In case you are just entering the discussion I'm following up on points I've made on shifting the intrapersonal Overton window and communicating unmistakeably to your opponent that they are not in your camp. This series on How to Argue more or less in response to Ethan Siegel and Isis the Scientist, kinda taking a Ladenesque or UncertainChadian approach of being unable to relinquish the bone...except without the initial pronouncements of disinterest.
Personal confession after the jump.
I love to get in fights. My usual Readers are desperately trying to reel their gaping, disbelieving jaws back together at this shocking revelation, I realize.
No, I am not talking about certain recreational hobbies in which I might or might not engage, but rather fighting over ideas. Over ideas, the support for those ideas and the reasons why people holding ideas may or may not hold them. Not arguing, not debating.
I am not going to bother trying to draw lines with respect to pyramids of discourse or when an argument has gone ad hominem. I'll just acknowledge in a general way that fighting about ideas encompasses many low tricks that are otherwise considered not-cricket for proper debate. Actual ad hominems, taking fake positions, raising straw people, holier-than-thou'ing, appealing to authority,
insulting their momz, heaping scorn, false associating.....all that stuff the nose-sniffing sphincter ratcheters accuse people of doing even when they haven't actually done so.
I will pause right here to acknowledge that my fondness for heated discussion is a mark of privilege. A privilege deriving first and foremost from a family environment in which there was never much confusion (beyond tame levels of teenage angst) of vigorous debate over ideas with a lack of emotional security. Deriving from whatever quirks of genetics and development permit me to enjoy such discussion of differing viewpoints without undue dismay. From whatever quirks permit me to shrug off, more or less, the realization that some people may just not like me very much. I will also note that I need to be reminded of this now and again...nevertheless I disagree that there is any particularly objective valence on this issue that rules out a good rousing fight over ideas.
So why get in these fights? Is it a moral flaw? Some might see it that way. A bullying personality? Perhaps, although I'll return to this in a minute. A variance in entertainment preference (sure) similar to those who enjoy boxing, hockey or dogfights (ummm....)? Blowing off steam? Cry in the wilderness? Staking a claim? Street theater?
One reason, perhaps not intentional at the time, is to take the measure of your opponent. The true measure. An unfortunate parallel with the inevitable wrestling between 5-10 yr old boys occurs to me. Unfortunate because press over persecutorial physical bullying and kids-who-return-with-a-gun overshadows the much less-serious reality of many childhoods. Still, it is worth thinking about because even school yard wrestling/fighting between boys has a set of limits. Noses get bloodied, knees scraped and bruises are produced, yes. To my fading recollection, and to my observance of a more recent generation of boys, there are still limits. The point is not to maim or cause permanent injury and even very mad youngsters seem to understand this. The point is not to persecute continually and bullies are indeed identified. As are the kids on the other side of the distribution...those who cannot take it, for whatever reason. Yet, kids can be very sweet and solicitous about those who are truly impaired and would not fight with them. There are rules...but kids still still engage in a good bit of physical measure-taking of their peers.
Now that I've nicely derailed myself, back to the point. Why do we resort to fighting over issues to take the true measure of each other's ideas and character? I suspect it has much to do with the fact that people can be reasonably secretive about their true beliefs. Even from themselves. Secretive about not just single issue, but the panoply of implications of taking a particular stance. The may paper these beliefs over with convenient labels such as liberal, progressive, democrat, conservative, fiscally responsible or republican. Libertarian, intellectual, feminist, rational, atheist, pro-choice, anti-prohibition, harm-reductionist. The lists go on.
I am not interested in what you call yourself, I am interested in how you really feel about things. How you really behave when it counts. Are you really on my side? Am I on yours? Can we make common cause on what is really important?
I am reminded of a vignette over at 49 percent. Although Samia is unjustifiably beating herself for not wanting to throw down, the issue has to do with inadvertent revelations of true stances. I assume, as I think Samia does, that expressions of -ist insensitivity are gated by the audience. That people who habitually use wetback, nigger, fag, slurs against women, etc, have a tendency to do less of that in the presence of someone they think of as in that group. This is the extreme example...but then I have to admit that I've been around some vigorous discussions in which people, while not exactly defending the slur as such, tried to make out the slur wasn't really a slur and shouldn't really cause offense.
There are subtler ones. Perhaps consider the precise tenor and depth of a conservative political person's disdain for a more liberal perspective (or vice versa). Political fervor is not always on view...it may take some probing. Pro-choice vs. Pro-life...how far are you willing to push your views? Commitment to workplace diversity is an easy surface...until you start probing personal privilege. "What? I'm into diversity and all but wtf do you mean I have my faculty position in part because of my penis, heternormativity and skin reflectance?" says the white d00d- when pressed. Tax strategies- can you do math, do you argue against a principle to which you supposedly adhere just to enrich yourself? Are you for Public Policy X only because you know damn well it will never affect you but you would never go for the version that impacts your liberties?
I find that getting into fights over ideas really brings out the truth of people. Not right away, perhaps. It may take some cooling off and reflection. It may take subsequent events. In the end, however, you tend to get a pretty good read. And in many cases you may even have convinced them to change their mind about something important.
Perhaps even more importantly you have taken the measure of how they conduct themselves. Are they willing to give and receive hard shots? Find their true beliefs held up, excoriated and dismissed? How do they respond? To what lengths of illogic, hypocrisy and contradiction are they willing to go to avoid acknowledging that you are right? Do they take responsibility? Try to run home and stop playing? Resort to their daddy to save them? Do they mindlessly bully or do they know when to stop? Are they able to distinguish a move that will cause bumps and bruises from one that might maim or hospitalize (rhetorically speaking)? Do they stand in there and keep punching even when clearly beat?
Would it really surprise you to find that many of my closest friends are those I've had bitter battles over ideas with?