The Winning Argument

    Recently I had an exchange with a person that I like and respect quite a lot. He said something that disturbed me. He said “I do indeed have a fascination with the argument and the tools that are employed in winning them.” It seems to me that many people (probably since the beginning of time) feel that they must win their arguments; they must convince the audience that they are correct and the 'opponent' is wrong, if not outright evil. This disturbs me. It worries me.

    To me, a 'winning' argument is one which is internally consistent, fits all the facts (our common reality), does not violate the logical reasoning process, has reasonable assumptions that, at least for the sake of the discussion, we can agree upon. A 'winning' conclusion from said argument is one which gives useful predictions and leads to the discovery of new and useful information. Convincing people that the conclusions of the argument are right is silly. It is silly because every ideas conceived by man to explain what is going on with reality has been 'modified' with time. None are 'right'. Newton's laws have been modified. People no longer consider that earth, fire, air and water are the basic building blocks of matter. Arguing that we are 'right' is intellectually immature.

    There is often than one winning argument with more than one set of conclusions. The chore then becomes eliminating the ones that cannot support a more stringent set of criteria, facts, if you will or one that ceases to be useful given changing circumstances and increases in knowledge. The ones that remain are the ones which we are not able to eliminate. We keep trying. When one is forced to choose between multiple winning arguments and conclusions, emotions come in to play. All the points of view are valid so choose the one that you personally prefer, there is no other way to do it. Flipping a coin is a reasonable alternative and may even be the best alternative.

    Riches and fame often follow from one argument train and conclusion set. Most human beings will choose that route if it is available. Fortunately, many of these 'motivated' people will discard facts and distort logic and assumptions specifically to obtain said fame and fortune. "Hey, I am just following the logic. It is not my fault if it results in great wealth". I say fortunately because this enables me to identify these people easily, no effort. They are the con men and this is one of the most productive ways to identify them, they screw with the facts and logic. Romney is a good example, out of a fertile field of politicians. This is the reason that following the money is so important. The people that get rich from an idea are highly motivated to 'win' the argument, so motivated that they will even lie to themselves, in private.

    People's brains know how to convince the conscious mind of things. Indeed the unconscious mind will only present to the conscious mind those thing that are consistent with their belief. Many of these people do not lying unless forced to; they actually believe the nonsense that their brain has twisted out of a train of thought. The global warming argument is a terrific example of this, so is the 'job creator' argument, and the 'trickle down' arguments. They are each fundamentally flawed at the very base but the proponents will hear none of it; they are trying to 'win' the argument and 'prove' that they are right. They derive power from this and that is often the objective; understanding the system is no that important. Why not? Because their brains have convinced them that they already understand the system. No one understands the system. Hell, we don't even understand what rocks are, not really. People that are trying to understand don't really care which way the cards fall, the con men care very much which way the cards fall. They will cheat and many of them are easy to catch once you know 'how to think' about it. They want to 'win'.

    Pundits provide a great example of this; the popular ones are very convincing, especially if they are telling a story that fits what the audience wants to hear. 'Obama is bad', 'Obama is good' are great examples of this. But, can the pundit put together self-consistent arguments that have possible assumptions, fit the facts, do not violate the laws of logic and have conclusions that are useful? Sadly, virtually all of the big name conservative pundits simply do not have the intellectual capacity to formulate a decent argument. That or they are con men trying to trick the public. Seriously, I mean pretty much all of them, even the big named guys, they are either intellectually immature (by the above standard) or they are con men. Generally they are Jacobian in their understanding of facts and logic. Here are a couple of examples.

    Peggy Noonan is a name that comes up often when I ask conservative friends to give recommendations and I have gone out of my way to look for them and study what they have to say. I look at the presentation of their ideas before even thinking about the ideas themselves. It is like grading papers in school. Noonan is just an example of one of the popular ones; she writes for her audience and almost never says anything worth thinking about. I used to read her a lot but not any more. She is not capable of putting together a real argument. Hell, she doesn't even know what a real argument is. She is a robot. She is one of many on the conservative side. I really like the way that she writes, far better than I, however, she is not very good at making arguments. She is a Romantic, a Jacobian. Facts and logic take a back seat to feelings. No, that is not quite correct. Facts and logic are ways to trick people and as such, they are irrelevant. Our feelings are the true contact with reality. The reality? Obama is evil, that's it, all of it; she feels it strongly, so strongly that it must be correct. She will find lots of supporting evidence to show that this is the case. She wants to win.

    David Brooks on the other hand is a completely different story. When David Brooks has something to say, I listen, I study, I think. The guy is good, very good. Interestingly enough, when I ask for conservative intellectual elite recommendations, he is almost never on the list. He is not out to 'win' he is out to to understand. He Is about making the world a better place. There is a difference. The arguments are good or they are not. His are superb.

    Me, I don't care about winning the argument or convincing people that I am right. I do care that the argument be solid and the conclusions useful. That does not mean that the conclusions resulting from the logic train are 'right' or those from my discussion partners are 'wrong'; it means that we have different ways of thinking about the problem. Time will tell. This concept of 'winning' an argument and 'being right' disturbs me greatly.