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Discussion vs. Polemics: Are you talking with me or at me?

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posted on Mar, 6 2012 @ 10:25 PM

Those of you who were here for the last US presidential election cycle may remember how heated the arguments on ATS became in 2008. The problem got to be so bad that ATS established the "political madness" forum, originally intended as a kind of "hair catch" to keep the issue from burbling over into unrelated discussions.

As we enter another major election cycle (not just in the US but in many nations all over the world), it might not be such a bad idea to revisit the issue, and to think about how we can engage in constructive conversation without degenerating into shouting and polemics. Obviously, this has big implications even in non-political discussion.

First, what does "polemics" mean?

po·lem·ic noun pə-ˈle-mik
1a : an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another b : the art or practice of disputation or controversy — usually used in plural but singular or plural in construction
2: an aggressive controversialist : disputant
— po·lem·i·cist -ˈle-mə-sist noun

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

A polemic ( /pəˈlɛmɪk/) is when an argument, debate, or opinion leans toward attacking the other person as opposed to the discussion at hand. That is, an argument or rhetoric becomes polemic when it has pejorative implications of the dignity of opposition. This is most common in a heated debate, where frustration or a sense of righteousness promotes hostility. The word is derived from the Greek πολεμικός (polemikos), meaning "warlike, hostile", which comes from πόλεμος ('polemos), "war".

Source: Wikipedia

In my own mind, I tend to think of a discussion as people talking with each other while I view polemics as people talking at each other.

In a discussion:
-People have an open mind and are willing to modify their positions based on what the other person says.
-The listener is treated with respect, as somebody on the same level as the speaker.
-Both parties come away (hopefully) having learned something.
-Good discussions bring nuance, complexity, and a feeling of personal and intellectual growth.

In polemics:
-The speaker has a closed mind and has already decided the end goal (to convert the listener to his views).
-The listener is treated as being on a lower level than the speaker.
-One party (the listener) MAY come away with new ideas, but the the speaker will not have modified his views.
-Polemics are crazymaking!!!!

Or, think of it this way: In a good discussion, the speaker and the listener are like two people looking at a work of art together, a work neither of them have ever seen. They comment together in an attempt to learn more. In polemics, meanwhile, one person is displaying his artwork to another and lecturing the other on what how he should perceive it.

The desired end result of discussion is more discussion and personal growth for both. The desired end result of polemics is the silent acquiescence of your "opponent" to your worldview. Discussion opens minds, polemics closes them.

Are you a polemicist? When you argue, do you sincerely respect the people you are arguing with? Do you leave room for new learning in your own mind, or do you come to a discussion with the attitude that nobody else with different views has anything to teach you? How do you deal with polemics when you are at the receiving end? How can we shift polemical arguments back to more open-minded discussion when we find ourselves in the midst of a nasty argument? How can we communicate in a way that preserves openmindedness and dignity, and helps us all to grow? How can we deny ignorance together rather than ram ignorance down each other's throats?

Something worth taking a moment or two to think about, both on ATS and in life in general, in my humble (and non-polemical) opinion.

edit on 3/6/12 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 7 2012 @ 08:29 AM
I think one of my co-workers might be a polemic.

Alittle background on the fella. He is a white male from Florida. He LOVES America. He loves america so much that he feels every other country can go to hell and die. He refuses to buy ANYTHING that isnt made in America. (if he can help it) He's strong right wing and believes FOX is the only channel that tells the truth. :barf But his colors truly shine when he starts to talk politics.

The other night a bunch of us all went out for a few drinks and about half way through the night I noticed he was "talking' politics with his girlfriend at the table. She had the same look that my wife has when I start talking politics. So I saved her by bringing the political discussion between him and myself.

In short, the entire time he was talking 'at me' and not 'to me'. The subject was why vote for Ron Paul. He was using all the typical talking points they use on FOX. I could tell that nothing I was saying was getting through, because each time he ran to the end of his FOX answers he would change the topic.

So I decided to use his LOVE FOR AMERICA (frat boy grunt) againist his stubboness. He kept saying that he likes Dr.Paul, but he wont win, so he's going to vote for Romney. I asked why he didnt think Paul would win and his reply was he cant get the votes. So I then asked him if he was going to vote for Romney because he felt that his vote mattered and it would help Romney to beat Obama. He said 'yes'. So I asked him why does his vote matter when its for someone that everyone is voting for and it doesnt matter when its for someone that not alot are voting for? A look of confusion and inner reflection spread across his face and he immediatly calmed down and actually started to have a conversation insted of just 'talking at people'.

Sorry for the long post.The point of the story was even if you are dealing with a stubborn polemic, you may be able to break through their wall and get them to start listening. You just have to find a way for them to question their OWN logic.

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