Friday, August 19, 2005

Impasse in Onion Field, Ontario

I'm not only seeking a higher quality of liar in my life these days, but more dexterous, imaginative, and elastic people with whom to argue. Man, there are some lame-ass arguers out there! A recent chain of events has served to remind me just how thoroughly and to what great detriment most human beings live in their own minds. Against the cave walls of their craniums they cast images of themselves as great warriors and benevolent healers and doers of good; as Zenful dispensers of wisdom. Meanwhile, in real life, they eat with their mouths open, wipe their asses with their bare hands, and when engaged in an argument, spew the bile of their spectacularly overblown images of themselves.

But I get ahead of myself. First, this:

Hello, my name is Matt St. Amand, and I'm a deeply flawed person. To show you how stunted and backward I am, it wasn't until my 30th birthday that I took a serious look at the way I conducted myself in my relationships and the world at large, and realized -- Holy shit, life is messy. As a French/Irish Canadian Catholic, I was raised to believe that messiness was the devil's work. Chaos was of satanic origin. Mistakes are humanities' way of poking God in the eye with a sharp stick. Mistakes and errors show people to be imperfect, and imperfect people don't get into heaven.

Long after I knew this to be intellectually bullshit, I finally rid myself of its multifarious unconscious aspects on or around my 30th birthday.

A boss, who later turned out to be insane, once said to me, "If you're not making mistakes, it means you're not trying hard enough." For as shit-in-his-pants nuts as he was, I think about this nugget often, and draw reassurance from it.

In my long and varied, unkempt and old-sock-smelling experience, poor argument partners fall into one of four categories (sometimes mixing and matching in appalling ways). They are in no particular order:
  • Kitchen-sinkers

  • OK-then-everything's-my-faults

  • Grappling-hook-anger-whores

  • Mind readers
I never said these groups weren't complicated or didn't have cool names.

Kitchen-sinkers

Argue with these badboys and you can expect a modest disagreement about the most mundane issue or subject to turn into a complete free-for-all. These people take the opportunity of discussing a single wrong, a single offense, a single incident to completely deconstruct your soul and life -- telling you that they never liked you, listing off things you did twenty-five years ago that they hated but never spoke about before, throwing everything at you including the emotional kitchen sink. These are the folks who treat an argument like a sporting event where you score points with every new charge you make against the other person. Just so you know: If I come to you with a problem, either saying I didn't like something you said or would like you to clarify something that bothered me, and you proceed to pour out 100 things I've previously said that you never before indicated were a problem, you don't win. That's a fallacy in our culture -- no one wins an argument, people solve them -- promulgated by talk shows and talking-head shows.

Even better, kitchen-sinkers will bring up things you confided to them previously and use those confidences against you. This is among their most loathsome traits. You may have sought advice about a delicate matter, you may have confided insecurities, doubts, or some other vulnerability to these people at one time. Because you were seeking a sympathetic ear. You respected their ideas, their opinions. Only to have the kitchen-sinker dump it back on your head during an unrelated disagreement like a wheel barrow filled with manure. This is low, low conduct.

OK-then-everything's-my-faults

These people are life's speed bumps. When I was in high school, I was a reasonably decent basketball player. After riding the bench through eleventh grade, I made numerous improvements in my game, and was aghast when I continued riding the bench in twelfth grade. During practice one day, we paired-up to play one-on-one with each other. I was paired with a starting guard, someone whose abilities I didn't respect in the least. Well, we played one-on-one and I kicked his ass. I wiped the court with him. No one was watching; everyone else was tied up with their one-on-one games. Still, I demolished the guy, and the fact that he knew it was satisfying enough. However, once it was clear I had utterly eviscerated him, my opponent stopped trying. He allowed me to blow past him for layups without making any effort to stop me. He let me run up the score so that he could later tell himself I had won only because he had let me win. Thus giving himself control over the game, albeit in an unconventional manner, but still the outcome (he might reason) was his to control. The fucker!

And this is just the sort of limp dick move an "OK-then-everything's-my-fault" person does when they passive-aggressively roll over and admit that all the evil in the world is their fault.

I first encountered this as a kid, arguing with someone in the schoolyard. At some point the other person said, "OK, I do everything wrong and everything's my fault." I still recall feeling weird about this. The person had admitted, almost word for word, the very point I was trying to make, yet the admission rang hollow, false, somehow. It sufficed to end that childhood disagreement, but when people try this on me in adult life I regard them as though they have shit their pants in the middle of an airport.

Grappling-hook-anger-whores

These people lust after being offended. They live for the moment they are wronged. They sweep and sweep your dialogue with their offense-detectors, looking for the least hint of something, anything that can be interpreted in a negative fashion.

The "grappling-hook-anger-whore" is a two-fold affront to good arguing. This is the person who latches onto every single thing you say, reading negativity into whatever comes out of your mouth: "What do you mean the sky is blue?! Are you questioning my manhood?!" And as they rack up every intended and unintended sting and slam, they grow angrier and angrier.

