The Art of Argument, Part 1

I was just thinking how moving back south has really changed the way I analyze and put together an argument and that it actually may have changed how I argue and discuss issues more than law school and lawyering have.  Before I moved back here, I was always in fairly liberal settings, and never had to think about my argument’s structure from A to Z.  “X” was right and good and true and correct because I and everyone around me *knew* it to be so. However, since moving back here (well, and becoming a lawyer, which is really just trying to become a highly skilled arguer), I have had to learn how to discuss and explain and prove what, to me, just seems like obvious universal truths.

Why is it good to help out other people? Why is it bad to allow corporate profit to trump individual well-being? How can I believe that racism still exists when everyone says they are not racist? How can I say that christian ethics are not the most important quality in a candidate? Why do I think the military and military actions profit corporations at the cost of the middle and lower classes? Etc etc.

I also have to remember to always try to discuss my feelings and opinions in a neutral and civil tone, since most people around here and certainly most of my family are very conservative and very vocal in their opposition to everything I believe. I take great care to stick to the issues and facts, never say derogative things about a person, characterize my assertions in the most general terms possible, and talk ONLY about facts that I personally have verified. I also take care to ALWAYS find something to agree about, praise the person I am talking to for having a thoughtful opinion, and actually listen to what they are saying. I never jump on them when they throw out radically erroneous facts and I never demand they defend their assertions.

Though I am beginning to wonder why I bother, since (a) no one on the other side of these discussions ever notices and doesn’t appear to even be listening and (b) it certainly isn’t reciprocated.

At any given chance, these people will say utterly outrageous and just awful things about me, “liberals,” and the people I respect, support, admire, and work with/for.   Ad hominem stuff, things about their family. To my face, to me, as if this appropriate. If an issue comes up in conversation, and I, after carefully examining my words, voice an opinion, they will jump my shit, attack ME and deride my thinking and my sources and claim that I am attacking them, and that all (my “group”) just clearly hate (America, christianity, hardworking Americans, etc.).

None of these people ever take the time to think about how disrespectful or rude or unfair or ridiculous this is. Not once have they noticed the care and respect I show them and their opinions.  I NEVER would say such things to them about the people and issues they support and I NEVER criticize them personally, or deride their thoughts, or accuse them of being a part of a group/engaging in mind-think/being closeminded, etc. EVER. And I certainly would NEVER instigate a fight about politics with my parents right before they went in for a colonoscopy (yes, for real). And it just saddens me that they don’t even notice this.

And these are usually the same people that get deeply personally offended if I simply state an opinion on an issue with which they disagree. For example, relative X goes on and on about how terrible Michelle Obama is and how she has 22 personal servants while Laura Bush has 1 and Michelle Obama is costing us money and much money she spends on clothes and how she is pimping out her daughters to Gap and what an awful mother she is and is so fake and a bad American.

I then pointed out – correctly – that Laura Bush had between 15 and 19 members in her personal staff and that all First Ladies have had roughly the same number, the differences being dependent on how active the First Lady was AND whether or not there were minor children in the WH. For real, that is more or less verbatim what I said.

Relative X then jumps my shit for accusing Laura Bush of not doing anything and how dare I and how awful I and all the liberals are because we were always making fun of the Bush twins and talking about LB’s car accident and how disrespectful and how we are all about the First Amendment until someone says something we don’t like and at least LB was a “real” American.  And so forth. And somehow I was the bad actor in this “discussion.”

And like I said earlier, I am about to the point where I am DONE being the only one abiding by basic rules of decency and respect. Why should I worry so much about offending people that clearly don’t give a shit about my opinions and don’t even think twice about offending me?  I just don’t know how much more I can bite my tongue.  That is one of the reasons I started this blog, so I could work through some of my frustrations with this and perhaps let off some steam that I cannot vent around the people I love.

But for now, I think I am just going to have to leave the room the next time someone brings up politics.  Because if this doesn’t stop, I am going to have to leave the state.


  1. Ben Hoffman said,

    October 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Politics are like a religion to right-wingers. They don’t have the facts on their side so they argue with emotion.

  2. Jann said,

    October 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Ben is right – and overly emotional people can never really hear an entire argument after they have been triggered. You are the Atticus Finch that your community needs….keep fighting the Ewells even though they may win a battle here and there.

  3. October 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    […] Here is the original post: The Art of Argument, Part 1 « SouthernFemaleLawyer […]

  4. Amy said,

    October 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I so feel your pain, SFL, except I can’t claim to have been civil all the time. As comfortable as you were in areas that were mostly liberal, all of these morons you’re talking about have never known anything else but where they live. They THINK that’s how the whole world is b/c they have never been anywhere else – they don’t care about learning about anywhere else. Why would they? They’re in complete heaven where they are. And the longer you live in a place that is 100% conservative, the more disappointing and scary it is to be a liberal that lives there b/c you realize how many uninformed people there are.

