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Why We Argue and The Nature of Argument

A lot of this may appear obvious to some, but anyone who's spent time discussing issues on the internet will appreciate this certainly isn't obvious to all.

So I wrote a thing... You might find it useful yourself. You might find it useful to point others at when they're being particularly disagreeable, and you might want to argue with me about why everything in it is wrong... but in all of those cases, it's useful to understand why we argue, and the nature of argument.

Why Do We Argue?

Despite some obvious shared core values, there appears to be an infinite number of things that can drive us apart. Sometimes people really are self centered arseholes, but assuming good intent on all parties concerned, by understanding how we form opinions, and the nature of argument, we can reduce the chances of falling out with essentially good people.

So what makes us argue? I think if we're going to understand this, we need to understand how we form opinions, and also what makes us cling to some opinions so strongly.

Logical, and Emotional Perspectives

Under logical analysis, there are rules about what is right and wrong. One plus one equals two, is an exceptionally simple case. No one will argue with this because it is logically self evident. Coming from the same logical stable, we recognise particular cases of cause and effect, and can logically progress through a series of events to see what will happen if we set a course of events in progress.

If you hit the hand with the hammer, it will hurt. There might be extenuating circumstances why the latter statement may not be true. It could be an inflatable hammer, or you might have previous nerve damage. But through logical analysis we can easily get to that truth.

But not all arguments are ultimately rooted in logic. People are a bundle of feelings or emotions who react when those feelings are triggered. We can view the process as chemical reactions, or neurons firing under specific circumstances. Those reactions might be based on lessons learned in the last minutes, or years of pleasant or painful experience, right down to the lessons encoded in our very DNA and what else lies beyond that. Sometimes we react for no logical reason that anyone else might understand, other than that's who we are, and that's what we do.

We don't necessarily have logical reasons that we understand for forming opinions on some issues. We can argue all day about whether tomatoes taste nice or not, we can even use logical analysis to explain why some people like tomatoes and some don't, but what we can't do is use logical analysis to state that tomatoes do or don't taste nice


So if you're arguing about what to have for lunch, and you want pizza, but your companion is arguing for pretty much anything but pizza, you might argue pizza's praises forever with the best logical arguments in the world, but it will be to no end, if your companion is simply repulsed on an emotional level by tomatoes.

It's only by getting to the point (through logical analysis) where we understand our different emotional reactions, that we can understand where the core of the argument lays.

And sometimes it's complex, because there are several emotional reactions going on at once, with a supposedly logical argument built on top of them.

So when we differ, sometimes it's because one of us is logically wrong, but sometimes it's simply because our tastes, or our base values are different. Maybe we hold some of the same core values, but if there's something that's closer to your core than it is to mine, or vice versa, because of the people we are, the experience we've had, the differences in our DNA, then we won't reach agreement using only logical argument.

At this point, we can only reach agreement through empathy. Through trying to understand each others experience, and why we hold different core values.

When You Recognise This, What Can You Do About It?

So when we argue it's useful to know two things. How we came to believe what we believe (i.e. which news source we got it from), and which of our core values are propping up our view on that issue, and when you get down to it, making us think it's important enough to argue about.

Different people can and will form completely different impressions when viewing the exact same event, because of their personal history, and the associations they form based on that.


If you find yourself incapable of getting a point across, we can't always do it through logic alone. Sometimes we have to examine where our core values differ; Then to find agreement work out where they are the same, such that we want to agree, and work out how to empathise with each others situations.

It's not always easy, but such is life, we can but try.

That's Assuming We're Trying to Agree

This is all dependent upon us wanting to reach agreement in the first place.

Some people try to keep others confused with false logic, so that they can protect or hide their core values. Sometimes people will ferociously defend a point, until it's evident that it has no logical consistency, and then rather than accept they were wrong, simply produce any other argument that backs up their core belief instead. They might have a continual stream of them, and it doesn't matter how many you logically defeat, there will always be more.

If you're arguing about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, you won't get anywhere, if at the core of a persons belief they simply think that killing animals is wrong, or from the opposing view, that bacon is simply the best thing ever.

People have an amazing ability to defend their own core beliefs from logical argument.

You can argue until the figurative cows come home, but it wont get you anywhere if your core values aren't genuinely based in the actual discussion you're having*.

*unless they're genuinely based in honest discussion.

Sometimes people are simply more interested in winning the argument, than in honest discussion, because their core value is pride.

And sometimes they simply stumble around the argument clutching for straws at any attempt they can muster for logic (no matter how tenuous) simply to protect what was once a truth to them, while their core being struggles to accept new information. It is said that there is no argument more forceful than that between someone who has just discovered a new truth, and someone who is just about to.

And the really interesting point about that, is that you never completely know whether you're the one doing the teaching, or the one about to learn the lesson, until after the event.

We live and learn. Well we live... and some of us try to learn.

We are but human. And we can but hope that the good ones amongst us don't fall out over things that can be avoided.