Friday, May 2, 2014

An Opinion on Reasoning

There are a couple of statements which I feel need to be made. One of them kept me awake last night.

When you are on a battlefield, it is sometimes difficult to see everything that is happening around you, especially when you are attacking someone else's position--or defending your position ON the battlefield. Make sense?

The smarter person will rather situate themselves on the highest possible position overlooking the battlefield before engaging the opponent. I encourage you to do this. 

The view is neutral from the highest point, and allows you to "see", often with the added luxury of time, more (if not all) of what is actually (or most likely will be) occurring on the battlefield. More importantly, this "bird's eye view" of the battlefield can help you prepare for battle. You can see topographically, spot landmarks, choose your own position(s) based upon their strength or weakness, and actually anticipate an opponent's defensive positions, create a fallback position, etc.

I know this sounds very militaristic. It is, and it isn't. Here is a great example to consider:


NB: I will admit that I love the optics here. Generally they make sense as they were the original topic of Campbell's speech. Here, however, the board behind him is just epic. :) Nevertheless, there is much to be learned here!

Just consider this example for a moment. What was the Proposition? What was the Opposition. Who wins here? Why, or why not? 

When you are engaged in true rhetorical argument, your intent is not to "win" the argument without your opponent's consent and agreement. Winning in this regard means that you will convince your opponent that your argument is a more correct one. That may (hopefully) happen because your supporting statements for your position are stronger and more legitimate. That may happen because, through your carefully crafted argument, your opponent will see or at least discover the weakness in their own position. 

Rhetorical argument does often have a "winner", but can also have multiple "losers" (including your argument!).  While a weak argument is precisely that, it is not as relative as you may think. Some arguments are weaker than others, without a clear or decisive "winner", or convincing argument. The greatest difficulty here is that we do want to convince others that our arguments are the best ones. 

This is why we hold the opinions we do. Proposition presents, and then Opposition presents their reasoned argument. But then, proposition presents counter arguments to the opposition's argument. BEWARE!

If the Proposition and/or Opposition arguments present weaknesses, these weaknesses can sometimes create "easy" counter-argument. This is where logical fallacy loves to play! Logical fallacy ALWAYS guarantees a losing argument!   

If you adopt a purely militaristic view, bad things will happen. Your intent in this case is not to share and participate in civil discourse. It is to win. Your proposition will not be available to counter-argument, OR civil discourse. Telling your opponent to shut up, or grow up, or just get over it is not an invitation to civil discourse; it is slamming the door leading to it.

You really do not want to hear, and are not interested in what your opposition has to say about the subject and it will come through in your argument, especially if you should find yourself guilty of logical fallacy. "You're just too stupid to understand reality!" is but one such example. 

Sitting high on a summit is not having superiority in the discourse because that is not where battle occurs. It does, however provide you with both time and space to carefully craft your argument, consider and perhaps even prepare for (or eliminate, in advance) potential opposition arguments and counter them. (The earlier this can be done, the better, but realize this is not positive argument! Don't waste your points in counter-argument!) Saying things which indicate your beliefs about your opponent's points is not a good idea. "Never interrupt an opponent when they are making a mistake!" is good counsel--especially in your own Proposition!

 "Please proceed, Governor." Remember that? You should. It won an election!

The entire purpose of the exercise is to create YOUR argument in such a way as to be convincing to your opponent. The success of your argument will be that it causes your opponent to consider--not adopt--your argument. That may (or will not) happen over time. That's the "juice" of reason! 

The juice of reason is consideration, which is the only path forward to agreement. Respecting your opposition is to grant them the intellectual space necessary not only to abandon some part (or all) of their argument, but to peacefully adopt all or part(s) of your argument. Discourse despises vacuum. Let your opponent fall into that trap. Silence can be your strongest ally in reasoned discourse.

That is what civil discourse is all about! If your argument has no exit, you have no argument. You may have a rant, or an all-out attack. You will NOT, however have an argument. That is very sad. It is nothing more than a wasted opportunity, and everyone suffers for it.

Another important point for finding the high peak before descending to the battlefield is that you may discover (and, usually to your shock and horror) that your argument cannot reasonably be defended. (Isn't that what you are hoping for in your opponent, after all? So is your opponent!) Declarations are the most usual culprits here. For example:

"The United States is nothing more than a Welfare State!", or

"Anybody who thinks we should tax the poor is a maniac!"

are two strong examples of declarations that just do not lend themselves to reasoned argument. These are, of course, logical fallacies. Logical fallacies stop reasoned argument dead in the water. 

You really want to get and understand this truth: that's why logical fallacies are most often used. The sadness is that they do sometimes occur "innocently", through ignorance. Yet, the result is the same. 

Logical fallacies can most often be avoided or eliminated from your own arguments with a little time on a high peak of consideration and planning. If you can see them before your opposition sees them, you can eliminate them from your argument entirely. By definition, having a stronger argument from the beginning is to serve your advantage. But, it also gives a greater possibility for reasoned argument and civil discourse. That is the goal, after all. I'd like to make the second point now.

Arguments are NOT personal. Beliefs may be, and convictions usually ARE personal.

"I believe that abortion is murder, because that is how my faith tells me I must view it if I am to be consistent in my faith."

What are you going to do with that one? Attack the intelligence of the person? Attack the faith they hold? Well, that is most often what weak reasoning does. The discourse stops. Why?

Because both responses are logical fallacy, that's why. This example is used because it will elicit a personal, emotional response from you! Can you instead create a meaningful, reasoned counter-argument that will move the discourse forward? That is your task. 

Remember that retreat may have one meaning to you, but to the successful military leader, "tactical withdrawal" may be the linchpin of a successful campaign. Not re-direction. Not abusive braying. 

Craft your argument with at least some awareness of what your opposition is most likely to offer. Allow your opponent to make their own argument--just be prepared to counter-argue their points reasonably, respectfully and effectively. That's how civil discourse and reasoned arguments work. 

That's why I feel it is just so important to spend some time on the peak when and as you can.  You can do this before, during and after an engagement with the opposition. Hopefully, spending time on the high ground will be nothing more than mere points of punctuation in an ongoing civil discourse.

You really have no idea just how hectic and chaotic the battlefield will be when you jump into battle.