Thursday, April 26, 2007

On Arguments

Right now, I'm working my way through Gerald Graff's Clueless in Academe, which partly deals with arguing. So I've been thinking of the nature of academic arguments, the need for arguments, and trying to teach argument to students. Then I got into another political discussion with my mother.

I should know better, but it was interesting because of the way she views arguments. She doesn't like them at all. She also doesn't understand that "discussion" bears with it certain implications (at least for me): that you share ideas, and if you disagree, you talk about it. No where in this process is there an attack on the individual bearing the ideas. However, Mom sees any argument as a personal attack, gets upset, and wonders why I don't respect her.

She doesn't see argument as constructive; I see it as a process to get ideas on the table and to challenge the status quo, authority, or ideas that we just don't agree with. In order to change, our society must argue--what were the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement but a big argument with those who would not recognize that women needed the right to vote and that African Americans (and other minorities) deserved the same rights as whites?

Though arguments can be destructive, they are only so if they descend into a sort of name calling, yelling match. If each side is truly in the discussion to listen and to respond to each other with civility and openness, then discussion is a constructive tool. And it can be a tool of social change. One of the major holes in my mother's responses to me where that I just needed to pray (constructive) or wait God's will--protesting, arguing, and acting were not constructive, but destructive apparently. My response, of course, was that part of our duty and rights as citizens of a free democracy would be to actively participate through arguing and disagreeing with those in power.

In her mind arguing is pointless. In mine, it's everything. Even if in most cases it doesn't change minds, it (in the best case) plants ideas that perhaps the other person might not think about. Or it gives me something to think about. And then the next time, perhaps we pause and contemplate what passed before.

Anyway, even though these thoughts on the nature of arguments and discussions emerged from it, I really shouldn't argue with my mother anymore.


Kathryn said...

Many people are born with the ability to follow a path without asking "why." This probably includes your mother. But then there are some people that choose to ignore "why" they believe certain ideas because it's easier in some respects to remain ignorant. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with people that don't ask "why." Maybe they lack the skills or ability with which to seek an answer to the question. In many ways, I envy the people who seem to go through life blissfully ignorant of the motivations behind their actions/beliefs.

You, however, do ask "why." And you do have the ability to seek out answers.

In the end, perhaps you and your mother will end up at the same destination. But how you get there may be different. I read a quote recently in a book by Thomas Merton that you can't expect to arrive at the end of your own journey by taking the road to another man's city. (I wish I could remember the exact quote...). In the same way that it's unproductive to make your mother analyze her beliefs if she lacks the desire and/or ability to do so, it is also unproductive for your mother to suggest that you abandon your use of argument or discussion in the search for answers.

This may be helpful to keep in the back of your mind the next time your mother tries to get you to sign up for a Godspace account or go to one of those "on fire for Christ" conventions. :)

pseudobunny said...

not only do i know like you, i think i am smitten by your friends
yehaw to intelligence, although i agree with kathryn and the non-why people.
on a side note, just so you know whay gene pool i come from:
my poppa was the principal and my granny was the teacher and they gave my mom the answers to the speling bee.
i don't know excatly what that says about me, but it definetly says there are more stories about them that are amusing and way better than television.
adult swim. and pbs.

pseudobunny said...

spelLing bee.
aww jeez