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Minority Report: Productive Argumentation


PSA: Before you read any further, just know that I am indeed going to hop on the bandwagon of bitterness and discuss Grinnell Confessions in this column. Now you can’t say I didn’t warn you. Very well then, let’s get started.

Although I’m specifically addressing Grinnell Confessions, my point also applies to Internet conversations outside of Grinnell, real-life conversations inside Grinnell, and outside-of-Grinnell real-life conversations: being sarcastic and angry while expressing a point in a heated discussion is useless. You’re probably thinking that this doesn’t really sound like an opinions column topic, and let’s be honest—you’re probably right. But I have the agency to write about basically whatever I want (shout out to the S&B and the First Amendment), so I will politely discuss arguing.

Before I make my point, I want to say a few things so that no one can say that I didn’t say them (and also because they’re true): some of the posts on the Grinnell Confessions page were racist, misogynistic, offensive and generally not okay. I agreed with most of the arguments put forward by people speaking out against such posts. I completely understand and sympathize with anger as an emotional response (who doesn’t?), and I believe that people can and should be angry in response to ignorance and oppression. Everyone has the right to be angry. Now comes the big but: I don’t think that people should allow anger to manifest itself while trying to argue a point.

I understand how this could potentially sound very bad. “She just gave the First Amendment a shout-out and now she’s trying to control my First Amendment right? She’s even worse than something or someone really stereotypically hypocritical!” But don’t say that just yet, because this is not about control. This is me speaking in the best interest of the presentation of very legitimate arguments. I’ll return to the Grinnell Confessions example to make my point (however, I will refrain from using specifics because I don’t want to call out any individuals). The general problem with the situation on the page was this: people were making good arguments in bad ways.

There were arguments being made (with which I and many others completely agreed) that called for respect for people of all genders and sexual identifications, protested racist remarks and pointed out flaws in other peoples’ reasoning. The problem, however, was that many of these arguments were being presented with a sizable side of sarcasm and swearing. I have nothing against either of those things in the context of an everyday conversation, but when it comes to defending a point, they become useless. There is no way to turn someone off to your point more quickly than by sandwiching it between f-bombs and utter disrespect. Sure, it may be justified to some degree, but it’s not useful in any way.

I assume that the goal of presenting an argument is to enable others to see your point of view and ultimately come to agree with you, and being hostile will certainly not help you accomplish that. Hostility breeds hostility, and it’s difficult to present your ideas (no matter how legitimate they are) in the middle of a full-fledged war of words. It’s hard enough for a person to be told that he/she/ze is wrong, and that only becomes harder (to the point of being impossible) when the telling is done in an overtly angry way. No one wants to agree with or listen to someone who is swearing at and disrespecting them; they simply want to argue back.

I’m going to become my mother for a moment and ask a simple question: what happened to being the bigger person? If you really want to take away your opposition’s fuel, present your argument in a logical, neutral, and even kind manner. At the very least, your ideas won’t get lost in a sea of insults. You can still be passionate without being rude or angry; use your righteous anger to fuel the argumentative skills you have and present the person you’re debating against with something unbeatable.

Being angry is okay. Expressing anger is okay. Expressing anger in arguments is not inherently bad, but it is terribly unproductive. If you truly want to convince someone that you’re right, let your point speak for itself. To quote many a parent and third-grade teacher, don’t stoop to their level. You’re better than that, okay?

-Isabel Cooke ’16

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  • A

    Actual MinorityApr 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Not related to the article. Just pointing that I’m an actual minority here. LOL!

  • I

    IsabelFeb 25, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    To the previous commenter: I read the article you provided a link for, and I understand what it’s saying. However, I take issue with the idea that “the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issue at hand.” Most people, when reading an argument, do not view the tone and the statement as separate, but take them as a whole. What really distracts from the issue at hand is one party’s blatant disregard for and hostility toward the other party. This problem is not limited to any one group (e.g. feminists, as the article mentioned); anyone who communicates in a hostile way is not being as effective as he/she/ze could be. Again, I say this in the interest of legitimate arguments being heard by people who would normally write them off, and will continue to do so if they are presented in an overtly hostile way.

  • S

    SMDHFeb 25, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Wow. This argument is not only wrong, it’s been made countless times before. In fact, it’s been made so much that there is a name for it:

  • J

    JakeFeb 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    How about breaking this into paragraphs? Don’t they teach you kids English over there? Or is it a problem with web page layout?