Trust me on this, I've tried it, I've approached it from a hundred different angles -- anger solves nothing. I'm no Ghandi, I'm no pacifist; the other day when I was arguing with my brother, I went from zero-to-"Fuck you!" in about three seconds. Anger and yelling is proverbial gasonline thrown onto the proverbial fire. The only thing not proverbial about this is the hurt and bad feelings it arouses.

Anger is seeing life, the world through shit-colored glasses. The moment you give into the adrenalin rush of anger, into the exquisite embrace of feeling yourself being martyred, things will go so badly awry that even Ghandi would be tempted to flick your earlobe.

Mind readers

"Yeah, well, you just think you're this..." "Yeah, well, you think you know everything..." "Yeah, well, you think you can do that..." Just writing these generic examples raises my blood pressure.

What person knows another's mind? That's why I stick to discussing a person's actions. Actions speak louder than words. A person may praise you to your face, call you their best friend, but if they skip your birthday party without a phone call, I think that negates the impact of their words.

"Mind readers" not only tell you what you think, what motivates your actions, but they step even further out on a limb by including unseen, unidentified hordes in your argument: "Yeah, well, everyone thinks this about you." So, instead of merely presenting their own position, mind readers inflate their ranks quicker than they could blow up a single inflatable sex partner.
* * *

These are the types of arguers who make arguments so goddamned unpleasant. As poor liars hurt lying, these four categories of argument partners woefully lower the bar on the cathartic power of disagreements. They turn it into mudwrestling, they make you feel like you've stepped in gum, they reveal themselves as shallow, hurtful people and somehow think their poor tactics are a reflection on you.

We must all take responsibility for our own arguing, and for improving this aspect of ourselves.

First, sarcasm is a killer. Warranted as it might seem at times, you'll only dig the shithole deeper with it.

Second, ultimatums -- they are dead ends. Who among us, seriously, can draw a line in the sand? Now, I'm not talking about some poor person who's been physically abused -- of course, they should absolutely say, "This shit ends, or I walk!" But short of that, ultimatums are the snakes of the old Snakes & Ladders game.

Third, the faux calm voice. Come on, I'm an adult, you speak at 33.3 RPMs. The faux calm voice is another gem from the passive-aggressive grab-bag. The person seems calm, cool, and collected, but meanwhile all they're seeking to do is escalate their arguing partner's anger. Speak like a rational human being. The faux calm voice is as poor a tactic as shouting.

Fourth, cutting people off mid-sentence. Hello, my name is Matt St. Amand, and I am absolutely terrible for doing this. How can anyone communicate if the other person keeps cutting them off? They can't. I'm woefully aware of my tendency to do this, and I'm working like hell to change it. Because, logically, if you have a beef with someone, wouldn't you want to hear their entire argument so that you could address it in the fullest manner possible? This is ultimately a self-destructive tactic.

Fifth, although it should go without saying, nothing in this world seems to be able to "go without saying" -- violence; hitting, punching, shooting, stabbing, bludgeoning, kicking, biting, hair pulling, fish-hooking, Figure-Four-Leg-Locking, et al, are only for those who are trapped in primordial slime. H.G. Wells once said, the person who raises their hand first is the person who has run out of ideas first. I realize some guy in a wife-beater shirt, his hair all messed up, and his boxer shorts riding low doesn't much care if he's the first to run out of ideas, but among anyone who has any aspiration or claim to being civilized, violence is an absolute "no fly zone." You go there, you're a fucking cave dweller. If you're defending yourself, physically, that's another story. If you just throw a punch because you ran out of things to say, you're a fucking cave dweller -- the sort who didn't know how to build a fire or paint on a wall, or even mate. The one who stole food from others. You know, a proto-Republican.

Lying and arguing ought to be taught in school. I think I might develop a seminar series.

5 comments:

Byrdnest said...

Great post! I dropped in via "Next Blog" spin and I struck gold. Nice going.

Ascendantlive said...

I just have one more category to add - The Creative Listener or the ADD Philosopher: This is the person who seems to listen to everything you say, then tries to repeat it back to you only switching everything you said into a completly different argument that either makes no sense at all or changes your original point completly. Arguing with this type is absolutly pointless because nothing(even extreme violence) will stop this person from butchering everything you say.
Great article by the way, really enjoyed it.

Whetam Knauckweirst said...

coolest guy in the world and byrdnet, many thanks for the kind words!

Ascendantlive you are all too correct with regard to the Creative Listener or the ADD Philosopher. When people have pulled this on me, it has been the last time they've seen my face. I'm sure it's been no loss to their experience, and their absence has been even less of a loss.

Mercurior said...

great post.. and so very true

Patrick said...

what?! So anger isn't a gift? Malcom X was lieing to me? I have to yell and talk over the other person, I was raised german, it's in my blood, dammit! The loudest person wins! You're screwing with a very delicate balance here.