I've noticed something. Whenever I'm arguing some issue that has a moral quotient – and don't they all? – I'm often aggravated more by my opponent's failure to perceive my good intentions than by his refusal to give ground on whatever point it is I'm trying to make.
I assume the same thing is true for my opponent. After several rounds of points, counterpoints, and put-downs, he must be wondering why I can't just concede that he's a decent, rational fellow who simply happens to disagree with him on this one thing.
Picture yourself taking one of the following positions:
Welfare enables lazy people.
– No it doesn't. It protects the most vulnerable.
Well I saw someone buying pop and candy with food stamps at the store today, so that proves it.
– Oh yeah? Well my grandma worked hard all her life and if it weren't for food stamps, she'd starve.
. . . and so it goes.
Arguments like these can carry on forever and they often do. And not just on the Internet, either, but at family reunions, school board meetings, town halls . . .
Let's say your opponent is a reasonable person in general and, secretly, you know this. However, you also know that you'll never get him to concede your point, and since it's not a question of simple fact, you'll never be able to conclusively prove him wrong just by linking to some Web page with the appropriate statistic.
So . . . how do you know when to just stop arguing?
And how do you know when to stop listening to other people arguing?