Reasoned Disagreement: Antidote for Unreasoning Bullheadedness

map of democracies

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Disagreement can be annoying. It can try anyone’s patience, and there are times and situations where people express disagreement with our claims, our views, our opinions, on matters that we ourselves see as de facto self-evident but others not so.

We tend to prefer others to agree with us, since this agreement comforts our egos when others acknowledge our correctness (real or imagined) in our claims, opinions, and our often highly personal beliefs, the last of which we are often most, and I think needlessly, protective.

On the other hand, we may experience discomfort when we are feeling particularly thin-skinned, when others see not as we, and in some cases evoking (self)righteous indignation at being questioned, sometimes at length, about the validity of our claims, suggesting the possibility that we may be wrong, or worse, lying or delusional.

The problem with getting upset about this disagreement is that it is pointless. It is inevitable that we come to disagree, and so we must live with it, not rail against it.

I remember my years as a believer, the youthful dismay I felt at not having my statements uncritically accepted by those skeptical of them — if I’d only known then what I do now! — at time when I had yet to appreciate the importance of rigor and clear thinking in any discussion in a real world where standards of argument and evidence were much higher than I’d naively supposed, and the need for that in a vibrant, free, pluralistic society.

In time, I learned that disagreement resting on a foundation of agreement is essential and healthy for any functioning democracy.

Now, before anyone starts lecturing me in the comments about the ‘States being a federated republic, or whatever, and not a democracy, and how 300 million people can’t have a meaningful discussion, or decides to expound upon their own political opinions regarding democracy and alleged connections between it and the American Democratic party, I’ll lay out for the sake of this post what I mean by democracy:

Any system of government in which leaders are chosen through a process of elections in which the collective votes of a citizen electorate are cast and tallied. This is more or less modeled after the early democracies of ancient Greece, but I’m not specifically referring to either Athenian or representative democracies in this post.

Genuine controversies, not those  merely manufactured by the journalistic media or ideologues with an agenda, are absolutely needed for a healthy democracy, one with a reasonably equitable electoral process and an adequately educated, critically reasoning and vigilant electorate with a keen skepticism of those in authority.

I realize this is more an ideal than the real, considering the political climate in the ‘States, but it’s something to strive for.

Neither agreement nor disagreement is wholly good or bad, but neither can be completely avoided, so we must live with them and use the one as the grounding for the other in resolving disputes, which will happen no matter how much alike we seem to be on the surface.

A society in which we seek only the company of the like-minded, feel that any disagreement is unbridgeable and unresolvable, in which we watch only those media outlets that support our views, where credulity is rampant and reason is shunned is a very dangerous one, and this is what I see this country becoming.

I think that 300 million people can have a meaningful discussion, maybe not yet, but it’s possible through dissemination of information and an open willingness to look at and consider it.

Argumentation done well, done productively and effectively is not rancorous, destructive to others’ self-worth, nor quarrelsome at all — those are mere shadows and misconceptions of argument.

Ignorance, irrationality, and a breakdown in social discourse are the disease, and I for one strongly suspect that knowledge, understanding, and the practice of reasoned argumentation are the cure.

My own view is that no matter how annoying it may be, if we cannot bother to rationally defend our statements, beliefs, views and opinions, then perhaps they are not worth holding at all.

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