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Posted: August 18, 2012 5:32 p.m.

The rules of a good argument

It's a fact: If you have an opinion, you can be sure someone will have an argument to match it. And a good argument is nothing to be afraid of. A good argument is a logical analysis of differing opinions. It's called a debate.

The only problem is that good arguments are rare in our society. We're much more interested in the attack-and-win-at-all-costs style of arguing. Defend your religious views and you might be called a "bigot" because someone else doesn't hold those same views. Calling someone a bigot is the modern equivalent of yelling, "Horse Thief!" Someone else might say, "That's unforgivable hate speech!" That one's being used a lot this year, such is the state of debate in 2012s America. It's part roller derby, part junkyard brawl, and part circus sideshow. And that's not conducive to debate.

America has forgotten how to debate. Maybe it is because of decades of in-your-face sitcom stupidity, where being a master of the sound bite is celebrated and revered. Maybe it's because Americans turn everything into a contest where someone wins - let's all do our fist pumps - and someone else walks away the loser. Whatever the reason, we just go for blood when we don't agree.

And we call people "bigots;" we say they "hate;" we gasp and vilify them; we feign great harm, as if we will never be the same again after hearing their opinion. And such over-the-top theatrics change the conversation from debate and growth to vitriol and division. We act like such a fragile population: one that lacks tolerance, patience, and a sense of community. And that's because we are fragile. A society that cannot debate civilly is a broken society.

There's a fancy Latin term for all this nonsense. It's called ad hominem. When applied to debates, it means that you wage a war on the person holding the opinion and not the actual opinion itself. It's a classic flaw any high school debate coach would catch. But there are no debate coaches on the bus, or in the airport, or at the supermarket. And when we attack the speaker, we defile the debate, and all that's left is noise.

Well, some of that noise forced this humor columnist to get serious for a change. No one wants that. Trust me. Let's debate all opinions fairly and openly. And then I'll be funny again. Maybe. That's still open to debate.


David McCoy, a notorious storyteller and proud Yellow Jacket, lives in Covington and can be reached at davmccoy@bellsouth.net.

 

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