]. Child labor laws are the root cause of all of our problems in Amurrca. Right behind giving women the right to vote…

Though not exactly an argument, this statement would fail numbers 3,4, 5, and 6.  The sarcasm suggests the person was not open at all to the thought.  Assumptions were made about this candidate being inherently wrong. Emotions were likely a reason…how else would one explain women and voting?  Completely irrelevant; it seems this person had a reason to bring it up.  It can also be seen as a vague attack on the politician.  Even smart people, like the person who responded, fall victim to arguing pride.

Here’s a summarization in one sentence:  Calmly articulate your view to the issue at hand using only logic and reasoning, keeping an open mind to the discussion and being prepared to admit when you are incorrect or un-knowleadgable.





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