We would all love an argument to end with “wow, you’re right, you have convinced me!” Why then do they so seldom end that way?—if you’re like me, most arguments (especially online) seem to end by giving up in frustration, together with a reinforced idea that the person you were arguing with (and usually, their whole kind of person) is an asshole. So the ultimate effect of arguing is that we all despise each other a little bit more.
Somehow the resolution to stop engaging in arguments is not satisfying. I’ve tried this one. My experience of the internet devolves into a bland echo chamber of likes and positive affirmations. I do not feel intellectually stimulated; interacting with the internet begins to feel like vegging to daytime TV. My ideas are not refined, my critical intellect is not challenged. Restricting the sphere of my interactions, I become so accustomed to the culture of affirmation, eventually the fact that anyone could disagree becomes upsetting and confusing, and when arguments do occur, they are more horrible than ever since I have not been exercising my ability to critically engage.
I have a solution. My solution is superior to many other solutions you will see about discourse, because it is local — it only requires that I change my own behavior; everybody else can carry on as they were. No grand cultural transformation needs to take place; if you read this and engage in arguments this way, even if nobody else reads this article, you will be more intellectually stimulated and have more fun arguing.
I claim that we are all arguing backwards. Let’s ask, what does it mean to win an argument? Conventionally, it means that the position you held going into it ended up being the one that both parties hold at the end. Vindicated! However, if you win an argument in this sense, you have not learned anything new, besides the boring affirmation that you were right. It would have been just as useful to spend your time sitting in your room alone, repeating to yourself the mantra “I’m right, I’m right, I’m right.” The idea has won, but you have lost. Whereas the conventional “loser” of the argument has got a whole new perspective on this issue; their lens has been upgraded, their mundane life has come alive with new patterns, their world has been enriched. Beyond the ten seconds immediately after the argument concludes, feeling the sting of my deflating pride, I would much rather be the loser. The winner has provided a service to the loser at the cost of her own time.
The results we experience in arguments thus make perfect sense. We are all trying to “win”; we are all trying hard to be the one who is not enriched. And we all succeed; nobody is enriched. If we were all a little more selfish, maybe we would start to get something out of arguing. Try to lose! Focus your energy into guiding the argument toward your own utterance of the words “wow, you’re right, you have convinced me!” Win in life by losing the argument.
I’m not claiming you should just lay down and let people walk all over you. To reap the benefits of the loser above, you must authentically lose, you must be earnestly convinced. Never surrender your honesty. Engage in the argument by finding your own objections, discovering those things that are preventing you from being convinced, and asking for the data and logic that will sway them. Assume that your adversary possesses an argument that would convince you, and try to find it. Sometimes this strategy may fail and your adversary will discover they are unable to provide the necessary information; oh well, not every interaction goes your way. Better luck next time!
In conclusion: Don’t go around life helping others by convincing them. Be selfish and make them convince you!