Lost Art of Argument
I love a good argument; but here’s the problem: today, an argument does not have the same use, meaning or outcome it once did. In its “true” or original state, if you will, an argument is a rhetorical presentation of reasons for or against another view, point, reason, etc. Today, an argument has elevated to its least desired definition leading to altercation versus advocating. Tragically, and all too often, we no longer debate and dialog to discern more democratically, now we deface and defame to degrade more demonically. With the quick-draw, at-the-ready diatribe, anyone who opposes us today it seems, is automatically not just wrong, not just unpatriotic, not just stupid, but also a bigot. Really?
Bigots Abound But Not All
Not to sound like the character from the “Sixth Sense“, but yeah, I see bigots everywhere; but, that does not mean just because you and I may disagree on a topic that one or both of us is a bigot. One or both of us may be, but not necessarily or automatically. The problem is two-fold. First, the overuse and thus dilution and meaning of the word; this leading to the second point, the misunderstanding of the definition of the word bigot. With the speed at which we are ready to take offense to disagreements today, instead of engaging in healthy discussions (even the word debate has taken on too harsh a connotation sadly to use) and if the issue is “social” or civil rights in nature, from personal observation, it seems one or both parties are almost just as readily quick to label the other a bigot for disagreeing on the issue. Again from personal observation and even from personal interviews, this overuse of the term generally stems from a lack of true meaning of the definition of bigot and therefore not only leads to greater taunts, tensions, and technically torts too, but also a continual over-usage and dilution of the word that continues to propagate, promoting division not discernment, diatribes not debates, foes not friends, and the list sadly goes on …
Many, many (five) years before I was born in 1969, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart infamously stated in a 1964 case involving the definition of whether or not something was considered pornographic, while”defining” was not a goal per se, that “I know it when I see it” the same may not always true for a bigot, though it seems it is subjectively and blankly applied to anyone who disagrees with us on a moral, social or civic issue. A bigot is defined as “someone who is extremely intolerant [underlined emphasis mine, not Webster's] of another’s creed, belief or opinion” (Random House Webster College Dictionary, 2nd Updated and Revised Edition, 2001). To be clear, a bigot is someone who is extremely or utterly (completely) intolerant, not someone who simply disagrees with my point of view on a matter; there is a difference.
I have many good friends with whom I am at variance on many issues; that makes us good rhetorical sparring partners for learning and growing, in my opinion, especially when we understand the healthy, humble nature of discussing and debating openly our differences of opinions, not adversaries reduced to name calling, claims of hypocrisy or bigotry. More to the point, my longtime friend Ryan Sharrer and I do not agree on most political issues, but that is a point of connection, not contention. We truly enjoy the debate and discernment that evolves from our differences and in a decade of discussions, never have our arguments become oral altercations or lead to unfounded claims of bigotry.
Argue Versus Altercation
Let’s face it, we’re more tuned in and turned on by fast-paced, heat of the moment, passionate, and fired up orators on the TV than we are calm, cool and collected rhetoricians debating facts. Whether it’s Rush on the right spewing fallacies or Maddow on the left screaming foul, we gravitate to the dramatic while claiming to grow weary of the same. Really? The information superhighway and world of mass media has made for a frenzy at the trough for viewers hungry for news and all to eager (and none too ethical) outlets ready to feed us, even if it’s not vetted or knowingly false. All of this leads to the further propagation, misuse, misunderstanding and greater division as we continue to mislabel others as bigots and not simply as people of differing opinions. That’s not to say that someone can’t be of a differing opinion and also be a bigot, but the “associative property” does not always apply.
Tolerant But Not Agreeable
So where is the real difference, qualifier or dis-qualifier of a bigot or not a bigot? In a small way, maybe it does go back to Justice Stewart, but only if we fully appreciate, understand and synthesize the definition of bigotry can you really know one if you truly see one. For a more “real-world” and current example, since President Obama recently announced the evolution of his stance to now support same-sex marriage, charges of hypocrisy, prejudice and bigotry have been launched across aisles not seen since, well, in a few months since an all-male panel discussed female reproductive rights. However, the point is, people will disagree on this issue for a number of reasons, primarily moral (religious) grounds, but disagreement neither necessarily equates to disenfranchisement or discrimination nor to bigotry. People in the 60s may not have agreed with a number of social issues that were being hotly debated, but the discussion, tolerance and common thread of humanity, not bigotry, prevailed; and, I believe it will again, but we must regain and reclaim our right to debate the issues and not debase one another!
The bottom line up front is we need to engage our brains before we accelerate our damned mouths! I know that people will disagree with me on a number of issues for any number of reasons. Since I mentioned same-sex marriage, let me use that example. I support universal human unalienable rights and that includes that right of a person to marry whom he or she wants even if it is a member of the same sex. For me, defining marriage between a man and a woman doesn’t protect me or the “traditional” rights of marriage one iota but does oppress the rights of others. However, I know that others will not agree with me for a number of possible reasons, but that does not necessarily mean that they are intolerant to homosexual or transgender-ed persons, hence they may not like the idea or may not support the right, but that does not automatically make them a bigot. Easy as it is to demonize someone who differs from our stance, however righteous we may feel, that makes it not right, but maybe make us the bigot … how many fingers are pointing back at you?