I have often found myself in the middle of a philosophical-type argument fuming with anger, all pissed off, full of anxiety, speaking or typing at the speed of light whatever my fast-beating heart and an inflating ego demanded of me.
While my intention behind such discussions with others being — to simply discuss the things I have been reading, thinking or writing, I haven’t been able to stop myself from getting petty to the point of attempting to humiliate the other person with all kinds of insults to his/her intellectual capacities.
This got me questioning — How can I handle such arguments better?
There a couple of things I am clear about:
- I want to have such discussions
- I do not want to win the arguments, I just want to learn a thing or two, boast a bit and have a good time at the end of it all
So, how can I stop the arguments from getting petty?
How can I handle such arguments better?
I want to now see what goes on during such arguments by trying to identify some significant factors at work.
The first thing to remember is that Man, being an intellectually advanced (relatively) animal, is very sensitive towards its intellectual abilities.
No normal or dignified human being would ever want to be told that his/hers cognitive abilities are of a low-grade. It would be like challenging a python on its strangulation abilities by strangulating it. The python would obviously want to prove you wrong.
The same factor is at work I think in our philosophical arguments.
The dignity factor
What I noticed was, most of us arguers believe that the ability to philosophize is the highest kind of intellectual ability. It’s just the way our culture is set up. But it is justifiable as the ability to philosophize implies the ability to use our brains for something other than trifles. Everyone can trifle! Something other than practicality. Everyone can be practical! To dwell in the domains of abstractions and values. Now not everyone can do that is what we believe!
I think this is why no one wants to lose such arguments. Because it would imply intellectual loss. Defeat.
From this angle, it seems as if philosophical arguments are the best test of cognitive abilities. Wonder why it did not become a popular sport! There is so much at stake!
The other factor I found was Cultural/Identity Sensitivity.
Philosophical arguments touch on areas that form the basis of any culture and identity. Religion, Ethnicity, Nationalism, all these have a subjective worldview as their foundation. Philosophical arguments are merely debates on those foundations —
The nature of reality, Creator, Rights and Wrongs, Why x is better than y, etc.
These are pretty substantial stuff. No wonder people get agitated. Some even kill others for their views…This is a dangerous territory!
The other factor is emotional sensitivity.
If Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra has helped me get over severe nervousness and anxiety, then I certainly would be emotionally offended if anyone calls it merely a reverie of a madman.
Similarly, if Vedic spirituality has helped someone get over an emotional trauma, and if I go and tell that person the whole Vedic system is merely intellectual narcotics, they are bound to want to pull my tongue out of my mouth.
Those were the factors I discovered. I will update if I find more.
Now, what about the answers to these questions:
- How can I stop the arguments from getting petty?
- How can I handle such arguments better?
- Can I?
The best solution is to stop participating in such arguments altogether.
But as I mentioned above, I do not want to do that.
So in order to stop it from getting petty to the point of anger and harassment, I should remember that the person in the argument who remains calm the longest has a better intellectual ability. This is self-explanatory. Of all abilities, I sincerely believe that controlling and directing thoughts, desires and feelings are the most difficult. If I manage to remain calm throughout, then I believe my ego will be silenced.
At the same time, I should remember that I always have the option of walking out of such arguments or not participating at all. If I am having an argument it means I have voluntarily participated in it. Therefore, I should be able to reasonably listen to others and calmly defend my opinions and learnings. Even if it concerns me culturally and emotionally. If I can do that, my ego again will surely keep quiet.
Finally, the question: CAN I?