Whether it be a discussion on religious practices, a discussion on the hypersexualization of television, or a disagreement on whether Wendy’s or McDonalds has better fries, humans are hardwired to debate with one another. Some of those examples are more reputable in terms of their content, making their occurrence seem more appropriate than others. But whether or not an argument is appropriate is another… well… debate.
Perhaps it is mandatory that we define the purpose of an argument before we attempt to determine their situational appropriateness. There are many possible definitions, but let’s define an argument as the tool you use to convince another of the legitimacy of your position, opinion, or exposition on a subject.
What about times where arguments, or convincing exchanges, are imperative? Instances where intervention and change is necessary usually involve arguments. I am not speaking of intervention on drug abuse or other personal complications, but rather public social, political or economic issues. I would offer the following example: the wealth gap. The chasm between the world’s richest and poorest deepens and widens continuously, perpetuating class conflict. The potential increase in conflict arising from these accelerating trends warrants argumentative discussion.There is a problem that needs a solution, but both sides need to cede pieces of their stance in order to reach said solution. Thus, a resolution, hopefully common ground, will only result from arguing the issue itself. The degree to which the argument is successful is determined by its quality, something that should be monitored but is beyond the scope of this discussion. All that is important to note is that a meeting of opinions is needed to generate a solution.
How about the inverse, where arguments are to be avoided at all costs? When is it a mistake? I would point out the exhaustion that is innate to arguing before answering this question. Proving your point requires energy, energy to find evidence, connect the evidence together with your point, and deliver your conclusion. So it would therefore seem wasteful to debate over something that argument cannot change, like stone-cold facts. Take for instance the diagnosis of a sick person. Where you lack expertise and objective knowledge, the doctor has provided it for you with certainty. Would it be pragmatic to argue over the fact that an illness exists? What would really change about the situation if debate ensued? We see attempts to argue facts like this frequently, often referred to as “denial.” But as we know with denial, and we know it well, it implodes on itself only to reveal the objective reality. In scenarios like these, where facts are irrefutable, argument is damaging.
Can there ever be a time where arguing is both paradoxically necessary and a mistake? If such a contradiction were to occur, both parties in the argument would have to be equally worse off regardless of whether or not they engage in debate. However, I don’t believe that such a circumstance exists. You could argue that it is the properties of the argument or the format it takes that makes it simultaneously necessary and inappropriate, but the foundation (the argument) itself can never be. An argument is the deciding factor when deciding between avoidance or engagement. It will always tip the scale as it can never be divided. When you’re prompted to pick between arguing and not, your choice depends on what is less painful and there will always be an answer, never ambivalence.