I’m an argumentative person. Most of the people who know me would roll their eyes and nod their heads in agreement with that. Argumentative people like me can be taken as arrogant, “know-it-alls,” people who love confrontation, people who always have to be right, etc. Sometimes I can certainly fit any of those descriptions just like anybody else, but most of the time I argue because I actually care about who is right.
That probably sounds obnoxious and pretentious, but my argumentativeness isn’t rooted in some sort of superiority complex where I think I am always right and everybody else is always wrong and I just have to prove it. I argue because the reality is that I am insecure and sincerely worried that at any time I could be wrong on any given thing.
It might sound counterintuitive to say that I argue because I worry that I could be wrong. The reason is that when I take my ideas and beliefs and pit them against other ideas and beliefs with no holds barred, then I am that much more confident when I am left with whatever combination of ideas and beliefs comes out victorious.
Now let me stop here and say what arguing is and isn’t. Arguing is not a shouting match. Arguing is a sincere attempt to understand the position of the other side, engage with that position in its strongest version, and persuade the other person why your position is more desirable than their position.
If I argue with you about something, it isn’t because I don’t respect you and think you must be wrong. It is because I respect you enough to think you might be right, and I want to pit my ideas in their strongest form against your ideas in their strongest form. In my mind, to be argued with is an honor.
To me, this mindset requires some academic piety. But the irony to me is that the arguers are taken as the arrogant jerks, and the people who are willing to let everybody including themselves be entitled to their own opinion are the humble, non-confrontational ones. I see this as completely backwards. It takes humility to acknowledge that you might be wrong and that the other person might be right. It takes arrogance in its truest form to simply assume that your opinion is perfectly sufficient without being challenged by an opposing view.
That is the irony of safe spaces which are espoused as the bastions of tolerance. They are pretentious, totalitarian intellectual wastelands. To unequivocally cast out opposing views is to assume that one’s views should not be challenged. To assume that one’s views should not be challenged is to assume that one is already right without justifying or testing one’s views, and that is arrogance in its truest form.
To argue in earnest is to be truly tolerant. To passively dismiss opposition is pretentious. To engage with views demonstrates a respect for those views and the person holding them. Patronizingly patting someone on the head and telling them their views are nice and all but they won’t persuade you is utterly disrespectful. To forbid those views from your safespace is equally disrespectful and an ironic cocktail of arrogance and cowardice.
I’m not always an angel when I argue. I can be defensive. I can indeed be arrogant. But arguing in its best form is an action which states that you think highly enough of the other person’s intelligence and beliefs that they are worth engaging with.
That good kind of arguing is a lost art. It is productive and edifying. It is logical and respectful. But I feel increasingly alone in my willingness to test my ideas with the ideas of others in a world where everyone assumes that they are right, and anyone who wants to suggest that they are wrong is merely a know-it-all, unwelcome in intellectually barren safe spaces.
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