September 18th, 2006


Arguments As War

Doug Muder's Red Family, Blue Family essay is getting some more attention. I'd found that through nancylebov and been fascinated. ozarque linked to a shorter version Muder had given as a UU sermon. I'm still working on my response to the main essay, but this bit I wanted to discuss separately:
To give some idea of what it could mean for a concept to be metaphorical, and for such a concept to structure our everyday activity, let us start with the concept ARGUMENT and the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. ... It is important to see that we do not just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. ... If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. ... The metaphor is not merely in the words we use -- it is in our very concept of an argument. ...

Even if you have never fought a fistfight in your life, much less a war, ... you still conceive of arguments, and execute them, according to the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor because the metaphor is built into the conceptual system of the culture in which you live.
That's a very true description about how most arguments work. I'm trying to actively avoid that in political arguments, though. To extend the metaphor, these days Google and sympathetic blogs supply you with all the ammunition you could need, so you wind up with WWI-like arguments. Verbal explosions wiping everything out. Moderates refugeeing out, leaving behind an empty No Man's Land. Your original point huddling forgotten at the bottom of a trench. Stalemate.

Not fun for me.

What I'm trying to do in this journal is approach argument as puzzle solving, or maybe lockpicking. I want to know underneath all this storm and fury, what are the key axioms which drive the disputes? Once we've identified the competing axioms, are there ways to test which ones are better which both sides will see as fair? Is there a way to help one side understand the other side's viewpoint?

I don't get to engage in many arguments like that. Someone locked into the argument-as-WWI mindset tends to see them as flanking movements, or attempts to penetrate the defensive armor, or, most often, blinks in confusion then goes back to firing out more talking points. But every so often I make a connection with someone else, or learn something I hadn't realized before. Muder's piece is an attempt to do the same, and I want to meet it in kind.
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