“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” -Elie Wiesel
“Quotes are for dumb people who can’t think of something intelligent to say on their own.” -Bo Burnham
Imagine if you stumbled across this article, but instead it had been titled “How Cornell Abused Me” and listed the many ways Martha Pollack herself conspires to make my life a living hell. There’s a good chance you would have had one of two reactions:
- Support – “Yeah! Cuck Fornell! My life here is nothing but pain and pain.”
- Disagreement – “How could you be so ungrateful?”
Now I chose this as an example because it is familiar and worn out, but the same form of argument can be found on the local and national stage from either side of the aisle (“Christians are inherently intolerant!” “God hates fags!”). It is the type of argument that is so aggressive that it generates this mindset of “you’re either with me or against me.” It’s Patriots versus Eagles, and everyone must pick a side.
I’m not here to make some grand comment about how the two party system polarizes American politics or how humans naturally seek out conflict, but if you want to project those ideas onto this, I can’t stop you. More importantly, I would rather you consider the ethics of arguing in such an antagonistic way.
The most justified motivation for rhetoric is to inform and persuade one’s audience for the purpose of generating a meaningful, productive change in their lives. Consider Aesop’s fables, or the Epistles of the New Testament. Though they use different methods, the authors of these aimed to enlighten and instruct their readers. By communicating moral lessons, a writer can create exponentially more good than by living a simple and virtuous life.
If I spent an hour convincing people not to do x (insert whatever pet peeve you want here, no matter how petty), over time the compounded value of their improved behavior would far outweigh the service I could have performed in that hour. But if I spent that time writing some Facebook rant and arguing in the comments with the people that perform said pet peeve, the only person that would benefit would be me, and to the same degree that I would have benefitted if I spent that time punching a wall or playing Battlefront.
In the end, the only people that benefit from a shouting match are those shouting. It doesn’t change the world for the better, it just self-indulgently reinforces our own beliefs and false sense of goodness. This is because we have a psychological disposition to either avoid or hate arguments that conflict with our own, and to seek out those that don’t. Consequently, there is an inverse relationship between nuance and provocation; it is hard to be intrigued by a “yes, but…” argument when there are so many finger-pointers at the ready to cry “NO.”
He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak. -Michel de Montaigne
The amount of rage based squabbling is sad, because real change doesn’t result from a writer yelling at their audience. It requires genuine human connection (what the acting types call “engagement”). With that comes leverage, the “I want what’s best for you” call to ethos, that frames your position as one that is worth sacrificing the perceived security of an established wrong (at least, wrong in your eyes) position. I call this “the grass is greener on the not douchebag side” argument, and it’s worth a try.
Admittedly, this approach is incredibly difficult and taxing on a writer, because it requires empathy in the place of frustration. I get that it is tedious to bend over backwards to lure people away from beliefs they shouldn’t have, and I constantly feel a motivation to lash out at the people I see spreading hate and fear, but that just doesn’t work. It may feel like giving in or losing to a damaging belief, but we have to remember that generating a small amount of change is better than generating no change and retaining our “pride.”