How Arguments Become Pointless

I’m going to talk about something near and dear to my heart: arguments. The argument is a skill, and a useful one at that. It allows two or more people to confront two, seemingly opposing, ideas. They can then put those ideas against each other, and determine if either, both, or neither are correct. There are two instances when this process gets sidetracked, and the argument itself becomes pointless.

The first instance is when the argument is no longer about ideas but about people. When the arguments are about peoples’ character, their personal habits, or their hygiene, then the ideas get lost in the race to demonize the opposition. Arguments like this are ultimately worthless. They harm people, and make most of the participants seem immature and foolish. Beyond that, the point of an argument – analyzing the ideas presented – becomes lost. Any conclusion reached would have more to do with peoples’ opinions about the arguers than the arguments themselves.

The second instance is very common, and simultaneously the easiest to avoid and the rarest to be avoided. This happens when the people in an argument are using differing definitions for the same exact word. The most amusing element of this is that it often turns out that, while they were arguing against each other, they were ultimately arguing in favor of the same point. It is also possible they are arguing very different things, which can lead to frustration and aggression from hearing “irrelevant” information and arguments repeated. After all, anything a person adds will be relevant to what they are arguing, and if the other person is arguing something quite different it might seem irrelevant, or worse, self-incriminating.

As a way to help solve the second of these problems, this blog offers a list of the stipulative definitions used here. We’ll try to keep them up-to-date as time goes on, but no promises, and they might change from time to time. If there seems to be an argument brewing, double check the definitions being used. We might find there really is no argument after all. This would save us a lot of time and effort.There really is no specific way we intend to handle the first problem, except to ask that everyone remain courteous and to remember that we are arguing points, not people.-Benjamin Shender

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4 Comments

  1. raku said,

    April 20, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    You’ll probably get a lot of dispute on the definition of permaculture, as it’s not just about cultivation, but rather a systems approach to sustainable living. Cultivation is just one part of it. It’s like saying “civilization” is a form of agriculture. One of the difficulties with discussions about permaculture is that it’s not clearly defined.

    (ps – I keep getting an error with the posting process. This is my third try. Not sure if it’s my computer or what.)

  2. Aftermath said,

    April 20, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    Hmmm, I have nothing to do with comment posting, but I’ll see if I can replicate the issue.

    Actually, one of the reasons I added permaculture is because it’s so poorly defined. It’s the defintion we’re using here, for now. But not the definition everyone uses. I’ve heard a lot of permaculture discussions become problematic because of the lack of a common defintion. If you have a better one I’d love to add it to the page.

    -Benjamin Shender

  3. Valnurana said,

    April 20, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    If the concept of permaculture is so volatile, perhaps a more detailed definition is in order. This one, which I found at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/perma.html, seems to be a little more inclusive of the many aspects of permaculture:

    Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is a land use and community building movement which strives for the harmonious integration of human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water into stable, productive communities. The focus is not on these elements themselves, but rather on the relationships created among them by the way we place them in the landscape. This synergy is further enhanced by mimicking patterns found in nature.

    There are lots more on the page but I like how this one sounds.

  4. Aftermath said,

    April 20, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    I have heard many definitions like that. They sound more like a cross between a persuasive definition and an encyclopedia entry to me. Ultimately, that’s a definition of horticulture as well. I’ve yet to have anyone explain to me the difference between the two. Until I understand why permaculture is different than one of the much better defined forms of cultivation , then I would feel more comfortable using a stipulative definition I am familiar with.

    -Benjamin Shender


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