The Frontal Cortex

Old Arguments

Daniel Davies has compiled a smart list of arguments that he is no longer going to have. He explains:

While not necessarily claiming to have the definitive truth on these subjects, my views are no longer up for argument, pending absolutely spectacular new evidence. I’ve had a number of arguments on all of these points over the last year; I’ve heard all sides, and I’ve made up my mind. If anyone has an argument which they genuinely believe to be new, go ahead, but don’t expect much. Please note also that I am no longer interested in methodological debates over the merits of statistical studies which purport to prove the matter one way or another on any of these propositions.

That seems like a worthy endeavor. But here’s my problem: I couldn’t think of any arguments that I really want to abandon. (Does that make me belligerent? Or just stubborn?) I’d pledge to stay out of the God/atheism wars, but I gave up that fight long ago. And I’d definitely pledge to stay out of the IQ wars, but that particular argument has never struck me as that interesting. (Nature vs Nurture is so 1990’s.) I guess I like my little arguments.

But perhaps I’m not the one who should be answering this question. What arguments should I avoid this year? And what arguments are you planning on giving up?

Update: I’ve thought of a few arguments I’m going to give up. I am no longer going to try to convince my girlfriend that Borges is funny, that football is the best sport to watch on television, and that I really am allergic to the cold.


  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    January 4, 2008

    “Tastes great” vs. “less filling.”

    Borgia are not funny.

  2. #2 Jen
    January 4, 2008

    But you must look at what Davies gives as his reasoning for giving up certain arguments – “I’ve made up my mind and don’t need to discuss it anymore.” Others of us enjoy debate for the sport of it, and see no reason to give up discussion simply because a conclusion has been reached.

    So I’d say it makes you more interested in the process of getting to a conclusion than the conclusion itself, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. My dad used to say “you’d argue with a coathanger” and he’s right. I always feel that I don’t really understand someone until I can both say it back to another person AND defend it.

  3. #3 Dave Briggs
    January 4, 2008

    I think the term argument itself has kind of a hostile connotation. Not to slight anyone for using it. I just prefer discussion or something tamer.
    I mentioned on another blog today that in these discussions, the person who is the most respectful and calm wins even if the points don’t say so because they earn the right to be heard again. It all can be done so tactfully that many times you can even refuse to discuss a subject without any feeling slighted in the least.
    There is an old proverb that says stay away from doubtful disputations. Ones where it is very doubtful there will be a definitive answer at the end, no matter how the discussion goes. I think Davies made a wise discussion.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  4. #4 HP
    January 4, 2008

    The problem with so many of these arguments is that they’re primarily used as political identifiers; nobody actually cares all that deeply about the issues, they just use arguments as a bludgeon to let you know who’s on which side. There’s no functional difference any more (if there ever was) between a political argument and giant foam rubber hand that says “We’re #1!”

    I’ve often thought it would be fun to start a blog where all the posts sound like, “Palestine now has fewer guns and more routine male circumcision than Redmond, Washington coddles the RIAA.” Strangers will show up to argue without actually knowing what the hell you’re saying.

  5. #5 dsquared
    January 4, 2008

    Others of us enjoy debate for the sport of it, and see no reason to give up discussion simply because a conclusion has been reached.

    You’re completely right and that was probably poorly phrased – there are loads of arguments (like abortion, IQ, etc) where my mind is equally made up and I’m equally pessimistic about the prospects of convincing others, but I’m still carrying on because it’s fun. The list is also probably more in the nature of a New Year’s Resolution (ie, a 12 month moratorium that might not even last that long depending on willpower) than a once and for all anathema.

  6. #6 hank
    January 5, 2008

    Why would someone who claims to be allergic to the cold live in Concord NH? Do you still believe global warming is an argument worthy of debate? BTW, I’m with Jen on the value of the process of discussion as distinct from the value of coming to a conclusion.

  7. #7 jonah
    January 5, 2008

    Thanks for your comments. I guess if you’re willing to blog (and comment on a blog) then you’re clearly someone who enjoys argument and debate. I certainly do. But I think Davies was making the point that some arguments are just so stale/badly framed (nature vs nurture), futile (the atheism argument) or unnecessary (is global warming real argument) that it’s a waste of time and energy. Life is too short. That said, I still sleep better at night knowing that somebody is taking on global warming deniers.

    Why do I live in NH if I’m allergic to the cold? Good question. Well, NH has grown on me and the white mountains are quite beautiful in the winter. But I’m here because my girlfriend, Sarah Liebowitz, works for an excellent local paper, the Concord Monitor. I;m originally from LA, so I was born with thin blood.

  8. #8 Alan
    January 5, 2008

    A lot of what passes for argument is simply diputation over false dichotomy. In one of the earlier posts, the topic was the certainty bias, which we can see on display in argumentation. My father once told me to wait until you get to be a forty-something instead of a twenty-something, and then see how much time you’re willing to invest in fatuous argument.

    BTW: I believe Jonah refers to Borges, the fabulist writer, but will concede that the Borgias were probably not funny in the sense of inspiring mirth. Good fabulist writing, can, on the other hand, be interpeted as humor.

  9. #9 Greg
    January 6, 2008

    If we give up talking, there would be nothing to listen to. I’m afraid to think then who would be calling the shots. Supreme-all-knowing-undisputable Dictator-4-Life? Maybe Davies is just trying to provoke debate by suggesting no more argument.

    Discussion is a journey. Not a destination. There must be 2 sides. The contradiction is the essence that leads us to resolve.

    Just don’t spend too much time talking about it.

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