Sunday, March 30, 2008

Argument - A Lost Art?

An Hypothesis


By Frater Bovious
9th Level Adept, THOOTR
I was listening to some politician or other on the radio when a thought struck me. The person was not arguing about what they were arguing about.

How could this be? My hypothesis is that I think it has something to do with our legal system, and a mindset that has crept into our thought processes as an unintended consequence of our "innocent until proven guilty" criminal justice process. I would like to quickly add that I am not advocating that concept be changed. So, chill.

But, this concept was put in place to protect innocent people from a corrupt or oppressive government. Our founders had come to America partially to escape such forms of government, and fomented rebellion in response to such government. There is a specific intent within a specific context, and I do wholeheartedly agree with the intent.

However, it has caused people to turn their brains off when arguing.

Our legal system is properly described as adversarial. Two lawyers get up and duke it out. One side wins, one loses. There is no room for - I was going to say compromise, but that's not really it; there is no room for one to convince the other in this process. Two lawyers don't get up and try to convince each other of the truth of a situation, and work through the ramifications. They are trying to convince an audience. An audience that is not participating in the conversation.

The innocent until proven guilty part of this means they have to prove by means of presentation of facts whether or not something has or has not happened. Thus, if you and I are in a room with one entrance and no windows, and I leave my pen in there with you, come back in 10 minutes and the pen is gone, well what happens? Obviously you took my pen. But, can I prove it? Did I see it? Can I demonstrate that someone didn't go in the room while I was out and take the pen? Maybe I can state that I was standing by the door the whole time and no one went in or out. Can I prove it? Do I have a witness? Obviously this is an exaggeration of the mindset, but I think it has crept into our everyday world view.

This need to prove your point, or win the argument, means that when someone is talking about something, there is this nagging thing at the back of their mind that they must convince some audience that is not part of the conversation. As if everything that is said is in a trial setting.

Since part of winning a trial is to debunk the other argument, it is much more effective to convince the audience the argument has no merit than it is to actually listen to the argument and assess it's validity. But listening to opposing counsel for any other reason than to find a hole to exploit is not possible because lawyers are not paid to figure out the truth, they are paid to win cases. Consequently, perhaps necessarily, a lawyer, despite their personal characteristics, has to care more about winning than about the truth. Has this attitude crept into our daily discussions? Rather than argue our point, do we instead argue against the other point? Or, rather, against the other person?

Most politicians today are lawyers. Have you noticed the "debates" they have? They are not trying to convince each other of anything. They are not really trying to convince us of whatever their position happens to be. They are really arguing that the other person has no case.

They are not arguing about what they are arguing about.

The innocent until proven guilty mind set is appropriate in the context for which it is intended. Generally, especially in a criminal case, the facts do point to the truth.

But, the issue becomes this: If there are truths that cannot be measured, and if there are truths that are immutable, i.e., not subject to vote or opinion, then we are left with the the ironical fact that we can't prove them with facts. We have to convince or be convinced with reasonable argument.

Does that really happen anymore?
Think about your day to day interactions. Are we more interested in winning than we are in truth? Are we expressing our differences in order to find common ground for agreement? Or, as is often the case when there aren't concrete facts to point to, do we just give up and agree to differ? Accomplishing nothing. Ψ

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