Will the Sun Rise Tomorrow - Commentary on Hopeless Arguments
Reading the reply to a post I made it struck me how utterly pointless the idea behind commenting on an article somebody else wrote in order to change their mind really is. Now this is going to turn into a bit of a ramble rather than a directed article but I’m going to write it anyhow.
The first scenario for this type of thing is where, as I saw recently on a fellow hubbers article, you have a good article on a contentious subject closely followed by a series of posts all about how the other person is wrong. Some of them were a little moronic along the lines of ‘you’re wrong cos I say you are’ but most were relatively reasoned arguments on both sides. Here’s the thing – from the point of view of convincing the other person – this is a giant failure.
When I want your opinion...
The guy who wrote the article (here on the topic of Global Warming) clearly knows enough and has read enough to be able to write the article and in doing so clearly believes the arguments he puts forth. So why oh why, on the strength of one minor counter-argument, is he going to go ‘oh yeah! You’re right, I’ll change my mind!’ – Its never going to happen! And yet we still do it, I did it. His replies could in fairness be classed as courtesy, but they carried a little bit more persuasion.
Why do we do this? He wasn’t going to convince me of his argument and I wasn’t going to convince him of mine. The only purpose this exchange has is to air each viewpoint. I suppose this staves off apathy, but thinking about this, the real target is not the person to whom the post is address, they are already a lost cause. Instead, it’s to convince the person who has not yet taken a side, the early bombardment in preparation for the going over the top.
The second scenario is the more bewildering of the two. This is where all the participants share a common view but insist in telling everybody their own little version of it. What they’re trying to say is ‘yes I agree with you’. Instead what you get is two dozen stories of how they came to this view point and what it means for them, their sisters, cousins and aunts.
It goes round and round in a re-enforcement frenzy as if each one has to prove they do indeed hold this view. From the outside it’s utterly ridiculous; there is no need for all that excitement when everybody agrees with each other.
To this end I postulate that the only discussions worth holding are between people who know very little on a subject, where reference to a higher authority can be made and accepted and also over subjects which are abstract and of little importance.
This last type is because one can happily concede the argument or even change your view simply because it is not inconvenient to do so and the outcome doesn’t bother you one way or another.