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interview chairThe Futility of Arguing Politics

The area of politics is one of the most publicized aspects of American society, along with other equally important bedrocks of American culture such as apple pie and Britney Spears. On a daily basis, the senses are assaulted with the latest political news, from the local level all the way to the federal level. Indeed, the mass publicity of politics is not without merit. Our federal government, after all, is a construct that operates through the participation or non-participation of its citizens.

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As such, information disseminated through the publicity of politics is a necessary component so that citizens may make decisions regarding their political participation. The objective reporting of political happenings, then, is an integral part of the way our society functions, as it provides a means of gaining knowledge regarding the political process which will ultimately guide the individual’s decision-making process. As important as the dissemination of factual political information is, however, attempting to change an individual’s mind once he or she has absorbed said information almost always becomes an exercise in futility. In fact, it is ultimately a waste of time in the vast majority of cases.

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In many topics and types of discussions, it is quite possible to change an adversary’s mind from through a superior argument. In most cases, the topics in which this is possible are related to the hard sciences, such as physics, chemistry, or biology. The superior argument may contain additional evidence that an adversary had not considered or known about. It may point out mistakes in an adversary’s reasoning. It may contain factual errors that an adversary has committed, or it may be a combination thereof.

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For example, suppose Mark’s opinion is that prohormones, in combination with a proper diet and lifting routine, do not increase muscle mass beyond what a good diet and lifting routine alone produce. Dave disagrees with Mark. To solidify his position, Dave provides prohormone research and facts on human physiology that refute Mark’s argument. He also provides anecdotal evidence and taken together with all of the other evidence, Mark’s mind is changed. In the face of a sound theory and real world, observable evidence, Mark realizes he is mistaken.

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However, in other kinds of discussions on the social sciences, such as economics and yes, politics, it is often nearly impossible to convince an adversary to change his or her opinion. In contrast to the hard sciences, there is often no physical data to support an argument that one individual might make to another, usually for one of two reasons. One reason is because data will not be available for some time due to recent implementation or study of an idea. The second reason is that the argument deals with abstract concepts.

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This lack of physicality in the substance of a particular argument makes it extremely difficult to change an adversary’s mind. Without something an individual can see, touch, and verify for him or herself it becomes difficult to convince him or her of something he or she is not accustomed to. Even if some type of data does exist and it is contrary to an adversary’s beliefs, it will generally be discounted in some way.

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In the example above, Dave constructed a superior argument which showed Mark his incorrect stance through published findings of prohormones, as well as physiological processes. In addition, he cited individuals who attest to prohormone effectiveness. As the old saying goes, “seeing is believing.” Mark sees the physicality of the evidence and backs away from his original stance. If Mark wishes, he can verify Dave’s argument by looking up the research himself and talking to the individuals who have benefited from prohormone use.

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In contrast, arguments of a political nature do not usually allow for the same degree of evidence presentation. It’s usually not possible with these kinds of arguments to show someone, in the same manner described above, that they are incorrect. Rather, these arguments usually rely solely on reason.

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Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, yours truly found himself in a discussion about the privatization of Social Security. As discussions oftentimes tend to do, this one branched off into many different tangents. At one point, the topic of ownership of money came up. More specifically, it was the issue of who owns the money that an individual earns through lawful contracting of services with a firm. In other words, who owns the money that an employee earns from employment with a firm, business or otherwise.

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Someone in the discussion made the argument that the government is wrong to forcefully take Social Security taxes out of an individual’s check each pay period in the first place because, among other reasons, the individual rather than the government earned that money. As such, only the individual should rightfully be able to make decisions regarding where his or her money goes. To my utter amazement, a young lady counter argued that no, the money that goes to Social Security does not, in fact, belong to the individual who earned it. Rather, it belongs to the elderly who, in her mind, both need and deserve it.

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Up to this point, yours truly had been silent and simply taking everything in. After her argument, however, I was compelled to respond. I could not simply sit by and say nothing while she stated that the money I earn does not belong to me. How can it be reasoned that what an individual earns through voluntary exchange does not rightfully belong to him or her? Who is she to make such claims about the fruits of other people’s labor?

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I pointed out that any money voluntarily given from one party to another becomes the property of the latter party. This is because the former party has chosen to transfer ownership and possession for a given reason or reasons, usually because of a benefit received that is deemed to be equal in value to the sum of money transferred. I pointed out that any third party that interferes with such a transaction between two parties by taking even a small part of the money is committing textbook theft.

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Furthermore, I pointed out that there are other ways of helping those in need than by forcefully taking money from one group and giving it to the needy group. And while she fell silent after my argument, her silence said it all: she could not formulate any counter arguments, but she certainly wasn’t going to agree with me. After all, I couldn’t prove what I was saying to her. I couldn’t point to anything that she could see, feel, and verify that would convince her otherwise. The discussion between the two of us then ended on a powerful yet silent agreement to disagree.

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My attempts to convince her errors as I saw them were obviously a waste of time. In the time I spent unproductively talking to her, I could have been talking to someone else about that piece of video gaming heaven that is Halo 2. I could have been hitting on an attractive young lady. I could have been having a discussion about the price of fish in China with a bookshelf. I could have been doing many other things with my time that would have been more productive, made me happier, and saved me unnecessary frustration.

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Discussions such as this go on all the time. From Internet message boards, to town hall meetings, to family gatherings, people subject themselves to such pointless political banter on a daily basis. The result, more often than not, is a great deal of frustration with nothing to show for it. The parties involved still believe and hold dear what they always have. It’s just that now they’re all very angry at one another.

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Occasionally, one encounters an open-minded individual who listens thoughtfully and who may even change his or her mind should the argument presented to him or her be good enough, but these individuals are few and far between. In the vast majority of cases, attempts to convince an individual in these situations that they are wrong or that they even could be wrong will fall on deaf ears. Political information is important and necessary for our society, but save the lectures and speeches that get too deep in trying to convince others of their follies. In refraining from political argumentation, one will save him or herself a whole lot of time and frustration.

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