I’ve been getting in arguments all my life and I can’t recall ever winning one.
Don’t misunderstand; there are plenty of arguments I should have won, but without a scorekeeper handing out a gold cup to the winner and swift kick in the ass to the loser, nothing ever got resolved.
Experience has shown me that if Judge Judy, Einstein’s Ghost and the collected authors of the Encyclopedia Britannica showed up to say I was right, the people I argued with still wouldn’t admit they were wrong. People are like Monty Python’s Black Knight: cut off both their arms and legs and they’ll say it’s only a scratch.
On the other hand, I don’t remember losing a lot of arguments either because I’m pretty much the same way.
Score points against my argument and I’ll go home and brood about it until I come up with a good answer and then call you at 3 AM to let you know I figured out exactly why Star Wars is better than Star Trek.
In an argument, no one ever admits defeat; they just take a break.
Little known historical fact: the Lincoln-Douglas Debates are still going on despite the fact that Lincoln and Douglas have been dead since the 1860s. After the Rapture and all Christians living and dead have been taken up to Heaven, Abe and Steve will resume their argument, assuming both guys make it to Paradise.
(Abe I’d bet on; Steve seems a bit iffy. I mean just look at him…seems like a bit of a dick.)
So if those two guys still haven’t come to a conclusion on whether owning another human being is a good idea, what chance do you have of deciding just whose turn it is to do the dishes?
The structure of arguments
Before I concluded it was impossible to actually win an argument, I decided to improve my arguing skills.
At some point in the early 1980s I realized I had a lot of arguments in my future – after all, I was a political cartoonist and attended an editorial board meeting every morning – and maybe I ought to up my arguing game.
“Fuck you and the Shetland pony you rode in on” and “let’s go out of the front lawn and settle this” will only get you so far.
So I read a book on debate and discovered arguments are made up of two things: evidence and conclusions.
Once I started keeping track of those two things I noticed people were offering evidence as conclusions and conclusions as evidence; structurally speaking, most people’s arguments were and are a mess. Hell, they’ll throw a kitchen sink with an attached garbage disposal in your general direction if they think it will help their case.
So after my brief education on the fine art of debate, when someone offered up the usual happy horseshit, I’d try to sort through what they were saying and apply a little logic, which time would show made absolutely no difference whatsoever.
I once had a pissed-off reader call me about some cartoon I’d drawn and once he lost his verbal steam, I asked if he believed in the U.S. Constitution and he said yes.
I then asked if he believed in the First Amendment of the Constitution and he said yes again.
So then I asked if he truly believed in the First Amendment of the Constitution, why call me up to complain about my using it.
He then said, “Weell, yer purty good at these tricky questions” and hung up on me.
That’s about as close as I’ve ever come to winning an argument.
Nobody in the history of arguing has ever said: “Y’know, now that I think about it, I don’t have a goddamn clue what I’m talking about and I just want to say thanks for pointing that out.”
When people feel like they’re losing an argument they’ll hang up on you, try to change the subject or offer up that front-lawn boxing match which will settle once and for all who won the Stanley Cup in 1919.
(Trick question: according to Google it was the Montreal Canadiens versus the Seattle Metropolitans, but the series was cancelled after the fifth game because of a flu epidemic, while Wikipedia says the Metropolitans won. So I guess the Wiki guys and the Google guys need to get out on the front lawn and settle this shit.)
Once I figured out I would never actually win an argument, I quit trying.
You don’t have to have an opinion
One of the clichéd scenes movies love to use is someone having a hard time saying, “I love you.”
Which strikes me as a load of crap; these days people say “I love you” at the drop of a hipster’s fedora and we probably ought to cut that shit out. Way too many “I love yous” floating around in the atmosphere right now.
“I love you” ought to be reserved for people who – should they happen to simultaneously suffer a bout of diarrhea and loss of feeling in their arms – we love enough to wheelbarrel their ass out to the backyard and spray them down with a garden hose. And I’m guessing once you think about it that way, you’re left with a pretty short list of people you love that much.
The three hardest words to say in the English language aren’t, “I love you” they’re “I don’t know.”
You can ask an Uber driver with a GED the first step in performing open heart surgery and he – or she – will give it a shot. Ask sports-talk radio hosts who are so fat they can’t see their own dick to name the best player in the NBA and they’ll have an opinion.
These days everybody has to have an opinion about everything whether or not they know anything at all about the subject at hand.
So if you want to avoid arguments that you can’t possibly win, remember these three simple words:
1. “I don’t know.”
And if refusing to take a stand doesn’t keep people from arguing with you (and it probably won’t) here’s your fallback position:
2. “And I don’t give a fuck.”
“I don’t know and I don’t give a fuck” should keep you out of most arguments, but people like to argue even if their opponent is on life support, so you might be drawn in to an unavoidable dispute with some cantankerous asshole who doesn’t believe in climate change despite the fact that polar bears are doing the backstroke past Miami Beach.
Should that happen, here’s the best advice I can give you.
They say lawyers hate the sound of their own client’s voice because generally speaking all the clients manage to accomplish by talking is providing the rope they’ll swing from.
Same thing happens in arguments.
First rule of debate: Define the opponent’s position. No matter how much you want to offer a counter-argument, resist that impulse. Just keep asking questions about your opponent’s position and let them hang themselves in the tangle of half-baked thoughts he or she will offer.
Just don’t expect your opponent to admit defeat because when it comes to arguing, you can’t win.
But you might be able to get someone to hang up on you.