  5. Sam said,

    October 25, 2009 at 12:55 am

    I’ve generally just fought fire with fire. I’m polite until someone else isn’t, and then it’s go time. Dissect them a few times and they’ll treat you with a little more caution. Seriously. Go Grayson on them.

  6. jason said,

    October 26, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I feel your pain. Let me clue you in on something that you’ve probably already figured out. Most conservatives and liberals have been duped by the lunatic-fringe media arms of both their parties to think that politics is a zero-sum game. If you’re a liberal, then you must a) hate America, b) hate Christianity, c) be a communist, d) be a bad person. Conservatives hear this in their pulpits and on their radio. It’s the hidden truth that no one wants you to know.

    Similarly, if you’re a conservative, you must a) not care about people; you only care about money, b) want to turn the US into a theocracy and make everyone worship Jesus 100 times a day c) disapprove of Obama because you’re racist d) be a bad person.

    It’s crazy.

    My advice is to not even argue with people. Try to take positive intent with them. If they say that Michelle Obama is a bad person for having 22 servants, then counter it with, “You know, I heard people say bad things about LB when she had 19 servants, and I thought the same thing. I guess it takes a big staff to do all of the hard work that first ladies do” then go on.

    I agree with you that it’s frustrating, but honestly, you’re not going to change anyone’s mind anyway; it’s better to just fuck with them and laugh about it later.

  7. (O)CT(O)PUS said,

    October 27, 2009 at 12:08 am

    SFL, I have been struggling with the same issues and recently quoted your post, Hate Begets Hate. I used it in an article on demographic clustering and the Balkanization of America. There are times when I do engage in outreach to conservatives with mixed results. More challenging is convincing my co-bloggers (ours is a group blog) to give peace a chance.

  8. plvannest said,

    October 27, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Ah! Then I’m NOT imagining it–IT being that if you are against the war in Iraq/Afganistan/wherever you are anti-American and dispise American Military Personal, that if you don’t thump a Bible all day long you are an evil person who has no idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, that if you voted for Obama, you are a facist-socialist (yes, apparently in these little minds you can be both at the same time), if “my” candidate doesn’t win the election then the only solution is to “impeach” and possibly execute all elected officials (this one is always a bit hard to understand as it’s usually delivered at “full scream”), and the list goes on.

    I don’t argue with them. Teaching them to think is very much like the old joke of teaching a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and only makes the pig angry. The one bright side I’ve found is that, like pigs, they usually don’t vote.

    (Errr…worded that wrong…I do realize that pigs don’t vote…neither do they fly.)

  9. JJ said,

    October 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Glad to find you — Chris O’Donnell is singing your praises!

    I can’t take it any more either, and I declare I’m done every other week now! You could say I’m Southern Homeschool Humanist Mom, with a doctorate and a brain and liberal views. I just quoted this post too, in comments re: a multi-blog argument about argument, with evangelical conservatives claiming they are the logical and rational side plus the more moral and truthful ones, more so than those of us exhausted from trying to get them to be either one never mind both.

  10. Chenoa said,

    October 28, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Going with jason here – I found myself actually (ohdeargodwhat?) standing up for the conservatives a little when I moved to Berkeley – “No, Berkeley friends, pro-lifers DON’T actually hate women and want them to have no rights, they just aren’t even thinking about women, they’re thinking about fetuses” – (OK, abortion on the brain because the crazy – the legit crazy – pro-lifers had their demonstration on campus this week) – but the first conversation I remember where I played devil’s advocate was trying to remind my ardently pro-choice friends that really, the two sides are just speaking different languages. The pro-lifers back home say “pro-choicers want to kill babies!” and the pro-choicers say “pro-lifers hate women’s rights!” and, really? Really, no. The two sides don’t even listen to how ridiculous they sound – does it REALLY sound feasible that a whole group of people hate babies? Hate women’s rights? Ahem, sorry for my rant – it’s just that moving back and forth between Liberal Berkeley and Conservative East Tennessee, I end up so frustrated that stereotypes get in the way of conversation so much…

  11. October 28, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    That must be VERY strange — defending conservative opinions in an area dominated by liberal ones — since I know you grew up, like me, in an area where liberal opinions were usually only offered in whispers. I just get so tired of the unreasonable and deeply ideologically (and religiously) entrenched bigotry of this region. Such a waste.

  12. JJ said,

    October 29, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Here’s Harvard’s Humanist of the Year Dale McGowan, who actually lives in Georgia, on how he manages to communicate with his conservative Christian friends and family, especially on FaceBook. Apparently it takes a LOT of effort. 😉

    Being Heard

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