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July 28th, 2006

Do I Attack You, or Your Argument?

Sandra Day O'Connor made me chuckle today.  I'm finishing up her book, Majesty of the Law -- and excellent primer to the US judicial system --, and found her encouraging professionalism amidst a sea of egotistical lawyers.  Her admonition called up my criticism of the arguments I make on livejournal, sometimes on philosophy, awhile ago on bisexual, and recently on a friend's page.  So the question is, dear readers: do I attack you, or your argument?  Justice O'Connor provides some examples to facilitate your answer:

"... we speak of our dealings with other lawyers as war -- and too often we act accordingly.  Consider the language that lawyers use to describe their everyday experiences:
  • 'I attacked every weak point in their argument.'
  • 'Her criticisms were right on target.'
  • 'I demolished his position.'
  • 'If we use that strategy, she'll wipe us out.'
  • 'I shot down each of their contentions.'
... When I ask a question during oral argument in the Court, it is meant not as attack but as an invitation for counsel to address an area of particular concern.  The most effective advocates respond accordingly, answering honestly and directly." (italics hers. O'Connor, Sandra. 227)

My answer: I can be argumentative but, contrary to popular opinion, it is not my nature.  Naturally I consider myself indifferently interested in your opinion (an altruistic, instead of individualist, notion).  In other words, I desire to know how you think and for why.  So when I respond in a discussion, I often envision the abstract hierarchies involved and am always cognizant of the long-term consequences if a conclusion is broadly applied.  Rarely are you, per se, there; only your argument is there.  I feel many people perceive my indifference is inpersonal and some kind of degredation of their existence and experience because they usually attempt to absorb my self into the discussion.  In my opinion, this indifferent approach allows me to discuss anything with anyone, from professors to janitors, regardless of sex, orientation, race, religion, ....  If you can dazzle me with some cognitive dissonance -- meaning you justify your opinion in some manner that reasonably brings my opinion to question, then you establish that the strength your argument emenates from your existence and experience.  That is a worthy advocate. 

So I agree with O'Connor.   Arguments are not war where we drag in personal attacks, rather a recognition that either party can be convinced; that neither you or I "win".