Arguing over Nothing

A lot of arguments are not about ideas.  We probably argue about things like ‘what movie we should go see’ or ‘whose fault was it that the window got broken’ more then we argue about ideas.  I would propose though that even the arguments and discussions that we DO have on ideas are often not actually about the ideas that they are allegedly about.

The distinction I’m making is roughly this: a conversation can only really be about ideas to the extent that it is not about personal differences.  The more we have an emotional stake in the conversation, the less that we attend to the ideas.  When we are angry, agitated, defensive, embarrassed, these emotions override our communication.  If these emotions are aroused, the topic under examination doesn’t actually matter – it is the negative emotions themselves that will dominate the conversation.  If someone is defensive, everything that the other person says becomes an assault.  If someone is angry, everything that the other person says is an affront.  The ideas become subservient to the conversationalists emotional states.

To compound the challenge of actually having conversations about ideas, I would also say that we are inclined to attach emotions to topics.  That is to say, we will carry over emotions on a topic from one conversation to the next.  What happens is that we will carry barriers with us about certain ideas, and therefore cannot ever really engage in meaningful discussion on that topic.  There are certain hot-button topics like politics and religion that large portions of the population carry strong emotional relations to (I won’t speculate here what actually makes certain topics controversial).

My proposal does a fairly good job of explaining why many ongoing dialogues in our society seem to endlessly go nowhere.  These conversations have developed long traditions of negative emotion, and therefore the ideas themselves are perpetually neglected.

Let me know what you think,

Thanks for reading,

Ryan Workman


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