Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Not a Game

A good argument is not a game.

I've heard people say things like, "She won that argument big league!" 

This is just one example of how the language around debate can make arguments seem like competitive matches. 

But there is an essential characteristic games have and good arguments lack.
Games have clearly defined conclusions.

Baseball has innings.
Soccer has the clock.
Track has a finish line.

If you are having a good argument, there is not a definitive end point. 
What is the best way to teach writing?
What tax policy will best benefit the middle class?
What scientific instrument will tell us the most about exoplanets?
How has America's history impacted racial minorities?

We don't get to finish those arguments. 
They are good because every answer requires (get ready for it) an argument
And every argument can be questioned.

Sure, you can have a silly argument.
Or you can have a pointless argument like, "When was Chuck Mangione's 'Feels So Good' released." 
The banter might even feel so good that it could, for a time, be mistaken for a real argument, until someone pulls out their phone and settles the dispute. 

Good arguments remain unsettled.
They are unsettling.

Most remain unresolved.
On the rare occasion when a good argument does get resolved, the world is changed.
What is the shape and nature of DNA?
Is slavery a moral practice?
Can you compel a person to believe in a specific god?
How do species of plants and animals emerge?

And while each of these arguments were clearly settled, none of them had a clearly defined conclusion. You can still find people who will contend that one or all of these debates still rage on.

But the arguments and their resolutions have already changed the world.

All of this to say, if you get into an argument with the goal of winning, you're doing it wrong.

Good arguments are not won.
Good arguments are resolved over the course of generations.

Don't join an argument to win, join to change the world.